The past few years haven’t been easy for the retail industry: first, the pandemic, then supply chain disruptions, all topped with the great resignation. But unfortunately, many businesses still aren’t out of the woods, and new dangers lurk around the corner.
One of the most alarming hazards is inflation. 60% of small business owners name rising prices as their top challenge, and they have all the right to worry. Inflation affects operational costs and customers’ spending power, making them less likely to spend money on non-essential expenses. At the same time, retailers are under pressure to retain their employees, strive for sustainability, and continuously deliver better shopping experiences.
In light of these challenges, businesses must innovate more than ever in search of new solutions such as Robotic Rrocess Automation (RPA). This article discusses 12 RPA use-cases in retail to show you how the technology can help you face old and new challenges by increasing the efficiency of your business.

RPA use-cases in retail industry

RPA is an automation technology that excels at handling simple but time-consuming and data-heavy tasks. About 60% of critical customer and retail processes can be automated, making RPA a very powerful solution for businesses seeking to optimize their workflows.

Here are the top 12 RPA use cases in retail, from sourcing and delivering products to assessing and optimizing your operations.

Supply chain management

Sourcing and shipping goods to stores is a critical sequence of repeatable processes. RPA bots can easily take them over for an improved time and cost efficiency.

Supply chain management is a multifaceted domain. It involves intense data crunching, such as supply and demand planning, vendor evaluation, or shipment scheduling. But it also relies on laborious processes like invoice processing, purchase order management, procurement, or supplier onboarding. You can expedite all of them through supply chain management automation.

Inventory management

Knowing which products are in stock is essential to avoiding shortages or excessive inventory. Automated inventory tracking tools continuously update the condition, expiry dates, location, and quantity of your products across all systems to give you full visibility into your supply while avoiding costly, time-consuming labor.

The next step is pairing RPA solutions with AI and machine learning (ML) to predict dynamic supply and demand. Then, based on these forecasts and your current inventory, RPA systems can automatically place orders to prevent stockouts and speed up the resupply process.

Store planning

To find the optimal store layout, you need a thorough understanding of your offering, customers’ preferences, behavior patterns, and good intuition to know how to nudge them in the right direction. That’s no easy feat.

Instead of relying on instinct, use RPA to make decisions based on data such as visit duration, sections visited, most frequent paths, or the number of stops. Automation software can continually gather and analyze this information to help you plan your store layout. This helps deliver the most convenient and pleasant shopping experience, leading to more sales.

Launching new products

Expanding your catalog is as much an opportunity as a risk. That’s because launching a new product requires significant effort. Meanwhile, success ultimately depends on many factors often beyond your control.

RPA can help you optimize every stage of the launch process. For instance, you can use RPA systems to…

  • gather data about competition,
  • analyze customer behavior,
  • streamline communication between departments and business partners,
  • expedite marketing efforts,
  • adjust prices and stock to demand.

While automation won’t guarantee that every new product will instantly catch on with your customers, it’ll lower the risk by reducing the effort and helping you make better-informed decisions.

Product categorization

As your retail business and offers grow, you may need help assigning a relevant category to every new product. It’s a laborious but crucial task that dictates how easily customers find what they need and purchase.

A study by Everest Group reveals that RPA can improve categorization accuracy by nearly 100%. The algorithm considers various product features, e.g., brand, color, or size. It uses predefined product mapping rules to create a coherent, easy-to-navigate product catalog quickly.

Store and eCommerce integration

Online and brick-and-mortar stores are part of the same business and should be aligned. You need to integrate data collected online and offline—RPA is perfect for this job. With retail automation, you can…

  • provide up-to-date information about product availability online and in physical locations,
  • deliver a consistent customer experience thanks to information collected from all your channels,
  • develop better loyalty programs and marketing campaigns based on online and offline customer data.

Integrating online and physical stores is one of many ways RPA can help your eCommerce business—read our eCommerce automation guide to learn more!

Customer support

83% of customers name good customer service as the decisive factor (other than price or the product itself) when making buying decisions.

RPA can help you deliver better, automated customer service by reducing response times, streamlining ticket submission and handling, and reducing the error rate. When coupled with AI, RPA-powered chatbots can free your customer care agents from resolving simple recurring requests and focus on more demanding cases.

Consumer behavior analytics

From demographic data to in-store behavior, every bit of information about your customers matters. The problem is that all this data is often scattered across various formats and platforms, both internal and external.

