The end of the retail employee

The end of the retail employee

For the first time it’s safe to say that the future of work is really fabricated by futuristic events. People will need to become just as versatile as AI technologies and blockchain applications. Are you ready?


Humans integrating with robots

We will witness ever more complex robotics, not only in production (like the Sewbot that can do the job of over ten employees) but also in stores (acting as automated cash registers, hosts and supply chain elements). The employee of the future will need to be able to interact with all of these new technologies, which would be easy for youngsters born in this era.  However as we move towards this exciting future, the mainstream workforce will have to be re-educated, trained and adapted to this new technologies. It won’t be the robots integrating with us humans, but the other way around.  


Just think about the consequences on a global scale if something so trivial as a fully automated sewbot would be introduced.  This robotic employee would work faster and more accurate than humans do and it would be possible to shift between several designs just by a simple push on the button.   All of this would mean a decline in cost for human capital (production) and a rise in technical investments.  Engineers for maintenance and highly educated profiles like PLC programmers will be needed.  This could mean a shift back towards mainland Europe concerning production.  Production facilities will later be integrated in warehouses (also automated) where millions of products can be stored, tracked and delivered by utilizing blockchain technology.


Need for energy

Countries like Morocco have an open minded view on these developments and they understand that the money won’t come from producing clothes for large fashion brands in the future.  Instead they look ahead and make major investments in huge solar farms to harvest energy from the sun.  A smart thing to do if you understand that our need for energy in the coming years will more than double.


The same goes for retail chains selling glasses and hearing aids.  Recent advancements in biotech have made it possible to actually restore these functions when damaged by applying small molecules programmed to repair damaged cells.  


Indeed, technologies like blockchain and robotics require heavily on advanced computing, which needs enormous amounts of energy.  This is one of these moments in history where we see major steps being taken in futuristic technologies without a war forcing us to do so.


What about us humans?

Most of the jobs we know today will be gone in a few decades.  We will look at our own jobs (when we get to grow older than 100 years thanks to biotech innovations) like we look at the telegrapher today.  Or the blacksmith even.  But this time things will be more intrusive, as technologies like AI and blockchain could make librarians, travel agents, bankers, taxi drivers… go extinct.


Looks like the future is robotized, automated, digitalized and recorded in one big hyperledger that never lies and regulates all our transactions.


So where do we come in?

Looking at retail it’s not all bad news under the sun.  Although we should be ready to accept that retailers will need fewer employees, that can be employed with almost unlimited flexibility and who are acquainted with all these new technologies.  And above all this, deliver a service to people looking for purpose and belonging in an ever more digitalizing world.  


Often I hear people saying that change is just coming at a slow pace when we talk about the future of work.  But is it?  I believe that these people need to wake up and understand that future of work no longer means that you can ‘work out of your home’… How old!  Catch up people! We are on the verge of colonizing Mars and mining asteroids for their gold and diamonds. Robots are getting so real that they are booming in military applications and the sex industry.  Speaking about colonizing Mars, ever wondered why it has become a race to get there first, by privately owned businesses?  Because everyone knows that in 50 years or so there will simply be too much humans on this small planet.  These technologies will force us to seek other places we can call home.


Retail schools

The future of work will be about interacting with AI robot employees, or interfacing with customers through blockchain applications that execute smart contracts.  One person will also no longer be linked to one company or job.  If we humans want to make it in a robotic world, we better make sure that we become just as versatile as these technologies.  One thing we still have going for ourselves is our history, looking back to where we come from.  Nostalgia and deeper connection with a retailers own brand and it’s story will be worth gold!  If it was ever a good time to have retail specific schools, the time is now! 


The skills that are required will take time to learn and an employee must be able to perform multiple roles.  We also need to learn how flexibility can be a positive thing by using technology that can help us to choose when we want to do which tasks.  Employers will inherit the challenge of implementing all these things, meaning huge investments in software tools.


Let’s just hope Skynet doesn’t take over in the end : -)


Peter Van Ostaeyen

Business Consultant SD Worx & Blockchain Enterpreneur