Automatically bad news?

The launch of Amazon Go in Seattle is a cool and spanky example of a phenomenon that has been developing behind the scenes for a while: automation in retail. From self-checkouts and automated stock systems to iBeacon promotions and Tally the shelf stacking robot, technology is permeating through the retail sector with its now familiar shock and awe approach.

The launch of Amazon Go in Seattle is a cool and spanky example of a phenomenon that has been developing behind the scenes for a while: automation in retail. From self-checkouts and automated stock systems to iBeacon promotions and Tally the shelf stacking robot, technology is permeating through the retail sector with its now familiar shock and awe approach.

So what does that mean for retail staff? Are their jobs on the line? The British Retail Consortium thinks so – predicting 1 million shop jobs will disappear by 2025. John Lewis has just announced they are cutting 400 roles, hot on the heels of Waitrose cutting hundreds too.

But what kind of jobs are going? Not the ones that involve positive customer interaction. In fact, Tesco are turning 1,700 Deputy Manager roles into 3,300 shop floor positions because they recognise the importance of friendly staff who actually know where the raw jelly can be found (don’t judge me).

Human beings are a contrary bunch. Yes we want the convenience and sharper price points of Internet shopping, but we also love our visits in-store – that basic human desire to be tended to by another of the same species. But if human connection is what we’re after, that shines a light on how retailers deliver that experience.

As Josh McBain from Future Foundation recently said “It’s clear that so much of many brands’ offer is about human customer service. Ultimately, retailers are going to need to make the customer journey more efficient but also provide expert-led brand ambassadors”

With its Smart Home and coffee area, the new John Lewis store in Leeds is a great example of how progressive retailers are recognising the importance of immersive customer interaction. But they need the right people – engaging, interesting and expert – to make those experiences work.

Of course traditional retailers will continue to be threatened by online shopping, but they will always have one key competitive advantage: people. And if those people are able and willing to give customers a valuable brand experience, that’s one powerful advantage.

So when commentators talk despondently about bricks & mortar retailers, let’s not forget they’re flesh & blood retailers too. And what’s got more life in it than that?

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MASH Staffing