Automation could be creating jobs in retail. According to a new report, the rise of ecommerce is driving an increase in employment that’s sufficient to offset industry automation. The unexpected finding has been attributed to improved service quality.
The Progressive Policy Institute determined automation might be creating more job openings after looking at labour statistics from a different perspective. As the MIT Technology Review reports, its new analysis includes segments of the ecommerce supply chain that are usually overlooked. By including jobs in places such as online fulfilment centres, a different trend in the data emerges.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 140,000 physical retail jobs have been lost since 2007. In the same period, ecommerce has opened 126,000 new opportunities, creating a shortfall of 14,000 positions. This appears to conclusively demonstrate that automation is taking human jobs.
The Progressive Policy Institute argues that this approach to the numbers offers limited insight into the true situation. Since the scores of fulfilment centres wouldn’t exist if it wasn’t for ecommerce, all the people currently employed in these locations can also be included. When the problem is tackled from this angle, the number of positions ecommerce has created rises to 400,000.
Apparently, automation is creating thousands of jobs. They’re also better quality positions, since fulfilment centres typically offer a 30 percent higher salary than comparable positions in brick-and-mortar stores. This leads to the intriguing conclusion that autonomous technology is driving a net increase in overall employment.
The researchers explained the finding by suggesting the simplicity of ecommerce is causing significant growth in productivity. Consumers save time by shopping online, causing them to return to digital stores on countless occasions. They ultimately invest more time and money in retail services, spurring growth in the sector. This sets up a chain of continued investment that eventually leads to increased human employment.
The report concludes by attributing the rise in paid work to the reduction in “unpaid household hours” triggered by consumer use of ecommerce. Things you formerly did for free, such as bringing items home from a store or returning unwanted items to a sender, are now completed by salaried members of the economy. Retail is expanding into a wider industry that has to be assessed alongside sectors such as transport and warehousing.
“It may be surprising that ecommerce employment is rising much faster than brick-and-mortar retail employment is falling,” said the Progressive Policy Institute. “Since ecommerce companies are supposedly more productive than traditional retailers, people think they must therefore employ fewer people.”
“But the increase in paid employment can be best understood by considering that the economic activity “shopping for goods” actually combines two labor inputs: paid market work by retail employees, and unpaid time by households, in the form of driving to the store, parking, wandering through the aisles, checking out, and driving home.”
The trend suggests automation could continue to create job opportunities until robots reach the fulfilment centres. As per the visions of tech companies, the report implies robots are succeeding in supplementing human work without replacing it. When measured against wider sectors of the economy, retail seems to be booming and humans are gaining a large supply of well-paid jobs. While it may not be an obvious conclusion, it seems we have autonomy and the Internet to thank.
Digital strategy is behind Walmart’s impressive Q4 earnings
Walmart, which remains the world’s largest department store chain, has reported impressive fourth-quarter 2019 financial results (announced on Tuesday, February 19, 2019).
Key to the success has been Walmart’s digital transformation, which is noted by CEO Doug McMillon:
“Progress on initiatives to accelerate growth, along with a favorable economic environment, helped us deliver strong comp sales and gain market share. We’re excited about the work we’re doing to reach customers in a more digitally-connected way. Our commitment to the customer is clear.”
Several leading experts in the retail space have provided analysis as to how this digital strategy was put together and where Walmart will focus its efforts next.
Making a success of online services
A proportion of Walmart’s success can be put down to its strong online presence, notes Michael Lagoni, CEO and founder of Stackline: “Walmart has been successfully executing its online-forward strategy, laying down aggressive e-commerce growth targets and making some savvy geographic expansions and acquisitions across key verticals, like specialty apparel and grocery.”
This model is set to pay further dividends, Lagoni predicts: “As Walmart continues to expand its digital footprint and adds new advertising and merchandising toolkits for brands, we see huge opportunities for accelerated revenue growth on the e-commerce side of the business.”
The figures reported by Walmart signal that the chain remains robust and able to stand up to disruptors that only maintain an online presence. This is noted by Harry Chemko, CEO and co-founder of Elastic Path: “Walmart is the only retail giant that has enough competitive strengths to challenge Amazon’s e-commerce lead – they have the physical locations, strength in grocery and scale. They’ve been investing very heavily in e-commerce, and their year-over-year growth shows that it’s paying off.”
While Walmart is behind Amazon in terms of online sales it has the potential to become an even bigger player if is seeks to monetize the massive amount of data the company has on hand.
Digital transformation success
Digital transformation has played a key part in Walmart’s success, according to Eli Finkelshteyn, CEO and co-founder of Constructor.io. He tells Digital Journal: “Walmart’s recently released Q4 2018 earnings report validates the company’s emphasis and investment in technological innovation.”
The types of digital initiatives have included a focus on engaging with the customer: “Walmart and its subsidiaries have been putting a lot of effort into making online grocery shopping an easier, faster and more comfortable experience for their customers, and it shows based on grocery growth last quarter.”
