Humans Vs. Automation – threat or opportunity?

This month, we report on the importance of social commerce and employee advocacy and on the fab restaurant technology that’ll let us bite and dash. Plus, we talk about which retail tasks we’d really like the robots to take away from us

Eat and run: ‘I really love waiting for the bill after my dinner’ – said no one ever. To solve the problem a new payment tool is being trialled in the St Martins Lane branch of Prezzo. How does it work? You just get their app, sit at the table, tap the Alexa-like speaker or, as Prezzo calls it, a ‘token’ on the table to check in. Then you can enjoy your dinner in peace and, after finishing, type your bill amount into the app, tap the ‘token’ again, wait for it to turn green and go. The ‘token’ leaves Prezzo’s staff with more time to offer that extra glass of red wine or the chocolate brownie dessert, rather than scurry around trying to make sure the bills get to the right tables. The token also helps you to split bills, get discounts and sends you a digital receipt. Nice work Prezzo: it’s much better to leave humans doing the caring and selling!

Amazon staff are not just one-trick ponies: Back at the ranch in the US, Amazon is rolling out Prime Delivery for the recently acquired Whole Foods, with two-hour delivery offered for free if you spend $35. The process is based on delivery straight from the store – Amazon trusts store staff to pick and pack the orders and just hand them over to Amazon Prime couriers. So far the reviews are excellent, as trusting the store staff to multitask on the shop floor seems to deliver great results. Sometimes the best answer in business is just to trust your staff!

Apple stores just got more usefulTaller, with more glass staircases and even more cathedral-like, Apple stores are really designed around the inspiring ‘genius bar’. Their staff are like the young priests of tech who seem to have an answer to the dumbest of your questions. One area that was slow in growing was HomeKit – smart accessories for your home – which just did not ignite the imagination of Apple fans. That is about to change as Apple is bringing in new HomeKit products, going beyond sprinklers and watering equipment and into home theatre-cum-safety products like Safe and Sound (a combo of speaker and smoke detector). Those new products will need to be explained to us by the staff so the rumour is that Apple is rolling out the most intensive employee-training programme ever to teach them the utmost secrets of Apple HomeKit. For those who still open their door with an old-fashioned key rather than a ‘connected lock code’, it’s time to visit an Apple store near you, if only just to admire their knowledgeable staff.

John Lewis let the cat outWho knows best what’s good in-store? People who work there, obvs! John Lewis is inviting store staff – or, as they call them, store partners, since it’s a coop – to share marketing images on Twitter and Instagram. The hashtag is #WeArePartners. So far the images are still controlled by the marketing dept but staff can put their own spin on it and add their unique, local take. A slight hiccup happened when Google ‘borrowed’ the hashtag to promote their partner agencies, but copying is always the best compliment. Anyway, it’s a great campaign and we are very much looking forward to life behind the scenes at John Lewis, according to the freshly-freed creative juices of the John Lewis Partnership.

CEOs are people too! Getting staff to tweet and upload pics to Instagram is the first step. Hunkemöller, the lingerie brand leader in Europe, have been getting their CEO, Philip Mountford, to roll up his sleeves and lead their brand journey on social media since 2015, typing tweets under the Hunkemöller hashtag on the train on his daily commute to AmsterdamToday each and every one of Hunkemöller’s 800+ stores has their own creative digital team in place, all made up of store assistants. We call it social commerce and it is just about telling it like it is so that customers can hear the brand’s story from the horse’s mouth. From product reviews to stories from your local store, all content helps the shops compete for customers with other lingerie brands. The secret sauce of true omni-channel retail starts on social media. Will we see John Lewis’s MD Paula Nickolds tweet about the latest JLP promotion? The challenge is on.

Retail 2.0 is reinventing the role of humans: Let’s face it, humans need to redefine their role in stores – it’s not admin tasks, cashing up and bringing bills to customers that we’re best at. Just check the hashtags RetailHell, RetailProblems or RetailLife on Twitter to see what store staff are really thinking (it’s obligatory reading for anyone in retail management!) about how the mundane part of retail can be a real bore. It’s the fun, the creative side of retail, delight with new products, dreaming up new ways of making customers fall in love with the brand where humans excel and where we can make the new European high street a back drop to staff’s very own creative Retail TV. Lights, camera, action! And let the robots take the payments.