Automation In Retail And Consumer Packaged Goods

What are the benefits of RPA for Retailers and Consumer Packaged Goods companies? Ask Amazon

Retailers and Consumer Packaged Goods (CPG) companies are finding themselves under pressure on two fronts. Margins are continually being squeezed while customer expectations continue to grow.

Squeezed margins are nothing new to retail who are used to taking cost out of their operations, but for many, further cost savings could negatively impact customer experiences.

RPA increases productivity by cutting costs, boosting data confidence and speeding up processes, giving retailers an opportunity to redistribute resources, delight customers and gain ROI.

Amazon’s Impact on Retailers

Amazon’s roots were in retail and to say that Amazon has disrupted the retail industry would be an understatement. They are approaching 50% of all online retail spend in the U.S. and 5% of all retail sales. Former Amazon employee, Rachel Greer, recently commented, “Amazon has the ability to track both what people are buying as well as what they search for and can’t find, giving the e-retailer a huge edge on smaller sellers.” With that kind of competition, today’s retailers are looking for innovative ways to win back market share.

Amazon’s Impact on CPG

Amazon’s Impact on CPG
Consumer Package Goods which includes items such as foods, beverages, toiletries, diapers, etc., have faired slightly better than retailers in their battle with Amazon. Brand loyalty tends to be high for many of these items which have given consumer packaged goods an advantage over smaller brands. But that’s changing. According to TJI Research, Amazon is selling approximately 135 private-label brands that offer customers better pricing while forgoing name recognition and often glitzy packaging.

Drone Disruption

Drone Disruption
Amazon unveiled its new delivery robot, “Scout.” It’s clear that companies like Amazon are using technology and big data to disrupt traditional business models. It’s time for retailers and CPGs to fight with equal innovation. For many, the digital transformation seems like an elusive and constantly moving target. Their aging legacy systems are so deeply woven into the core of their operations that adopting a potentially disruptive technology is daunting. It would require a major investment and a significant cultural shift.

A Digital Transformation

Digital transformation may be daunting but it is necessary, and it is possible.

Transformative technology already exists that doesn’t disrupt existing legacy systems and enables retailers to work within their existing enterprise ecosystem while creating the platform for longer-term innovation afforded by robotic process automation and artificial intelligence.

Not only will it work within existing infrastructures, but it will also harness customer data on a massive scale and in the fraction of the time that it takes today, data that can redefine customer service and generate extraordinary sales and marketing opportunities.

RPA on the shop floor

Workforce Management
Workforce optimization is arguably one of the most critical, data-heavy processes used on the retail shop floor. Workforce optimization is, in fact, a series of processes ranging from forecasting and scheduling to performance management and related email or text messaging with quite a few other processes in between.

RPA can streamline workforce management enabling real-time agility by linking and synchronizing databases in HR, sales and payroll updating and analyzing data and automatically triggering emails and text messages keeping employees informed.

Trade Promotions
Setting up shop floor trade promotions requires a significant amount of back-end administration work that can tie up employees and hit retailers’ bottom line. Key administrative tasks include creating and allocating funds for promotions and generating reports that give visibility of promotion performance. These processes are highly repetitive and involve manual inputting of data, which often makes them error prone. RPA, however, can automate up to 80% of trade promotions processes including validation, invoice processing, quality audit and payment approval. RPA can deliver a range of additional benefits including sustained accuracy, which cuts the sampling percentage needed for quality audits.

Store-Specific Planning
RPA can interrogate existing databases to give retailers a better view of individual store layouts and the demographics of customers who shop there. Equipped with this information retailers can fine-tune individual store inventory and the level of prominence they give each product.

RPA in the back office

Customer Support
RPA can automate time and resource-hungry customer-focused activities such as complaints handling, loyalty scheme management and maintaining unconnected databases. For example, RPA can solve the enduring headache of maintaining multiple unconnected customer records management systems. RPA-powered updates can quickly and efficiently synchronize multiple databases ensuring all CRM information is current 24 hours a day, seven days a week, boosting confidence and ensuring employees have the best possible customer data easily accessible when they need it.

Customer complaint handling can also be automated, prioritizing issues, sending automatic responses and either resolving or escalating complaints to business specialists on a 24/7/365 basis. RPA can ensure customer complaints are resolved quickly and effectively, turning disgruntled customers into brand advocates.

Returns Processing
Manual returns processing can be an incredibly time-consuming and expensive task if it is not done efficiently. Returns processing can, however, be transformed into a highly structured and rules-based process, making it a great fit for RPA. For example, if a customer requests a replacement item, a sales order can be automatically created. If they would like a refund a credit memo can be automatically created and a refund triggered. RPA can also take care of financial accounting and inventory management activity and initiate creation of all the associated documentation, speeding up the process, minimizing human intervention and reducing cost. In fact, RPA can transform returns process from a financial burden into a streamlined and automated service that builds customer loyalty and gives retailers a competitive advantage.