Developing good technology challenges assumptions that customers are only interested in lower prices, as Finkelshteyn explains: “Repeated studies have shown that customers are willing to pay and buy more when the online customer experience is improved. At the same time, fewer customers become frustrated and leave without buying anything. We can see both Walmart and its subsidiaries like Jet.com making great strides here.”
Based on the recent success, Finkelshteyn predicts further customer-focused digital transformation initiatives from Walmart: “Going forward, we expect to see Walmart and other retailers will continue to improve their online customer experience as more and more grocery sales move from brick and mortar to online. This is a nascent, but growing market, and one where retailers will either innovate or lose.”
Amazon rival Rakuten buys mobile ordering and pickup startup Curbside
Rival to Amazon and Japanese retail giant Rakuten has acquired Silicon Valley mobile ordering and pickup startup Curbside. Details of the all-cash deal were not disclosed, but the acquisition could be a boon for the Japanese e-commerce company.
Mobile solutions for brick and mortar businesses
Founded in 2013 by former Apple engineers Jaron Waldman and Denis Laprise, Curbside has a suite of features that deal with all aspects of mobile commerce for restaurants and brick and mortar retail stores. Their most popular feature, ARRIVE, tracks customer’s journeys to predict when they’ll be approaching and arriving to have the product ready in an instant.
In its suite, Curbside’s offers programs that build online stores, fill online orders in-store and grow store traffic.
According to Tech Crunch, the terms of the “all-cash” deal were not released. Curbside has previously raised between USD$40 and $50 million from investors like CVS, Index Ventures, Sutter Hull Ventures, AME Cloud Ventures, Qualcomm Ventures and Chicago Ventures
According to the Silicon Valley Business Journal, Curbside was valued at more than USD$100 million in 2015 during its last venture round.
Part of the family
In the press release from Curbside, co-founder and CEO Jaron Waldman writes, “For our customers and partners the headline is that nothing will change. Curbside will operate independently as a Rakuten-owned company with our team, services, partners and product offerings all remaining intact.”
Yaz Iida, President of Rakuten USA, Inc said in a press release “Welcoming Curbside to the Rakuten family is all about the consumer, and we are excited to be able to empower consumers with even more ways to enjoy shopping.”
Mario Pinho, CFO of Rakuten, welcomed Curbside “to the Rakuten family” on LinkedIn.
Earlier this year, Rakuten announced that it’s building a customer loyalty program based on blockchain technology, and building its own cryptocurrency, Rakuten Coin.
How brick and mortar grocers benefit from digital transformation
Brick and mortar grocery retailers have the potential to adopt artificial intelligence to help with stocking their stores, pricing their products and being competitive with online retailers like Amazon.
Michael Feindt, the founder of AI firm Blue Yonder that specializes in helping retailers adopt AI to change how they carry out their core processes, wrote an article in Silicon Republic about how grocery chains can use AI to operate smarter.
With online grocers rapidly adopting AI, Feindt writes that it’s important for brick and mortar retailers to “move beyond their legacy infrastructure and adopt the technologies of digital transformation.” These technologies include AI and machine learning.
Revolutionising warehouse #technology.#video #tech #supplychain #business #manufacturing #innovation #innovate #AI #artificialIntelligence #Robots #Robot #Robotics #Grocery #Shopping #Ecommerce #VR #ML #MachineLearning #MachineIntelligence #Infosec #Fintech #Data #DataScience pic.twitter.com/UDSrLJNqcw
— Orcan Intelligence (@Orcanintell) June 2, 2018
To stay competitive in a market that’s increasingly focused on consumer satisfaction, Feindt writes that adopting AI can help grocery chains stock their stores more efficiently in an effort to reduce waste and ensure customers get what they want, as well as price their products according to real-time data on deals and promotions offered by other stores.
“Is this the Future of Retail?” – This grocery store actually comes to you. Awesome idea! pic.twitter.com/yp5R7QE7G1 #retail #AI #retailtech #DX #custexp #4IR #IoT #mobility #tech #MachineLearning #innovation
— Sean Gardner (@2morrowknight) June 2, 2018
Feindt writes that stock and pricing in brick and mortar stores — two traditionally human-led domains — need to start using the data they have, and use AI to help process that data.
Paul Clarke, the CTO at Ocado (the company behind the grocery robots shown earlier) told The Telegraph that AI is “critical” to the industry, and where it’s heading.
“From our point of view artificial intelligence is the one to rule them all when it comes to the set of disruptive technologies that power our business and we already make extensive use of machine learning across our platform,” said Clarke. “But really we just think we’re getting started.”
It’s also easier than ever before for grocery chains to go beyond self-service checkouts and start using AI to optimize business, below is an infographic detailing 65 tech startups that use artificial intelligence, virtual reality… etc to usher grocery store operations into the future. This list is packed, but it’s not exhaustive.
— CB Insights (@CBinsights) May 30, 2018
From using AI to combat food contamination to giving allergy-sufferers peace of mind when shopping to programming shopping carts to follow consumers around the store, there are endless ways that AI can enhance grocery operations and produce tangible results.
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