E-commerce has grown significantly over the last five years. Given that digital retail now accounts for more than 18% of retail sales in Europe, it’s no surprise that many brick-and-mortar retail stores struggle to keep up with the everchanging e-commerce environment and demand for omni-channel offerings. In an increasingly complex and connected world, retailers, moreover, face an ever-growing number of processes and a limited number of employees able to handle them manually. Squeezed margins and growing expectations from customers also isn’t anything new.
These developments mean having to rethink business practices — and fast. In order to achieve sustainable digital transformation and provide cutting-edge customer services, the retail sector is being rapidly propelled towards incorporating new and reinvented tactics. Robotic process automation (RPA) is often being chosen by retail companies for its potential to automate rapidly, efficiently, at scale, and with ease. What’s more is that the non-disruptive technology allows retailers to maintain legacy systems and work within existing enterprise ecosystems.
Living up to the hype
Are your retail staff burdened by repetitive, high-volume tasks? Does your company struggle to eradicate data and process errors? Are you reliant on complex business processes and disparate operational systems? If you’re part of a retail company, you probably answered ‘yes’ to these questions. But technological advances already showcase that it doesn’t have to be this way, and implementing RPA is a way out.
Improved operational efficiency
Rather than being confined to the working hours of a normal employee, RPA software robots are able to tackle operational workloads 24/7/365. Productivity and efficiency, coupled with increased speed and decreased cycle time for revenue-generating transactions, can be quickly attained across the value chain. Because of RPA’s fast implementation time and scalability, the time between adoption and achieving an ROI can be less than a year for many adopters.
Streamlined data quality and control
Unlike their human counterparts, RPA software robots are able to consistently execute processes and identify process bottlenecks for optimisation. This means that automated tasks in the front office and back office will run more smoothly and accurately — and with substantially mitigated compliance risk. Giving retailers a greater degree of oversight and control over their own operations, the bots’ actions are also saved into a central log where they can easily accessed for internal monitoring and external audits.
Increased employee & customer satisfaction
With tedious tasks being automated, retailers can distribute their resources so that employees are able to shift their attention to rewarding, value-added activities. Employees will, for example, be able to focus on customer-facing tasks such as providing timely and accurate services, on advancing existing connections with clients, and also on acquiring new customers. With more accurate, efficient, and personalized services, the quality of the customer experience is also significantly increased.
Legacy systems and disparate programs are no stranger to the retail world. By imitating human keystrokes and mouse clicks, RPA can interact with the presentation layer of computer programs and applications — whether it be Citrix, SAP, or Oracle — in a non-invasive manner. As a result, RPA can be harmoniously implemented without the need to eliminate previous programs, restructure the existing IT setup, or duplicate data input. This, luckily, also eliminates many of the risks and costs traditionally associated with digital transformation.
Use cases across organisational silos
As a result of its wide applications, RPA automation can serve every level of the retail business — from the supply chain, to the back office, to the shop floor. Advancements to RPA mean that software robots can make supply chain judgements and trigger notifications based on data patterns. RPA is able to, for example, monitor the timing of a delivery to alert customers and suppliers when orders are processed, shipped, delivered, or delayed. RPA can also monitor inventory, identify suppliers, and aggregate data in order to streamline asset management, the source-to-pay process, as well as supply and demand planning.
The back office is where RPA may have its widest applications. Unattended bots can handle anything from invoice, payment, and returns processing to payroll management, marketing and consumer behavior analysis, customer complaint handling, call center outsourcing, employee onboarding, and more. In such applications, RPA can improve process consistency and quality, support interactions with customers, interpret data, and streamline financial activities. Even more so, newest software developments enable RPA robots to self-manage and adapt to new scenarios, in order to limit the need for human intervention.
When considering the front office, call center automation and chatbots are some of the first applications that come to find. And RPA can contribute even more to the shop floor. By synchronizing databases and building bridges between HR, sales, and payroll, the technology platform can be leveraged to maintain constant communication with employees. RPA’s data entry and analysis competencies also make lighter work of trade promotions and store-specific planning.
The next step in retail automation
Professional services network Deloitte suggests that, “[i]nitially focused on back office tasks in the finance and HR functions, retailers are becoming more sophisticated in their use of RPA and AI in engaging with consumers [...] the focus seems to be on automating current processes to make incremental gains in efficiency.” From this, it’s clear that the retail sector has started to accept the high potential for automation. And the implementation of RPA alongside machine learning and natural language processing, at the same time, is a first strategic step towards AI-powered operations that can be achieved in a matter of weeks. With UiPath’s scalable and easy-to-use interface that allows for the automation of even unstructured data, powerful attended and unattended automation are within reach. Using UiPath’s Enterprise RPA Platform, the retail sector can leverage joint human-robot efforts to keep up with strong online and offline competition and focus on the ultimate goal: delivering quality results to customers.
Download the ‘RPA: The Next Step in Retail Automation’ report now to find out how RPA is actively reshaping the retail sector.