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Automation is something that many store owners have been chasing for the past couple of years. The idea of replacing expensive employees with cheaper machines and speeding up mundane tasks like bookkeeping is attractive, but it’s also quite difficult to implement unless you have right assistance.
However, some people aren’t convinced that technology and automation are the answers to growing their business. Perhaps they’re stuck in their humble methods of using pen and paper, or perhaps they’re just oblivious to how technology can actually help.
To help convince you, we’ve outlined a few interesting ways that automation can completely change how your store works for the better. Of course, this isn’t a comprehensive list of what automation can do, but it’s a good start that should have you convinced that technology is the way forward.
Using Automation to Help Organize Your Store
Automation is one of the best ways to help you organize a complicated store. If you’re only selling a handful of items then you can easily manage this by using simple pen and paper methods. However, if you’re selling large quantities of items such as books, groceries or music CDs, then you’re going to run into a lot of problems trying to manage all of your stock. To help you organize your collection and to make it easier to sell your products, you can use technology and automation.
When operating a retail business, a vital component of your store is your inventory. Without anything in stock, you’re not going to make a single sale. If you don’t have certain products in stock, then your customers are going to get annoyed and will look elsewhere to buy what they need. In other words, you need to think about how you’ll handle the possibility of running out of stock. Keeping track of your inventory is typically done with some light machinery and a human employee, but you can simplify and automate this entire process with the help of technology.
For instance, if your business software detects that a certain product is running low on stock and predicts that it will be out of stock based on past experiences, then it can automatically order a fresh batch of products or add it to your end-of-week shopping list, ready to be sent to your supplier. Of course, you’ll have to manually check the shopping list to ensure that there are no errors or miscalculations by your computers, but it’s one of the most effective ways to manage your company because it saves time, money and everything is expertly calculated by your automated systems.
You can also use other types of technology to automate certain processes in your business for the sake of organization. For instance, a pill counter machine can make it easy for you to distribute prescriptions to your patients if you’re running a medical center. Another good example is a tablet screen or device that your customers can use to check if a product they want is in stock or not. This will save you having to run back into the stockroom to check for items and it saves having extra employees.
Using Self-Checkouts to Improve Your Efficiency
Another form of automation that many stores have been utilizing is the self-checkout machine. These are typically seen in grocery stores and supermarkets, but more and more retail stores are including them because they’re just so convenient. They make it simple for your customers to pay using their quick payment methods. For instance, you can pay for a drink by simply swiping a contactless card against a reader, and you can skip long queues that typically plague retail stores. However, a self-checkout machine isn’t necessarily faster than a regular checkout, but it does help some customers because it offers a choice.
Self-checkouts are appearing in more places than just grocery stores. For instance, there are some places in the world where you can use self-checkouts to pay for postage stamps and shipping labels that even work internationally. You simply scan a label, press the on-screen instructions to choose where the package is going, then attach the label to your post or package and hand it off to be sent. It’s quick, convenient and offers customers a choice when they walk into the store. There are also clothing stores that utilize self-checkout systems.
As well as offering choice to the consumer, it makes your business more efficient. By giving your customers a way to skip queues, you drastically lower the chances of a queue forming in the first place, and no one likes to see a store that has lines. A self-checkout machine should only really be recommended for a store that gets a lot of attention. Having a self-checkout machine for a store that rarely has people in it is a huge waste of money. In addition, if there are no quick-purchase items in your store (such as a bottle of water, a few bits of stationary or basic essentials like batteries) then there’s no need to have a self-checkout machine either. Self-checkouts work best when you have simple everyday products in your store, so don’t overestimate your need for them.
Focusing on the Customer Experience
The main focus of automation is to improve the efficiency and productivity of your store, but also to provide a better customer experience. It’s possible to achieve both, but you need to make this clear in your business strategy or else you could end up hurting both sides of our business.
For example, if you plan to add self-checkout machines, then make sure you test them thoroughly and look for feedback regarding your new automation systems. If it turns out that they’re not functionally, they have software bugs or that they simply just don’t work, then you could end up wasting a lot of your capital on a machine that not only doesn’t work but has also negatively impacted your business.
You also need to think about the demographic that visits your store and buys your products. It’s no use getting a self-checkout machine in a store or area that is predominantly visited by seniors because they are more likely to value human interaction when purchasing products and aren’t completely fluent in technology. This means they won’t make much use of the self-checkout machine and it will be a huge waste of money. The customer experience needs to be the main focus of your plans if you want to use automation to your advantage. Although you’re adding automation to make your business more efficient and productive, you can’t neglect the importance of giving your customers quality service.
Innovative Retail Solutions with Vending Machines
Another useful form of automation that can help your customers is a vending machine. In some parts of the world, vending machines are incredibly popular and useful because they offer convenience unlike any other purchasing method. You simply pick an item shown in the window, press a few buttons, choose a payment method and then you have your item. Vending machines are often found around cities and in places where there is a demand for basics such as snacks and drinks, but it’s simply not efficient to have a store with employees at the location.
Vending machines can contain plenty of different things. Whether it’s your average drinks, snacks or even cigarettes, you can put virtually anything in them assuming the machine is customized to your needs.
However, if you want to kick it up a notch, then why not consider using your vending machine as a way to order from your store? For instance, if you offer basic menu items such as coffee and cakes at your bakery, then a simple vending machine could be enough to serve the basic needs of people passing by. If you want something more complicated, then you could technically replace serving staff with a vending machine. In some restaurants, you can actually order food from a vending machine. It takes your order, hands you a receipt and a table number, and then you’ll get your food within a few minutes. It’s fast, efficient and easy to use, which means it’s great for the customer’s experience.
This is just one example of how automation in your store can completely change the way it operates. It’s an innovative solution, but remember that these types of solutions cost money to implement, so consider the return on your investment before you take the plunge and design your own vending machine.
Some Final Words
Automation can be used to great effect if you’re willing to innovate and try something new. Whether it’s automated stock checking, a self-checkout machine or even a vending machine that offers your basic products, there are plenty of different ways to use technology and smart automation to your advantage.