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The Future Of Retail: Human vs Automation

Group 32

As the industry is evolving rapidly due to technological advancement, retailers have no option but to implement automation to keep their businesses survive. There have been ongoing debates on how morally acceptable is automation in the retail industry: How much jobs should be automated? Will automation and artificial intelligence replace human? How much can retailers benefit from automation? How will it affect the relevant stakeholders: employees, customers, suppliers, etc.?

The advancement of retail sector by automation

Most people will tend to associate the increase of unemployment with the implementation of automation in various fields of job sectors. Hence, we tend to oversee the fact that automation also has the potential to create jobs. In the retail sector, e-commerce was created due to the advancement of technology and implementation of automation. E-commerce, according to an analysis conducted by the Progressive Policy Institute in the US in 2007, has created up to 400,000 retail jobs, far outweighing the 147,000 jobs lost in physical-stores. Another report by the Wall Street Journal on Amazon in 2017 states that not only Amazon has been able to increase the total number of retail jobs, but also have made their employees more productive through the use of automation and even managed to pay them better.

With the growing demand on the need for cost savings and rising expectations for better services, the implementation of retail automation has shown a growing trend among retailers. In retails, automation can be used to devise the system where routine tasks take care of themselves, allowing more focus to be given to other critical tasks. For example, Walmart has deployed shelf-scanning robots to audit its stores so the employees will not have to do simple repetitive tasks, and instead contribute more to customer services. The employees since then has been advocates for the robots as they find the implementation of the robots has eased their overall jobs. Even the customers didn’t think that the robots are bothering them during shopping. To further support the robots, Walmart has said it will not lead to job losses and the robots will be used to collect data to improve efficiency.

Furthermore, with the advancement of technology, robots have been more flexible and are programmable to do more tasks than ever. They are even able to interact with people which is beneficial to retailers.  Therefore, the introduction of the robot as customer assistant has gained more popularity. Softbank in Japan has introduced a humanoid robot named Pepper. It has been adopted in many retails shops not only due to its ability to communicate and interact with customers, but it can also detect and show emotions. The robots not only attracting local customers, but also from the rest of the world as the robots have become a tourist attraction based on an article from TokyoCheapo.

To conclude, from a ‘utilitarian’ perspective, we would strongly support the implementation of automations in the retail sector as we have suggested that it has the potential to bring more benefits for retailers and their stakeholders. As long as the development of automations is planned carefully following the ethical guidelines, we believe automation will be morally acceptable in the future in more than just retail sector.

The automation of manufacturing process are putting retail jobs in risk

Due to the growth of technology and other market demand, unemployment has increased as manpower in many aspects are replaced by robot machining. The increase of productivity reduces process time and minimises labour and human defects. Therefore many manufacturers started to use automated technology in the processes. However, the increasing demand for the automation does not always have beneficial effects. According to the office for national statistics, the number of jobless rose by 46,000 in 2018. A forecast of  20% current jobs will be replaced by automation in the UK.

The change in automation will require higher skill workers who are directly linked to the current workers but low skill workers will be unemployed. The action of the company is against the no harm principle. This principle states its free to do anything unless harm is done to others which workers displacement is harming (Poel and Royakkers, 2011)[12]. Our economy is based on the premise of people consume, as automation taking over jobs which results in fewer jobs available to humans, there would be fewer consumers resulting in changes in human standard of living and world economy in the long run. When the rate reaches epidemic proportion, the consequence will be a massive economic depression.

The total cost of operation would be raised due to high initial costs and variable development cost. These often related to the innovation and high maintenance of the system. Since the machines require many other computing technologies, the investment would be expensive.

