NRF 2020 Review: Human vs. Machine
Two of the biggest takeaways from the National Retail Federation Big Show in New York this week were at either end of the human-robot spectrum. Sure, there was plenty of talk about how retailers are taking advantage of AI and machine learning, how they are creating new ways to engage shoppers at the checkout and what they’re doing to bolster their sustainability efforts, but the real innovation is going on with the consumer-facing activities of both humans and machines.
For human labor, there was plenty of information about workforce management, task management and gamification. And there was a slew of new user interfaces to help push decision-making down to the front-line employee’s smartphone. All of these solutions are designed to help retail workers better meet the exact desires of shoppers in real time so the physical store can compete more effectively with digital-only merchants. A variety of vendor solutions have amped up the possibilities for management to communicate with store employees by moving from straightforward list-based instructions to more elaborate and interactive programs.
For robots, there were additional capabilities, business use cases and a somewhat clearer ROI in the near future. Retailers are increasing their investment in robotics technologies at the store and throughout the supply chain.
For both human-to-human systems and robotic ones, traditional retailers are pushing back against the digital tide with engaging new solutions. For example, Neiman-Marcus is using an innovative fitting room assistant app to help merchants better address the needs of the shopper on the spot with everything from accessories to shades and colors. And Walmart, as RetailWire reported earlier this week, is implementing a new e-commerce fulfillment DC that will have robots picking orders, a technology that could eventually be deployed at stores as well.
DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Where do you see the most promising intersection between humans (staff and customers) and robots in the next couple of years? What do you think the human-machine relationship will look like in 2030?