The world stands before a valley, behind us is the worn landscape we have used for centuries, the same landscape that has brought us so far. Before us is a desolate valley that we cannot fully see the bottom to but we can see the end. Beyond the valley lies another plateau, full of potential, resources and opportunity. The problem is that most people do not realize that we are about to take the step into that valley and while most people are going to be blindsided, the signs were certainly there. McDonald’s is experimenting with kiosks replacing cashiers at many of their stores and restaurant chains like Apple bees has almost completely replaced their waiters/waitresses with tablets. The world is on the edge of the valley and it just needs a push.
While it may seem small at first, only a few companies come to mind for most when the question of cutting edge is brought up. Companies like Tesla and their advances in cars, Amazon with their delivery services and drones, Google and their many advancements. But one company that many might not know is a company called Ziosk. Ziosk is one of the companies behind restaurant chains like Apple bees turning to the aforementioned tablets instead of waiter/waitresses.
Some may ask why digital transformation is taking such a long time and while some point towards the potential bad public relations a company may get for perceived act of “killing jobs,” but a study done by MITSloan, this study has shown many important insights into the minds of CEOs and their employees. Examples are “Where CEOs have shared their vision for digital transformation, 93% of employees feel that it is the right thing for the organization. But, a mere 36% of CEOs have shared such a vision.” This quote right here shows that there is a division in the thinking between the generally aging CEOs and the much younger employees. And when you get CEOs with the mentality of the employee you get a CEO like the Ziosk.
Digital transformation has the potential to push humankind into an unprecedented era or discovery, progress and innovation, but at the same time it has the potential to put humanity in a state of stasis, where we neither go forward no back or just completely destroy us if we are not careful. But there is one thing that is certain, digital transformation is coming and we as a species are going to have to make a choice and that choice may be on of the most important we make.
It seems like not so long ago that marketing firms dreamed of putting out a new IP and having an almost instant audience to flock to it. And as many of us know now, this has more or less become a reality. While not to the point of being an exact science like some would like it, websites like Amazon and Netflix have been using subtle suggestions to build profiles of each of their customers to do such a thing. These come in the form of things like “People who bought this also bought” and “If you liked this show, then you may like this.” We have all seen these on our computer, phone and TV screens more times than we can count and it is there for a reason. The reason is that they are building the aforementioned “profile” of all of their customers, this gives them a set of data, which allows them to gauge the probability of people who buy one product, buying others that are similar. And this is where the important part is, since companies like Amazon and Netflix have the chances of people going to another product that is similar in nature to a product they already consumed, it can be determined the chances of a new product succeeding. No longer do marketing firms have to do large amounts of expensive research and no longer to companies like Amazon and Netflix need to hire marketing firms, they just need to collect the data on their customers so they can see the built in customer bases for certain products or genres. And this is going to turn advertisement on its head, since no longer will companies need to spend so much on advertisement space/time on shows, movies or webpages for a wide variety of people. They can targets the ones who already in the customer base to let them know that there is something that is similar to something they already like, and they can target the people who liked something similar to the product that they are now selling.
Back when I was in high school, my friend and I decided to go to Uno’s. I had been there several times before when I was a kid and when we had finally got there, I was shocked to see not a waiter/waitress but a small black box with a touch screen. While i was not confused as to how to work the machine. I had thought that automation like that was still several years out. But then it dawned on me, while not immediately profitable, these waiter/waitress replacements would probably pay for themselves within 5 years as the restaurant would have to hire less staff overall to work the same amount as tables as before. Looking back on this now, you can see many restaurants starting to prepare for the eventual take over of machines when it comes to order taking. Fast food chains like McDonald’s have these small “kiosks” that can take customer’s orders in place of an employee and we are now seeing more of the non fast food chains adapting to the new technology.
Another factor that is increasing the speed of adaption by companies like this, is the increase in support for the $15 minimum wage. Now regardless of political standing on the issue, the fear of this new minimum wage passing through congress has led chains like Applebees, McDonald’s and others to begin to prepare for what was going to happen eventually, automation.
Amazon is poised to take the super market industry by storm, when it revealed late last year that it was test running a grocery store. This grocery store utilizes technology called “Just Walk Out” technology, which is a combination of computer vision, deep learning algorithms and sensor fusion. What this does it allow for the artificial intelligence do scan your phone when you enter the store, and keep up with the items you take and put back onto the shelves in real time. So even if you take an item and then put it back, you will not be charged. Then instead of waiting on line, you just have to walk out of the store and your amazon account will automatically be charged and a receipt sent to you phone. This is new type of store has the potential to utterly destroy not only super market chains, but almost every kind of brick and mortar store available. Companies like Amazon will only need a fraction of the employees to fully operate the store as the previous need for cashiers will be gone. The only people needed will be janitors, people to restock the groceries and an overall manager to address any issues. And as this spreads to other stores like game stop and other kinds of retail, people will begin to lose jobs at a very fast pace as more and more jobs are simply no longer needed because of technology simply being better.
So one question remains, how do new comers compete with giants like Amazon. Well the short answer is they have to have everything connected to the internet. To describe this best i suggest going to 5:30 in the video above. What Taylor does to solve the problem of having to turn away walk ins, is symbolic of what the age to come is going to bring, utilization of the internet and adapting it to your needs. Taylor describes how he has a button at his place of work that they press every time they have to turn away a walk in customer. This builds a map for them of when they need staff as opposed to when they don’t. This allows them to place they employees on the clock when they are needed most and have less people on when work is slow. Adaption and thinking like this will allow smaller stores to compete with larger companies like amazon. And both are going to be the future of retail around the world.