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Retail, customer experience, grocery, automation

My Single Piece of Advice for Retailers Embarking On Automation Projects

Corrie Martin
17 January, 2023
by Corrie Martin

120121-LI-Store-1Chances are, you plan on implementing some kind of automation technology in your retail environment in 2023. Whether it’s as simple as converting manned checkout lanes to self-checkout kiosks or breaking ground on a fully automated distribution center, there are some ways to help ensure your automation projects come off without a hitch.

I spoke with Beth Bergmann on the Telaid Tech Connect podcast about some key automation challenges retailers face. I invite you to listen to that podcast for some in-depth insights and an exploration of areas where automation is gaining momentum.

If there’s a single piece of advice I could impart to retailers embarking on automation projects, it’s to really labor over the planning process. In many cases, the technologies or combinations of technologies that retailers are deploying are completely innovative. Automation technologies are not the technologies of yesteryear where there are hundreds or thousands of successful reference points to guide the planning and implementation process.

These are not turnkey deployments. Not even with the most seasoned of automation technologies like self-checkout. Retailers often experience difficulties when they find they have failed to consider the implications of the major departure automation technology can bring to their retail space and operation. Here are just three examples to give you an idea:

  1. You’re deploying a fully automated distribution center, one set to pick and pack orders using automated technology. Every, single item in the warehouse must now be tagged with an SKU. This may require some work if you’re not already using SKUs universally.
  2. You’re deploying an automated kiosk to enable customer order pick-up 24/7. However, as you labor over site selection and considerations for power and cabling, you may fail to consider ADA requirements, resulting in a delay in site certification and approval.
  3. You’re deploying a variety of different sizes or types of robots. Have you considered if they use different types of batteries or if the charging stations are interchangeable? This impacts space planning as well as equipment accessibility if chargers are broken and are not interchangeable.

From space planning to cleaning and compliance, the deployment of new automation technologies impacts dozens of factors which, in an ideal world, should be considered in the planning and design process. This may feel like a particularly daunting task, especially if you are new to large automation projects. Thankfully, there are resources available to help you navigate this process.

Bring together stakeholders - Bring the right people to the table when making your automation plans. The broader the team, the better. While working with a larger team may seem to complicate or delay projects, it is crucial to have a variety of stakeholders at the table who are knowledgeable about many variables. Failure to get the right teams involved is a pitfall for many retailers.

Choose vendors that collaborate – In an ideal world, everything would be standardized and vendors would collaborate to deliver a seamless experience. Unfortunately, this is not the current state of the technology world. When selecting vendors, make sure they are willing to collaborate – not just through the implementation process, but through vision planning and support. The mindset should be that a successful project means success for everyone.

Choose an experienced technology partner - Work with an experienced technology partner or integrator to gain insight into areas where your team may not have experience. Ask them how many automation projects they have worked on and determine if they are willing and able to collaborate with multiple vendors and stakeholders. Based on their experience, these partners can shed light on pitfalls and best practices.

With a lot of planning and a team of great thinkers, you can realize the extensive benefits of automation in your retail environment. Cheers to 2023!

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