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Robots set to take more than half a million retail jobs in next five years: study

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Robots could take more than half a million retail jobs in the coming five years, a new study warns today.

Almost half (44%) of IT leaders questioned by the 2019 Harvey Nash/KPMG CIO Survey say they are looking to use automation in order to make their businesses more efficient. Respondents said that they expected one in five jobs to be replaced by AI or automation within the next five years – adding up to more than half a million.

Two thirds of the IT leaders in UK retail who responded to the study, which questioned IT leaders from more than 3,600 organisations around the world with a combined technology spend of more than $250m, believe that new jobs will make up for job losses to AI/automation.

Among the automated technologies currently being piloted or implemented by a quarter of IR leaders are robotic process automation (RPA) (25%) and AI/machine learning (27%). The study questioned IT leaders from more than 3,600 organisations. Those piloting RPA say they are likely to see profits, efficiency, the customer experience and time to market improve as a result.

Retailers are also looking for technology that will help them solve resourcing issues and keep up with competitors, with 67% of IT leaders saying a skills shortage is preventing their business from keeping up with the pace of change.

Albert Ellis, chief executive of global tech recruiter Harvey Nash said: “Whilst most consumers’ experience of retail automation may be the frustration of having an unexpected item in the bagging area, this survey shows how the influence of automation is being felt across the entire retail organisation. 

“If you consider the radical changes happening in the high street and the explosive growth of online commerce, it’s clear the retail sector is undergoing massive change. But, while much of the narrative has been around what jobs might be lost, the real battle for success will be around which retailers will be able to attract and develop the right skills and talent for this new automated, digital world.

“It has never been more important for boards and HR leaders to think about the impact of these trends on their strategy.”

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) recently estimated that two-thirds (135,000) cashier jobs in UK retail were at high risk of being automated, while the John Lewis Partnership has worked on what it says is the first blueprint for human robotic interaction of the 21st century, designed to encourage the safe and ethical use of robotics across UK industry. Its Waitrose supermarket is already using robots in the fields of its farm (pictured), while its warehousing features automation. Ocado uses robotics in its warehousing and fulfilment centres, and Shop Direct is developing a new automated warehouse in order to cut order processing times. 

Image courtesy of Waitrose

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