The Record - Issue 14: Autumn 2019

131  R E TA I L AND HOS P I TA L I T Y dedicated customer channel where staff share customer experiences and other feedback has made everyone feel involved in the business.” Other retailers are turning to artificial intel- ligence (AI), robotic process automation, machine learning and business intelligence tools to automate time-consuming manual tasks that are currently preventing store associates from providing value-added services to customers. One area that has been transformed by AI is stock and inventory. “In the past, store associates would have to walk around the store and manually record stock levels for all the different products on sale, which was time consuming and open to human error,” says Jones. “If stock levels were low, associates would have to notify their manager who would then request new stock from the warehouse, all of which introduces delays in getting products into customers’ hands. “Now, retailers can use AI to identify patterns in their sales data and combine it with contex- tual information about weather, socio-economic trends, geographical location and other factors to predict customer demand and create accurate hyper-local inventories for individual stores. This means that they know which products are most popular at particular times of the day, week or year and increase or decrease their stock orders accordingly. If an out-of-stock situation did occur, store associates now have the tools to quickly report this to everyone in the supply chain at once, which minimises replenishment times.” Meanwhile, tools like Microsoft’s cloud-based Office 365 productivity suite can help retailers to plan their workforce more effectively and provide employees with greater flexibility. Handmade glass votive retailer glassybaby, for example, has implemented Office 365 to resolve the issues with creating rotas for its glassblowers and the staff operating its eight stores across three US states. “Store managers can save between three and six hours a week when creating schedules, allow- ing them to devote their time to more important tasks, such as employee training and customer outreach,” comments Jones. Shift changes are also easier to manage. Now, when a glassybaby employee needs to change Marks & Spencer has implemented Microsoft Teams to connect 80,000 employees via one central platform