The flexibility of the automated machine is another limitation. Machines are good at doing narrowly defined, and predictable tasks. However, it will face troubles when coming to the complicated work as they are mostly programmed and perform in repetitive tasks. It indicates the versatility of an employee is much higher than a machine. Automation and machines are prone to cyber attack or viruses. Companies can deploy viruses and malware to sabotage progress and operation of their rivals, resulting in losses in capital or assets. As technology progresses, machine learning will be more familiar where digital machine learns and improves themselves by analysing data such as human behaviour. Self-learning machines use these data to improve themselves and eventually to replace humans at a job where an actual professional human is not required. For example, a San Francisco company ‘iCEO’ provides project management software that aims to eliminate middle management positions. This software first decides which jobs could be automated and which other jobs require actual professional humans at a project, the software then assembles a team of freelancers over the internet for these jobs. After receiving works from freelancers, these machine will analyse them and ultimately replacing freelancers as well. This shows that human freedom is threatened due to technocracy which is stated under the Moralizing Technology principle from Poel (‘Ethics, technology and engineering‘ Poel and Royakkers, Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 2011).

33 thoughts on “The Future Of Retail: Human vs Automation

  1. A good article, with a some ethical angles explored. Maybe I’ve missed it but could you explore the topic from the points of view of Duty Ethics, Virtue Ethics and Care Ethics as well as utilitarianism please?

  2. An interesting article and I like how you have a detailed explanation on the downsides of automation. However, several questions came to my mind when I was reading through this. You mentioned that in the US in 2007, e-commerce has created 400,000 jobs and it has outweighed the 147,000 jobs lost. I am so confused. How could automation create more jobs? Is that just a short-term effect as you have also mentioned that automated machines lead to unemployment? Employers only want to cut cost so I am sure they will pay less to the workers or even lay them off after the implementation of automated robots. Maybe I have misunderstood your ideas but I really found it contradicting. So could you elaborate more on this please? And do you have a conclusion on whether automation should be supported after evaluating both pros and cons of it?

    Personally I don’t support automation because it will create a larger wealth gap between the rich and the poor, as what you have stated in the article. Well, low-skilled and uneducated people have limited choices of jobs. Retailing and manufacturing are the most common jobs for them. Automation is going to destroy their jobs and it is hard for them to find alternatives. So automation is only good for the rich and the educated people right?

  3. Interesting read!
    I’m not 100% on the side of automation but I do believe that using robots to do jobs that are dangerous and repetitive would be beneficial to humans, however, this comes with the cost of needing high skilled people. I think that properly training employees would overcome this problem.

    Overall, I don’t support automation being implemented in all fields of work, only the ones that are needed as I said before. Nevertheless, if implemented, another point companies have to consider and be really careful is the ease of getting hacked. I think if a company really wants to go for automation, it needs a very good team of humans that will be supervising all of this in order to reduce problems.

  4. Well written articles, covering the interesting topic.
    Undeniable, the growing use of automation would cause a significant impacts on workers, wages, and human rights broadly. In my opinion, the global community should begin to consider the necessary legal and policy responses to increased automation and make sure that the future of work places human rights front and centre.

  5. Very interesting topics. I personally see that technology has been able to transform human life. However, there should be a limitation to embed human life with technology particularly in job sector. Trying to humanise technology in a form of robot that can speak and act like a human – seems like people are losing their mind. There is a sense that differentiate us and technology. It is human judgement. And I believe there is no perfect algorithm to predict and pattern human judgement. Therefore, as a human, we should be able to wisely use technology.

  6. Great topic! I believe AI will take over most job positions in the future, and could possibly become a threat to human. However, human should have the ability to control them.

  7. Amazing topic about Automation. Powerful new technologies are increasing productivity and reshaping our world. With machine learning, AI can now excel human in fields like medical diagnosis, image recognition or even in board game like AlphaGo. I believe in the near future AI will be capable of doing tasks a human is not capable of.

  8. Interesting topic to look into. However, humans shouldn’t worry about being replaced by smarter computers. Jack Ma said and I quote “The world is not about smartness. The world is about heart. Wisdom is from the heart. The brain is about knowledge. If you compete with knowledge, the computer will win. If you compete with wisdom, the computer has no chance.”

  9. A very interesting read, it’s informative and sparks the heart of debate in me regarding this topic. I for one am of the opinion that machineries and technological advancements are not to be treated as threats but instead they are helping hands or tools if you must that aid in the development of our future world. Looking it at a bigger picture, opportunities could be created and burden eased with such development rather than the opposite. That being said, I very much agreed with your view, good job.

  10. Thanks for bringing this topic up. It has been a hot topic in today’s news, many studies have been published, but it’s very interesting to read new information and opinions. To me, whether it is a threat or not, it is definite that automation cannot be avoided for a more efficient economy.


