Friday, January 30, 2015

Manpower Crunch in retail? Fear not.

The new measures to foreign workers levy, revising the tiered work visa regime and tightening the foreign workers quota has caused retailers in Singapore to be faced with a threatening labour crunch. Labour shortage has been an existing underlying issue for many countries besides Singapore. Other countries that are faced with labour shortage are China and Europe.

Technology has been evolving tremendously over the past decade. The surge of solutions and technology trends has also been impacting the retail industry. With customers seeking for an efficient and convenient way of shopping, customer expectations for a retail experience are changing too. Cross-channel retailing and omni-channel retailing are rapidly increasing, with many brick-and-mortar retailers going online and the number of e-commerce shops are set to increase further. Going beyond having multiple touch points – web, mobile, social media and more, cross-channel and omni-channel allows customers to browse products on mobile, purchase it through the web-store and pick up the purchase in-store. Focusing on a consistent retail experience that extends beyond a store, retailers who have adopted cross-channel or omni-channel retailing have reaped tangible rewards.

Managing multiple channels and harmonizing them may sound like a huge challenge to small retailers. To synthesize multiple channels efficiently, retailers could adopt technologies such as Oracle Retail Release 14 or CrossView Cross-Channel Commerce. With new solutions and an approach to cross-channel or omni-channel retailing, in-store manpower will be optimised as an increasing number of customers are webrooming – browsing online but purchasing in stores. Consumers are drawn to webrooming as a way to avoid shipping costs, fulfill their need for immediate gratification and avoid some of the guesswork related to purchasing something they cannot physically touch and inspect personally. In fact, traffic numbers to retail stores have declined but overall retail sales have inched up.

With an approximate of 91% of retailers with surveillance cameras in stores, most retailers see video surveillance as a deterrent and incident investigation tool. However, harnessing the power of video analytics with existing surveillance cameras has opened up endless possibilities for improved decision-making. Video analytics translates video footages into meaningful surveillance and business data using computer algorithms. This automation in managing and analyzing video reduces the need for security manpower or additional resources that would previously be required. Using people counting video analytics, retailers would be able to know when the peak periods are in the store. With this, staff allocation plans can be further optimised to ensure a healthy balance between customers and staff. Furthermore, with the integration of POS system with the KAI video analytics system, retailers are able to gain deeper insights to the purchasing peak periods where more customers are purchasing to ensure a higher number of staff at the checkout counters.

Big box retailers and shopping malls require security manpower to monitor and patrol the premise after retail hours. Automation through security intelligence video analytics would enhance the security of the premise while reducing manpower. An example would be the use of loitering detection video analytics which was created to meet the demands of law enforcers to detect and report suspicious behaviour before a crime occurs. Loitering detection is able to detect both suspicious objects and humans, thus allowing security personnel to anticipate crimes by identifying suspicious behaviour and responding to the situation immediately. It also reduces the need for patrolling as alerts will be sent to security personnel to monitor the situation. This prevention-oriented video analytics would be able to speed up security efficiency and removes the possibility of human error.

The use of new technology and automation has enabled retailers to optimise manpower. Retailers in Singapore are moving toward a self-service model, with the use of self-help kiosks, self-checkout counters as well as digital directories. Guardian Pharmacy was among them who embraced technology to combat the manpower crunch; with the Guardian Plus store in Takashimaya equipped with touchscreens and tablets to help patrons locate products and find out more about promotions.

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Big box retailers are digitizing to deliver a seamless experience, with the rapid adoption of technology to strengthen customer service, leverage data, optimize manpower and enhance operations. The stakes continue to change and the danger lies in not keeping up. The way modern day customers shop is rapidly evolving and retailers of all size need to view technology as an enabler to provide a richer experience for both the customer and themselves.