Not so long ago, it looked as if brick-and-mortar stores were dead. The past two years, however, have seen a revival and various examples of repurposing in these spaces. Nonetheless, the face of retail has changed in significant ways, and we can never truly go back. While major companies such as Sears and Radio Shack have gone bankrupt and taken with them tens of thousands of jobs with all the related negative repercussions, retail is still alive.

In fact, retail is not only alive: it is thriving. Considering the average of 4.57 percent growth per year from 2010 to 2017, according to Forbes, it might be time to gear up for the new era in this industry. AI and automation are playing a huge role in the evolution of retail, and the related technologies seem to have near endless applications, from manufacturing to logistics and delivery to payment services.

Working Through Change

As a result, retailers cannot stay relevant operating under yesterday’s business models. There are plenty of ways to grow with technology and implement AI into businesses. For example, some retailers have augmented their retail experiences with AI. Beauty retailer Sephora has launched an app that allows users to find the right shades and products by uploading a photo of themselves and interacting with the app in a personal way.

With that growth and change, there are reasonable concerns about future jobs in retail. But it is far from a lost cause.

As customers continue to demand more, the human touch will remain critical to a businesses’ success. However, employment is changing, and over the next decade will look strikingly different than even the recent past. Humans will always be needed, even in the era of automation, but their tasks will continue to shift.

Personal shoppers, now called curators, for example, play a critical role in helping retailers stay current with trends and customer demands. Data management is also a pivotal role in contemporary business across many verticals, and retail is no exception. Big data’s most talented staff are tasked with finding innovative ways to connect and give retailers a competitive edge in every area of operations.

Experience is Everything

Arguably the most cogent reflection of the current retail zeitgeist is the focus on the experiential. According to Forbes, “today’s customers love powerful stories and rich experiences.” The customer experience professional has become the “multichannel merchandiser weaving retail experiences that span the online and offline worlds, connecting customers to the brand both before and after the purchase.”

As far as training staff for this new era, like most things in life, these activities have changed but also stayed the same. As has always been the case, the need for tech savvy employees continues to grow, so training will include use of various automated services. However, the classic training concepts are classics because they still work. Issues such as engagement between leaders and their staff, providing tools for success, empowerment and rewards for staff, adopting a coaching and teaching stance, and encouraging accountability will remain part of any success retail training program. As revolutionary as AI and automation have been in the retail space, they will never overshadow the role of real people proving critical services.

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