Financial services firm Cornerstone Capital Group has suggested that robots aren't just moving into warehouse and factory jobs - they'll be coming for retail, too.
Over the next 10 years, as many as 7.5 million retail positions in the US ‘could' be replaced by robots, representing almost half of the country's 16 million-strong retail work force.
The most likely area for automation is cashier positions, which can be "easily" converted, says the report. Women are expected to be especially hard-hit by this, as they hold 73% of cashier positions in the US.
Sales roles are already being replaced, as consumers turn to in-store gadgets such as touchscreen PCs and their own smartphones (with beacon technology) to find what they need. Some human sales staff will still be needed on the floor, but not as many.
Labour-intensive jobs like restocking will be made more efficient with automation, but not replaced, said John Wilson, Cornerstone's head of research: "You're not going to see a robot stocking shelves, at least in the near term, but technology would reduce the need for as many people to do so. More efficiency means fewer things for people to do."
Amazon has been running into troubles with its own automation concept this year. The e-commerce giant began trialling its Amazon Go bricks-and-mortar stores last year (as reported by V3's sister site, The Inquirer), but ran into problems with tracking people and items.
Wilson thinks that automation could drive even more job losses than e-commerce and overbuilding in the next decade; two factors which, he says, have already led to more than 3,000 store closures in 2017 alone. Rising minimum wages also drive retailers towards using robot ‘employees'.
Cornerstone's conclusions are largely in line with those released for the UK market by Deloitte last year. The firm predicted that 2.1 million UK retail and wholesale jobs could be replaced by robots over the next 20 years: 59 per cent of the current workforce. Additionally, Deloitte said that as many as 74 per cent of transport & storage jobs (1.5 million) and 28 per cent of health and social work jobs (1.4 million) could be automated.
Ben Perkins, head of business research at Deloitte, told Retail Week, "[Automation] can remove staff from the drudgery of stocking shelves, helping customers find goods and taking payments, and open up the opportunity for more personal service, offering more interaction in a way that adds value, such as personal shoppers."
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