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#AI@Work: Repurpose and Innovate

Yet, other companies are changing retail because they have chosen to innovate. Chains like Ultra Beauty changed the model by putting beauty services in the store. Adidas began 3D printing for sneakers and Blue Apron is bringing restaurant meals to the kitchen. Even Walmart showed its agility by making huge investments in e-commerce and online retail. One of the most iconic of the new breed in retail is Warby Parker, which changed the way we buy eyewear. There are many other examples of organizations that managed to see things differently and innovate. Of course, no one innovates like Amazon. They have a hand in everything.

In 2012 Amazon bought a robotics company, Kiva Systems. It introduced stores with no cashiers. Amazon Go replaced many human jobs with thousands of robots in the distribution and fulfillment sector. Delivery with drones is on the horizon. Retail stores with no cashiers are approaching quickly. Walmart, another giant in retail, is using robots to stock shelves and scrub floors. Even Kroger has automated warehouse facilities with robotic capabilities. AI, robots and automation are at the point that they can deliver both technically and economically. The impact on the workplace is inevitable. Good jobs will be replaced by the automation and the initiative will be driven by the profit motive. It’s all about economics.

Productivity has always been directly linked to employment. This is changing and changing dramatically. In some cases, automation is replacing unpleasant and difficult tasks. It is assisting workers so that they can better serve customers. The statistics are not on the side of the worker. In 2017, Reuters found that stores currently employed fewer people than they did ten years before. In the next twenty years the retail landscape will look very different than it ever has in the past. Even if robotics and AI create new jobs, it will take additional training in the workplace to ensure people have the skills to move quickly into new roles and occupations. About 3.4 million people were employed as retail cashiers as of 2018. It is unclear what these people will do. Will they be retrained when robots take over retail?

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