RPA algorithms can scan all sources—such as CRMs, transaction data, or social media—for relevant customer information faster and more accurately than humans. With the help of optical character recognition technology, RPA can also analyze unstructured data like emails or even paper documents. Once all that information is in place, RPA uses its integrated AI and ML systems to identify patterns and turn them into actionable insights.

Loyalty programs

Acquiring new customers can cost even 25 times more than retaining existing ones. Thus, building an effective loyalty program should be a top priority for any retail business.

Thankfully, it involves many repetitive, data-oriented activities that you could relay to RPA. The algorithm will use preset criteria to segment customers and automatically reach out to them with a custom loyalty offer. If your program requires proof of purchase, RPA can manage the verification process, extract data from documents, and attribute loyalty rewards to individual customers.

Business analytics

Discovering and evaluating new business opportunities is possible only when you see the full picture. And for that, you need relevant data.

RPA bots can compile data of all formats into a single, clear business intelligence report. It can include customer information, competition and sales data, and other insights. More advanced algorithms can also run AI- and ML-enabled analyses of these records to enrich them with additional insights.

Regular reporting

EOD and monthly reports inform the operations of all departments of your retail business. But to make the right decisions, these reports must be accurate and regularly updated—requiring significant manual work.

Automation speeds up the process significantly. For example, it can collect data from all sources to generate reports, store them in the designated location, and distribute them where required. Then, based on generated reports, RPA bots update your datasets, e.g., CRM data or financial records—fast and without errors.

Back-office tasks

Back-office tasks such as finance or HR processes form the backbone of any retail business. They consist mainly of repetitive data operations, which makes them perfect automation candidates.

In finance and accounting, RPA streamlines tax reporting, invoice data entry and approval, payment execution, auditing, and more tasks. The accuracy it delivers will help your business stay compliant, while increased efficiency will smooth out financial closing.

RPA bots can also assist your HR department at all stages. The most common RPA use cases in HR include automated candidate scoring and onboarding, payroll and benefits, reporting and tracking, or employee support.

RPA use-cases in retail

RPA for retail — what are the benefits?

All in all, RPA allows your employees to do more in less time with fewer errors. But what are some specific benefits automation can bring to your retail business?

  • Improved compliance — Eliminating human error helps your business meet legal requirements and avoid costly fines.
  • Satisfied customers — From more efficient customer service to faster order processing, automation allows you to increase overall customer satisfaction.
  • Better inventory management — With RPA-enabled stock monitoring, demand and supply planning, and automated resupplying, deadstock and shortages become easier to spot, predict, and avoid.
  • Optimized operational expenses — You can invest the money saved on higher efficiency into development or expansion.
  • Error-free auditing — RPA aggregates and structures all your data, so you can easily spot inefficiencies and identify potential improvements.
  • Closer app integration — Automation makes bringing all your systems closer together easy by providing one shared data source.
  • Enhanced supply chain — Automated SCM processes help you streamline sourcing and vendor communication.
  • Real-time analytics — RPA gives you constant access to the most accurate and synced data to inform your decision-making.
  • Employee retention — Rather than replacing human staff, RPA supports your teams so they can divert their time to more complex tasks. This results in increasing job satisfaction and lowering turnover.
Benefits of automating processes in retail

What to keep in mind before implementing RPA for retail

RPA for retail has many advantages. However, automating your processes requires business knowledge, technical expertise, and time. There are three things you can do to make the launch smoother and avoid an RPA failure.

Audit your processes

Before you jump headfirst into the implementation, you need to understand which processes will benefit the most from RPA. The impact may be minimal for some tasks and not worth the effort. For others, even the simplest automation can go a long way. So review all your processes and decide which tasks to automate first.

Gather feedback

No one knows tasks in your workflow better than those who perform them daily. So inform your employees about your plans and ask for feedback. This way, you’ll learn which processes are the perfect automation candidates and which are too complex. And make sure to get buy-in from your employees—after all, your staff will work with RPA bots every day.

Research solutions

UiPath, Automation Anywhere, Blue Prism, Power Automate… there are plenty of RPA solutions, each with its strengths and weaknesses. There’s no one-size-fits-all automation tool. So whichever platform you end up choosing, it’ll become a vital part of your everyday work, so consult your RPA developer and take your time to examine all options to find the right pick carefully.

Get started with automation in retail

The RPA use cases in retail listed in this article are just some examples of how automation can help businesses reduce costs and increase productivity. Curious to see how RPA would work in your retail business? Get in touch and let our experts optimize your operations.

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Michał Rejman

Chief Marketing Officer at Flobotics. Communication strategy consultant for tech and process automation buff. Remote work evangelist, surfer, and doggo lover.

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