Marketing Research
Reliability and speed are crucial for retailers when it comes to marketing and consumer behavior analysis. Speedy analysis and decision making can inject real agility into a retailer’s operation, giving them significant competitive advantage over other retailers Campaign analysis is another area where RPA can be used to great effect, helping marketers assess their current actions and decide on the future course of action. It brings clarity in determining campaign goals, ascertaining campaign budget and identifies specific channels that need improvement.

The biggest benefit RPA provides here is that past actions can be repetitively performed in the future without manual effort. If a retailer tweaks strategies based on analysis, then RPA can help in measuring effectiveness of new strategies. Product categorization is one of the most important but ignored functions in the retail industry. Customers quite often fail to find numerous products online because of poor product categorization. RPA however can integrate with inventory databases assigning attributes and categorizing products for a seamless customer experience. RPA can also supercharge consumer behavior analysis driving effective trade promotions, store specific planning, new product introductions, customer on-boarding from websites, managing subscription renewals, claims processing and complaint handling and loyalty card management, to name but a few.

Payroll demands a tremendous amount of administration of any HR process, with every pay cycle calling for accuracy, timeliness, and well-planned coordination across numerous departments. Get any one of these steps wrong and a retailer is guaranteed to demotivate their workforce and possibly even cause them financial hardship. High-quality service is therefore non-negotiable, but, as with all retail cost centers, there is a constant pressure on payroll management budgets.

RPA presents a rare opportunity to simultaneously improve the consistency and quality of service in payroll, while also driving down the total cost of delivery. It also promises to liberate finance and HR employees from essential high volume, repeatable tasks so they can analyze the increased level of data created during automation.

Employee On-boarding
RPA can streamline employee on-boarding by updating and synchronizing all HR databases with the same employee information. This makes manual data double entry a thing of the past, so there’s less chance of introducing errors and HR teams are freed up to spend more time on value-added activities such as building relationships and fostering the corporate values and culture.

Once liberated from routine repetitive tasks, RPA can help Human Resource professionals deliver personalized on-boarding experiences for new employees. All the essential processes, the initial meetings with supervisors and briefings on safety, logging time and submitting expenses can be automatically organized in one place, in one bespoke experience. Meanwhile thanks to RPA, a data-driven approach to on-boarding means that employee information can be collected effectively and kept in one place ensuring HR professionals have the information they need to do their jobs quickly and effectively.

RPA can also be used for employee exit management and off-boarding, extracting data from various departments and updating disparate HR and payroll systems.

Call Center
Using RPA in customer call centers can strip out layers of cost and make it financially viable to bring this valuable function back on shore. It’s standard practice for call center operators to toggle between multiple systems, searching for, and inputting data while speaking to customers on the telephone. If a customer interaction takes too long or the employee can’t find the data they need, the customer suffers and brand loyalty is eroded.

RPA streamlines this process by integrating data across multiple systems, so the employee has all the information they need on one screen. The employee also only needs to enter data once. This avoids errors and liberates the employee to focus on the customer, rather than carefully entering data in multiple systems.

RPA in the supply chain

Increase Capacity and Asset Management
Demand and supply planning has historically been a time-consuming project that required searching and hunting for tidbits of data, standardizing and formatting them, running simulations, finding out exceptions, and finally confirming and communicating the demand and supply plan. This is what the RPA bots do best. They automate these steps and streamline the whole demand and supply process. This bots can do it at a fraction of the time and with 100% accuracy. The bots help retailers increasing capacity, and track, monitor and manage assets more efficiently./su_spoiler]

Automated Stock Level Notifications
Communication is a key ingredient of supply chain success. Emails automatically generated and sent using RPA is just the start of effective communications, alerting suppliers and customers when orders are booked, shipped, delivered or delayed. RPA can also help retailers monitor and maintain inventory levels, so they can ensure they have enough stock to meet demand. Stock level notifications can be automatically generated when products need replenishment. After assessing past orders, RPA can also help determine optimum order levels, improving procurement, reducing cost and lowering waste.

Quote, Invoice, And Contract Management
In most retail operations the source-to-pay process is standardized and repeatable, making it a great fit for automation. For example, a retailer that wants to source a specific product can use RPA to interrogate a database of suppliers, identifying companies that sell the product within a defined list of variables, cost being the most obvious. The RPA robots can then generate a request for quotation and review multiple quotations when they come back, based on costs, fulfilment times etc. Once supply begins, an RPA robot can continually monitor the contract and the suppliers’ performance. For example, exceptions may automatically trigger mitigating actions and alerts can be automatically issued calling for human intervention if a supplier fails to get back on track.

Applications for RPA include generating operational reports, managing finances, handing customer complaints, returns and failed deliveries as well as automating the reaction to weather – for example, how does a heatwave affect what can be sold and how it’s sold.

How Does Optelcon Add Value?

Optelcon is in the business of making companies more profitable by reducing & containing costs, improving efficiency and sourcing more effectively. Through our strategic partners, Optelcon is vendor-neutral, RPA integrator. With over 50 RPA developers and process engineers, we use best practices to help select the best software for the job, document, program, integrate, and update the bots when processes change. We make sure it gets done right.

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