According to an English research study published last August and entitled Technology at work 3.0, automation within large scale organized distribution (i.e. supermarkets) would put the jobs of two cashiers and sales reps out of three at risk. A figure that worsens if extended to the whole retail chain (logistics, warehouse management, filling shelves, etc.): approximately 80% of employees are in danger of losing their jobs for the benefit of an automated solution. "Retail is one of the sectors where employment is destined to disappear", to quote the brutally honest summary of Carl Benedikt Frey, Co-director of the Oxford Martin School and the author of the study. Automation would come at the expense of cashiers, warehouse workers, department employees and all the others that we meet on Saturday afternoon while pushing our shopping baskets. And as if that were not enough, to add insult to injury, in 2017 the Italian large organised distribution sector closed with a rise in sales of 0.76%, (recovering from the -1.23 % of 2016) confirming that the sector has substantially come out of the crisis thanks to a good dose of investment and rationalisation. These are figures that are cause for concern of the more than two million workers (including spin-off) of the sector.
On the other hand, just look overseas to understand the degree of automation that can be reached. After the purchase of the Whole Food chain by Amazon(the first real physical "attack" of a digital giant on large scale organised distribution worth 14 billion dollars), the company of Jeff Bezos has inaugurated the Amazon Go point of sale without check-out: you enter by scanning the code of an application connected to the service, you take what you want from the shelves (under the watchful eye of sensors and cameras that monitor and track every movement and minimum indecision of the buyer), you put it in your bag and exit as if nothing had happened. The payment is subsequently charged on your credit card. All without the need for any human being. A revolution? Not really. The big names have been experimenting with the self check-out since the mid-2000s, i.e. the possibility of scanning their products and completing the payment operations independently. In the meantime however our buying habits have changed and what seemed a small convenience (skip the line and make do) has become the norm.
Among the aisles of the Spanish Carrefour Pepper has made its appearance. A humanoid robot developed by SoftBank that gives customers a warm welcome, tells you where to find milk and eggs, provides details about the products on offer and allows you to dispel any doubt about the characteristics of the products.
Not to mention the rush of the large scale organised distribution sector to the online marketplace. If on the one hand on the eve of the last Black Friday, the over 900 names in the Modern Distribution Association (ADM) in fact signed a manifesto of five points to report the asymmetrical competition of the giants of e-commerce, on the other hand they are continuing an increasingly omni-channel strategy that integrates the physical store with the digital marketplace and fills a market that currently covers only 0.5% of total food&grocery sales. A path that has led to the promotion of formats increasingly tailored to the needs of the user. An example in this sense is Bennet Drive, the service that allows you to do your shopping online and collect it at a point of sale of your choice where you can pay via Pos without getting out of your car. To fill the car boot with bags there is staff member assigned to the task. In the meantime, between the aisles of the Spanish Carrefour, Pepper has made its appearance. A humanoid robot developed by SoftBank welcoming customers, tells you where to find milk and eggs, provides details about the products on offer and allows you to dispel any doubt about the characteristics of the products. In short, an attendant with a cybernetic brain.
But technological developments are not necessarily the heralds of negative scenarios. Thanks to blockchain, the data collection technology at the base of the cryptocurrencies, Carrefour aims to ensure greater transparency and security for products on sale. The consumer simply scans the QR code in the labels to know the "journey" of the product from its origin to the supermarket shelves. With the Eden app instead the American chain Walmart aims to reduce the wastage of fresh food products by two billion dollars. Thanks to an algorithm, the products will be destined to the points of sale with the correct priority, giving priority to those foods closer to perfect ripening compared to greener products.