Upgrading the brick-and-mortar experience by relegating particular tasks and services to AI, robots and more allows retailers to employ human workers in the areas that count most

Retailers are upping their investment in technology that automates tasks like stocking shelves, counting cash and prepping displays, seeking to liberate sales associates to interact with shoppers and nurture the in-store human touch. The nation’s biggest discounters are the latest retailers mining assisted-selling technologies to outsource time-sucking processes, like Walmart’s rolling out shelf-scanning robots or Target’s installation of cash-counting machines.

Stores, in turn, are redeploying labor to deliver heightened in-store conveniences and personalized experiences that online shopping can’t—from shoe concierge services at DSW to trained product “experts” at Target that can guide a shopper’s beauty makeover.

Now instead of workers, Target is tapping what it calls “cash recyclers” to count bills and coins quickly, while enabling stores to digitally bank their cash and estimate how much money should be on hand for each cashier’s shift. Target workers who performed the job manually will be assigned other tasks. Rival Walmart will bring robots to more stores next year to tackle the nuts-and-bolts retail business of scanning shelf inventory and identifying merchandise that’s out of stock, while directing workers and shoppers to precise product locations.

Assisted-selling technologies like mobile workforce tools, for example, have shown to generate a return on investment for retailers. Zebra Technologies, which builds tech solutions like Target’s worker-wielding handheld devices that can track down a missing item and process shopper payments on the spot, found that 67% of consumers reported a better in-store experience with retailers using the latest technology to assist them.

And according to research, 80% of customers “say the experience a company provides is as important as its products or services,” Shelley Bransten, senior vice president of retail for Salesforce, which counts companies such as Adidas, Room & Board and Rituals Cosmetics among its retail clients, told PSFK.

“By implementing the automation of certain tasks, Target and Walmart are freeing up store associates so they can assist the shopper,” said Bransten. “Store mobility gives associates more information, making it easier to hunt down product information, like product dimensions and stock availability, to provide faster service to the shopper.” Ultimately, it appears that an ideal retail experience may be neither solely digital or physical, but a harmonious blend of the two, optimizing the customer experience and the service’s efficiency by selectively outsourcing particular elements to digital.


Lead image: hardware store worker stock photo from MichaelJung/Shutterstock

Retailers are upping their investment in technology that automates tasks like stocking shelves, counting cash and prepping displays, seeking to liberate sales associates to interact with shoppers and nurture the in-store human touch. The nation’s biggest discounters are the latest retailers mining assisted-selling technologies to outsource time-sucking processes, like Walmart’s rolling out shelf-scanning robots or Target’s installation of cash-counting machines.

Stores, in turn, are redeploying labor to deliver heightened in-store conveniences and personalized experiences that online shopping can’t—from shoe concierge services at DSW to trained product “experts” at Target that can guide a shopper’s beauty makeover.