Many businesses are turning to retail automation–including accounts payable automation–to maintain and scale their operations. By 2026, the global retail automation market is expected to surpass $23.5 billion.
It's easy to understand why intelligent automation in retail is becoming essential. That said, there's no one-size-fits-all approach to retail automation. Consider this your introduction to current retail automation trends.
What is retail automation?
Retail automation can refer to the use of technology to automate core business processes and tasks in retail operations. It can involve software, hardware, and robotics to improve efficiency, accuracy, and speed of operations, refocusing time on nurturing customer relationships.
Retail industry trends
The retail sector has been turning to automation software to overcome some of its greatest hurdles. If any of the following trends sound familiar, it may be time to implement automation technology in your retail business.
According to a survey conducted by Forrester in conjunction with WorkJam, 63% of retailers reported a frontline employee deficit in early 2023. The same study revealed that 80% of retailers plan to implement new technologies to cover their core processes.
Automation in retail enterprises can help business leaders get more done with less, allowing you to maintain (or even grow) your retail operations with your current resources.
Supply chain & inventory management
Inventory management software, such as an ERP, can help retailers predict changes in customer demand and the availability of products or raw materials.
These tools can help businesses adjust their inventory to keep up with these changing conditions and demands, ensuring that you keep your shelves stocked and your customers happy. For example, 3-way matching ensures that your invoices align with your purchase orders and goods––and that your invoices are paid promptly and correctly.
As a result, you’ll experience greater accuracy and control over your payment process. You’ll also be able to centralize your AP processes for greater visibility, which can help you hone your company strategy moving forward.
Retail business owners can use automation tools to maintain their business agility in the face of rising overhead costs, increasing competition, and evolving customer demand.
Retail automation gives your business the resources to adapt to changing conditions and remain resilient despite economic pressures.
Reports have indicated that the average cost of a retail data breach is $3.27 million. Even if your retail business doesn't experience a breach of this magnitude, any cracks in data security can damage your business relationships and public reputation.
Online stores, especially, must protect their customer data, and retail automation software can provide these measures for maximum security.
What are examples of automation in the retail industry?
What are some of the most common retail automation solutions, and why should you consider putting them into action?
These are some of today's most relied-upon automation tools for retail businesses.
- Self-checkout systems: Retailers can use self-checkout systems for their brick-and-mortar sales to speed up the sales process and reduce labor costs.
- Inventory management software: Inventory management gives you and your team end-to-end visibility of the items you have in stock. Advanced artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning can even predict when you need to reorder items to meet customer demand.
- Warehouse automation: Warehouse automation can be used to fulfill e-commerce sales, ensuring that your products are picked and packed on time and following an efficient route from your distribution centers to your customers.
- Customer service automation: AI-powered chatbots can take on new customer service roles, providing real-time direct communication with your online customers.
- Retail marketing automation: With the right tools, you can launch automated retail marketing campaigns that help tap into your target market's preferences and buying habits. Retail marketing technology can empower you to craft personalized buying suggestions, send email reminders at specific stages in the sales funnel, and carry out other customer retention campaigns that keep your customers coming back for more. Your software can also analyze data from your point-of-sale system, identifying market trends that help you refine your future campaigns.
- AP/AR automation: Retail automation also involves streamlining your accounts payable and accounts receivable processes. Advanced software can help you match invoices to purchase orders or goods receipts to ensure invoices are paid correctly and promptly. And because these processes are managed through the software, you can significantly reduce human error.
How implementing AP automation helps retail businesses
The following benefits of accounts payable automation for retail have prompted more stores to integrate new technologies to streamline every aspect of their operations.
1. Reduce costs
AP and retail automation typically allows you to do more using fewer resources. The software can handle manual processes and repetitive tasks faster and more accurately than ever. This can reduce costs in two distinct ways.
First, you won’t have to worry about increasing your organizational headcount as your business grows, nor will you have to be concerned with the cost of training and onboarding new workers.
