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The One Retail Trend that Will Change How We Shop

Appian Contributor
December 1, 2017

Welcome to our Appian blog where we consider all things digital that will be driving the trends and events of 2018. And what better place to start our Twelve Days of Digital Transformationseries than with the disruptive forces and technologyresponses impacting the Retail sector?

Tis The Season

Another Singles Day, Black Friday, and Cyber Monday have come and gone, and once again recorded new shopping highs. As the Retail sector looks to 2018, tis the season to reflect upon the technologies that are driving a whole new way to shop.

Trends like ecommerce, omni-channel service, and AI-assisted purchasing are all significant. But there is ONE game changing Retail trend IMO that rises above the restÖ Bots. To fully appreciate their enormous impact on how we shop, we need to look behind the scenes at the supply chain.

Bots in the Retail Supply Chain

Back before AI automation and robots led every headline, there was, a groundbreaking footwear e-retailer. Behind the buzz of the quirky Zappos brand promise to "deliver WOW through service" and its self-described culture of "fun and a little weirdness," there was cutting edge supply chain automation technology.

At the center of it all were Kiva bots, which resembled Roomba robots on steroids. These robots formed the backbone of Zappos' supply chain fulfillment to rule the warehouse and help create "the perfect order" the right product, delivered in full, on time, every time.

Kiva robots in the Amazon warehouse.

Fast forward to today and Zappos is a thriving part of Amazon.

And what became of those amazing Kiva robots? They too are part of the Amazon family, now supercharging the mega e-retailer's supply chain under the Amazon Robotics umbrella.

Integration is Critical to Performance

To achieve game changing results, Kiva robots cannot stand alone: they must be infused with intelligence to connect to each other and their control software and integrated to all the software systems that converge to create the supply chain's brain.

Here is where automation technology like low-code platforms can work to make retailsupply chains smarter, whether by integrating to helping humans work better - with Case Management capabilities - or by replacing humans in the supply chain labor force with Robotic Process Automation (RPA), for example through Appian RPA with Blue Prism. Both approaches help ensure products and information can continue to flow cost-effectively to the point of sale and ultimately to the customer.

Both concepts are actually very much in the mix at Amazon, in concert with their robot army. The automation technology that surrounds Kiva robots at Amazon is a critical element of the total robot ecosystem.

In Pursuit of the Perfect Order

Amazon now has a fast growing 45,000 robot army across 20 fulfillment centers. Robots are spreading throughout their supply chain and becoming a mainstay of Amazon's pursuit of the perfect order.

Amazon clearly competes on the basis of its brand and products but equally, if not more importantly, on the basis of its amazing supply chain and its robot army ecosystem. In fact, Amazon was elevated to "Master" class status in the most recent annual Gartner Top 25 supply chain ranking.

Amazon is leveraging its fulfillment bots and world class supply chain to take aim at Staples and other retailers, with its just announced 2-day delivery of office supplies based on the new Business Prime Shipping offering. It would seem that bots are not only changing the shopping landscape for consumers but for businesses as well - fundamentally impacting how and increasingly where we shop.

A few years back, in an article I wrote entitled Supply Chain Symphony, I predicted:

"What differentiates the best supply chain companies from the rest in their pursuit of the perfect order is an unwavering focus across the business on the customer and, for the future, the technology to be able to integrate and leverage that focus."

Now, across the retail sector, robot technology integrated into a customer focused supply chain is increasingly helping to deliver the perfect order holy grail.

Amazon, with a little help from its Zappos and Kiva legacy, clearly is leading the way this holiday season. But other retailers will need to focus on Bots to compete in 2018 and beyond, and all would do well to look to low-code application platforms like Appian for Retail to help integrate and orchestrate their robot armies.

Deb Miller

Director, Industry Marketing