  11. good article, very informative.. although a lot of job have been taken by automation but it shows the improvement of our work. Less labour, efficient and increase production

  12. Interesting topic. I believe the benefit of automation can out-weight other potential loss of economy, and the loss is also expected to be temporary. The movement of trend can hardly be stopped. Can we imagine a world that the horse-keeper protested and stopped the development of vehicle? Moreover, with the idea of free market, manpower will be reallocated. And finally, I also think that the industry of automation will also create a lot of new working opportunity.

  13. Informative article. Had little knowledge regarding this topic and that has changed after reading this. However, the debate over this topic would go on as AI would continue to exist in our life as we are used to the convenience offered. Hope to see further advancement in automation where we could benefit and coexist without any issues.

  14. Robots are programmed. Humans act with Compasion, Love, Personal touch and sometimes with innovative ideas. This is the major difference between human and robots. Indeed you can replace retail with automations, but it still require humans to attend to when the robots starts to receive extraordinary orders from the customers. Unless Robots do know how to think and feel like a human, it will be the beginning of the end of the Human Race

  15. Good article. It is indeed good for people to have a think about this matter. In the case of automation advancement, it is beneficial in terms of making it convenient and rather quick to deal with. However, although I agree that this advancement can also create job opportunities rather than cause an increase in unemployment, it would only be true in the case of the former that is and only if people are automation literate. Last but not least, it is important that albeit the advancement in technology in making human life easier, lest we have technology take over our lives completely so I do think that there should be a fine line as to where technology advances towards.

  16. I don’t agree with this article. Automation can provide a consistent production compared with the manpower. As the technology period is changing, the workers should adopt the transformation of the technology to improve their skill and ability to fulfil the work requirement. The action of blaming the company on self-benefit seems unfair to the employer. No companies would like hiring a low skilled and poor production workers instead of high production and precise workers or machine.

  17. Interesting read, both side of the party shows some strong argument points in the adaptation of automation in retail. Personally I think that the cons outweighs the pros in this situation even though automation shows promising features and may bring better income for the company, at the end of the day, they are still machines following lines of code that human programme for them to follow. Retail is a market where selling goods and service to customers take place and I don’t think it would be a good market to introduce automation in because in retails, interaction between humans would make the job easier and faster compared to automation, as previous comments states that, and I quote ‘ Humans act with Compassion, Love, Personal touch and sometimes with innovative ideas.’
    Although I think the introduction of automation in retail is a bad idea, automation can be applied in other fields such as industry, space exploration or and field of work that might be at risk to human. Automation should be a helping hand for us human and not a factor for workers to be worried about their own job.
    To sum up, I believe it would be a bad idea to introduce automation in retail as it will bring more harm than good. Automations should be applied in other field of work that does not include interacting with human.
    Thank you for the article.

  18. A well argued article with good arguments from both sides of the party. Personally, I’m in favour of the implementation of automation as life has been made easier and more convenient. Not only that, in countries facing problems of lacking in manpower, automation is definitely a good helping hand to overcome this shortage. However, many people has raised the issue regarding automation, especially AI, will eventually replace humans. To minimise the impact of this, we should limit the number of jobs that should be automated as we humans have more power over automation. Another issue that is often raised is that the jobs created by automation is not for the less skilled and educated people. To resolve this issue, companies or even the government should take the initiative to provide proper training for the future employees. We should be able to take advantage of the automation to progress forward.

  19. A well constructed article outlining both sides of the argument on the Implications of use of automation against human labour. While i am neutrally unbiased on this matter because i believe each sides has their own advantages and disadvantages, i would incline to agree on the case for automation as it would mean easier for the management of inventories and miscalleneous as well as sorting and getting all the necessary informations quickly and would less likely to be prone to error as compared to the use of human labour. On the other hand, this would meant in the world where human population is expected to be on the rise, the problem of unemployment is indeed a major issue which requires immediate attention. The use of robots and automated machines replaced humans and labour and this may have negative impact on unemployment. These points must carefully be considered in order to come up with a balanced solution which addresses these issues.

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