Automation is becoming a major trend in the HR world, with some researchers claiming HR will be fully automated in 5 years, and others claiming a majority of HR professionals will be automating tasks as early as 2019. If these estimates are correct, will the human in Human Resources be out of a job in the next 10 years? This remains to be seen, however. Automation and artificial intelligence (AI) are already starting to take over in other industries, and now retailers are caught in the mix.
HRSBT recently reported that Amazon, the online retail giant, will be paving the way in terms of automation and AI when it launches Amazon Go—a brick-and-mortar grocery chain that employs only three human beings; the rest of the staff will be “automated.” With the popularity of online shopping soaring, many chain retailers are finding themselves closing up shop due to weak sales. So how will retail shops be changing the way customers do business?
Retailers are turning to automated, self-checkout kiosks that eliminate human cashiers. In 2013, there were only 191,000 self-checkout units worldwide, and that number is estimated to reach 325,000 units by 2019. Retailers are favoring the do-it-yourself (DIY) trend due to labor costs. For example, you would have to pay six employees to operate six separate cashier aisles, but with automated kiosks, you would only have to pay one person to oversee the entire kiosk section.
Stop & Shop, the East Coast grocery chain, has taken this DIY trend one step further and allows customers to manually scan their purchases with a handheld scanner gun as they take the items off the shelf. This also eliminates employees who are tasked with bagging groceries, as customers typically come with their own bags and are bagging their items as they browse the store.
While some retailers are opting to replace their workers with automations, one tech company now offers an automated employee. Simbe Robotics—an Intel company—recently launched a new pillar-like robot, called Tally. Tally roams the store and scans the shelves updating inventory in real time. According to the Simbe Robotics website, “Tally performs the repetitive and laborious tasks of auditing shelves for out-of-stock items, low stock items, misplaced items, and pricing errors. Tally operates safely during normal store hours alongside shoppers and employees.”
For retailers, automation has eliminated cashiers, baggers, and shelf stockers. What will they think of next? Unfortunately, with all this automation comes loads of unemployment. A recent study—released by Cornerstone Capitol Group—shows just how detrimental retail automation is to the U.S. workforce. The retail industry makes up 10 percent of the U.S. workforce, which means if stores go fully automated, or at least partially, that’s a lot of people out of jobs. Since the cashier role is so easy to automate, a lot of female retail workers will be out of jobs as well, as 73 percent of all cashiers are female.
Researchers for Cornerstone say, “If companies adopt a heavily convenience-oriented strategy, more tasks will be automated and less labor required. To date, companies’ discussions around implementing technology suggest that technology is aimed at complementing labor. However, should structural price and cost issues persist, technology may be viewed as a potential substitute for labor.”
Melissa Blazejak is a Senior Web Content Editor at BLR. She has written articles for HR.BLR.com and the HR Daily Advisor websites and is responsible for the day-to-day management of HR.BLR.com and HRLaws.com. She has been at BLR since 2014. She graduated with a BA of Science, specializing in Communication, from Eastern Connecticut State University in 2008. Most recently, she graduated in 2014 with a MS of Educational Technology.