Second, AP automation ensures you pay your vendors and suppliers quickly and accurately, eliminating fines or surcharges associated with late or missed payments. And with automated technology, you can prioritize your AP processes to maintain a healthy cash flow within your business.
2. Increase operational efficiency
Adopting AP automation can help you to streamline accounting processes while improving accuracy and speed.
This is excellent news for businesses that operate several retail locations or entities. AP automation provides a comprehensive solution that meets the needs of each location with centralized visibility and control, allowing you to work as a cohesive unit.
You can dedicate more time to serving your customers, which can go a long way toward building customer loyalty.
3. Virtually eliminate human error
Manual reporting procedures require employees to periodically reconcile bank and GL accounts. But AP automation can automate this process, ensuring both systems are always kept up to date..
As a result, your operation can have greater confidence in your organization’s ability to manage its finances. These systems all but eliminate mistakes caused by manual double entry of data, which means you'll spend less time correcting mistakes and more time keeping your business moving forward.
4. Serve up a better customer experience
An automated retail store is better equipped to provide top-notch customer service. That's because store administrators can focus less on manual and routine tasks and more time investing in their customers.
Hunter Thompson expresses similar sentiments. As the chief operating officer of Golden Ratio, he's seen firsthand how AP automation from BILL improves the customer experience: "The less we have to think about payables, the more it frees our minds to focus on making the best products for our customers and expanding our reach into new markets.”
In short, greater business efficiency leads to a better experience for both you and your valued customers. With AP automation, you can train your employees to spend less time on administrative tasks and more on providing first-rate customer service.
5. Enhanced scalability
Many retail business owners dream of expanding their businesses but fear they lack the technology, skills, or resources needed to do so. But retail automation allows you to grow your business without requiring an increase in head count.
Automation makes growth more manageable. For example, Spikeball™ soared in popularity after appearing on Shark Tank in 2015, quickly growing to $22M in revenue. Vice President of Financial Planning Analysis, Jurie Victor said that AP automation from BILL played a significant role in their ability to keep up with demand.
“The efficiency we’ve obtained with BILL is enabling us to keep pace with our amazing growth rate,” said Victor. “BILL has changed my life significantly and enabled our company to grow—it’s simply an amazing AP solution!”
Automated tools help you grow without increasing your overhead costs. AP automation, in particular, can help you manage even the most complex payment functions, which opens the doors for limitless growth.
6. Better business safety
An automated system can also protect your most sensitive business information, such as your sales data and customer payment information. Automated tools also offer encryption to allow you to craft a safe, effective e-commerce strategy for your online sales channels. AP automation can also promote safety for retail businesses.
AP software can protect your organization from data leaks, fraud, and other forms of cybercrime, such as securing your vendor and supplier information and protecting yourself from payment fraud. To learn more, consider reading BILL’s security e-book, which you can download for free.
How can I automate my retail store?
How can you leverage these solutions in your retail space? Consider the following steps as a path toward retail automation.
Determine your goals
Start by determining the goals of your retail business. Are you seeking to improve your brick-and-mortar operations or branch out into online or omnichannel sales?
This step can help you determine whether you would best benefit from point-of-sale systems in your retail store or whether you need to invest in order fulfillment systems to ensure a smooth warehousing and delivery process and what AP software syncs and integrates with your ERP software.
Consider your options
Implementing retail automation demands that you partner with the right service provider. Investigate companies to learn more about the products and services that they offer. Read online reviews to know what other customers have experienced while working with that provider.
For example, BILL offers award-winning automation in finance and accounting that gives your business even more agility.
Analyze and adapt
Whatever solutions you adopt, plan to analyze and adapt. What's working? What needs improvement? You might make adjustments, for example, based on internal data insights or customer feedback.
Adapting to these changing needs can ensure that you find a lasting solution that evolves with the changing needs of your business and your market or industry.
Transforming the way you do retail business
Retail automation can improve your core processes and eliminate human errors and other sources of inefficiency. BILL provides an innovative, comprehensive solution that both you and your customers will love. To learn more, visit our retail and e-commerce page and discover how our services can transform the way you do business.