Private brand retail must lead the workforce automation revolution to survive

Doom and gloom

Barely a week goes by without a gloomy supermarket sales performance report punctuating my BBC News app. The names have become interchangeable but they are all facing up to the same challenges:

Those at the helm of these proverbial supermarket tankers are understandably struggling to get their ships to respond. Despite frantic turns of the wheel and engines stoked with ever-growing mountains of cash.

In between those stories of woe, there’s another gaining momentum.

And this story may very well be the remedy.

Initial applications of workforce automation within the retail industry may first trigger images of the self-service checkout machine. It may even evoke a shudder as the words “AN UNEXPECTED ITEM…” pass through your mind.

However, workforce automation can – and I’d argue must – go beyond the front line. Yes, the predicted 20% of jobs that will be automated away over the next five years will be focused around the more transactional, administration roles. But as the number reaches 50%, workforce automation will cover all industries and job types.

Private brand retail must deliver a paradox

A superior product experience with leaner in-house operations. Workforce automation may just be the key.

The downsizing of in-house teams and outsourcing of work and cost to suppliers has begun again in the ongoing cycle of outsource to in-house. But this tactic is limited by the undesirable side effects of strained supplier relationships. Therefore, isn’t workforce automation the ideal supplement?

For me the biggest opportunity for private brand workforce automation - and to call upon my final trend today - is turning big data into actionable insights. S4RB have written many times about the challenges of an ever growing bank of customer data points. And the redundancy of that data unless it’s actionable.

Significant portions of product development, category management and retail analysis workflows can be automated through a software tool we’re codenaming “Autopilot”. Think of it as the Siri of private brand insights.

“Autopilot, let me know if complaints for any product increases by more than 25%.”

“Autopilot, assign an action for my suppliers to investigate whenever a certain number of my customers complains a product is too salty.”

Okay, so we lack speech recognition but the underlying automation is certainly there. Your once insurmountable product portfolio and corresponding data points are not only actionable, but actionable within an even leaner in-house team.

Less people, making a bigger impact on your bottom line.

The unfortunate - and so far implicit - piece of all this workforce automation talk is that there will be less people working for your private brand team. However, we see those that remain performing highly proactive and fulfilling roles.

Automating what is essentially the ‘leg work’ of gathering and interpreting data into actionable insights allows those individuals to apply their expertise, experience and passions to solving the problems that will really make a difference.

Returning to my earlier ship metaphor, they’ll spend less time bucketing water overboard to stop the ship sinking and more time thinking of new and innovative ways to get the ship to turn faster and arrive in more prosperous, calmer waters.

Exclusive Autopilot demonstrations

We’re offering exclusive demonstrations of Autopilot to a limited number of people over the coming months. If you’d like to be one, get in touch. The WAR (Workforce Automation Revolution) is coming. Don’t you want to strike before your competitors do?

David Taylor

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