"Yes, technology will replace people, with better versions of themselves"
There has been a lot of debate over recent years about whether digital technology will make many of our jobs redundant. Historically, this meant replacing a team of workers with a single, monster machine to do the same repetitive job.
But today's change is more subtle -- and the closer you look, the less of a threat it appears.
Tech will aid not assimilate
This idea is part of a bigger theme in how we consider the nature of work. The predictions of a four day work week may never have materialised but standards of living have risen nearly universally across the world. This is largely because of technology in our personal lives.
In the home, refrigerators, the car, the microwave and electric iron all reduced the labour of common and repetitive tasks. They didn't replace the family, they just freed them up from chores to focus on things that mattered more to them. Is it better to pay humans and treat them like machines or invest in technologies that free up your staff to be more human?
This is closer the reality of how technology is helping the workplace. Machines can take on the repetitive, unsatisfying and distracting tasks that require perfect precision or enormous numbers. They relax the burden on your human resources, freeing them up to excel at the things only humans can do.
In the retail world, the advantages of this hybrid approach are nuanced. On one hand, you have digitally dedicated goliaths like Amazon trying to create the ultimate retail machine. No human eyes will ever meet yours as you zip through an infinite product line or tap through the app to get essentials delivered.
However, this is only part of the picture. Sometimes, we shop to save time and save money. But, every weekend (and all through the week), millions of UK shoppers descend on high streets around the country with a different agenda.
Having worked hard to earn their money, they now want to spend it in the most satisfying way -- this is not an interactions that revolves around efficiency, it's about comfort and social pleasure of the experience. But furthermore, they are not just looking for satisfaction in how they spend their cash -- they are also looking for a better way to spend their time.
The human touch can't be delivered by machines
This is where humans come in. Skilled, charismatic, well-informed shop staff have an advantage that no robot can match. Self-checkouts may abound in the supermarket but the real added value comes from the consultancy, careful packing, friendly atmosphere that staff generate in stores. And all of this is further supported when you have technology in place to help them deliver exceptional experiences to customers.
At the extreme end, retailers like Pets at Home, John Lewis and Co-op take it one step further, offering experiences in stores beyond simple shopping. Pet grooming sessions, nutrition sessions, wedding gift list shopping, bra-fitting, pensions advice -- you name it, retailers are introducing these services to give customers ways to spend more time in their store. And again, technology is making it possible.
Think of it like this. On the one side of your business you have distinct operating costs. It's here that technology can make the most obvious difference, putting the right systems in place can make your business leaner, cut down on irritating admin and save money.
Then at the other end there is the price you charge your customers. This is where the human touch comes in. The amount you can charge depends on providing an experience places like Amazon can't,. This is where we need to let humans do the incredible and uninimitable job they are capable of. Adding the personal touch at the end of the customer journey is key to conversions and something robots will never be able to replace.