At Walmart’s 2017 yearly shareholder meeting, CEO and President Doug McMillon declared that the retail giant was going to “compete with technology, but win with people.” This must have been quite reassuring for the millions of retail associates who are justifiably concerned about job security in an increasingly turbulent sector. But what did he mean?
Yes, 2017 has seen retail outlets closing at an unprecedented volume. However, perhaps an even more significant threat lurking in the minds of the retail labor force is the specter of automation: being replaced by robots, the rise of the machines, and so on. And it is true that as technology and the ensuing devices and capabilities that it enables infiltrates most aspects of our personal and professional lives, it is certainly changing workflows, automating processes, and altering the roles that employees play in driving a company’s success. So why then does the Walmart CEO think that the key to winning will come from people, rather than technology?
Empowering employees with technology
On one hand, perhaps he was simply pandering to his audience of Walmart shareholders, who, themselves, happen to be people.
On the other, though, maybe McMillon has realized that the greatest benefit of technology in the retail sector is not its capacity to supplant people, but rather to empower them—to help associates work more efficiently and be more effective. To that point, a recent study found that retail associates report higher job satisfaction when they have access to the right tech tools.
Employees equipped with technology can improve the customer experience
And it’s not just about productivity; emerging technology can also empower staff to create more meaningful customer experiences, which is a key mantra in the ongoing transformation of the retail industry. For instance, handheld scanning devices enable associates to check inventory on the go.
Mobile point-of-sale (POS) systems assist associates in creating enhanced and streamlined checkout patterns.
Tablet-based kiosks enable associates to deliver complete omnichannel experiences. And if those kiosks are customer-facing, they free up associates to focus on higher level interactions with shoppers.
The bottom line is that we’re in the midst of a revolution in how technology can improve the retail experience and business goals. However, those outcomes are still driven by people—at least for the foreseeable future.
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