In 2018 the first Amazon Go store was opened in Seattle. This store is at the leading forefront of automation. Shoppers often go through the entire shopping experience without ever seeing an employee, a human one anyway. Retail flooring is likely the 2nd hardest-hit area. As of 2019, we are starting to see self-checkout and e-commerce as the norm with big box stores. It is only a matter of time before a number of these concepts are adapted widely to independent retailers across the nation.
Most examples of retail automation are focused on the checkout process, however, this process is only a small portion of the retail shopping experience. For something as important as selecting a floor covering for your home, shoppers expect a trained consultant for design advice and technical expertise. Surely it will be a long time before robots can take over this process right?
Believe it or not, a large portion of the education process has already been outsourced to informational websites and message boards. Today’s shoppers are far more likely to research their options online before ever stepping foot into a store.
The flooring industry remains one of the last holdouts for the brick-and-mortar shopping experience. A large part of the shopping experience for flooring covering comes from touch and feel which is impossible to replicate online. Hefty return shipping fees act as another barrier to entry for e-commerce when compared to your local shop. However, as more Millennials become homeowner we are beginning to see a shift in consumer behavior. Retailers see this opportunity and some have started to adapt to changing markets with sample shipping and a heavier emphasis on professional room scene photography to enhance the ability to select a floor through visualization.
Purchasing flooring is a complex buying decision with many variables. Here are some questions that need to be answered: Will this floor look good with my cabinets? Will this floor work with my subfloor? Which transition molding should I buy? An experienced Sales Person who understands your unique needs can provide great value. One small foresight could lead to job delays and wasted material. Flooring retail sales appear to be a bit more resilient then other less custom retail experiences, however, it is only a matter of time before automation reduces the reliance on human capital.
A study conducted by the World Economic Forum suggests that jobs of the future will demand key elements such as STEM education, creativity, and emotional intelligence. Automation is more difficult for creative fields such as interior design and consultation which requires a level of emotional intelligence to truly understand each client. There will always be a market for the appreciation of natural beauty which is far more difficult to achieve with AI. Flooring retailers looking to become resilient to changes in automation should opt for a more design-focused shopping experience.
Want to learn more about how automation will affect the flooring manufacturing and installation industry? Check out Part 1 and Part 3.