You will be redirected back to your article in seconds
Skip to main content

World Economic Forum Discusses Robots’ Threat to Retail Jobs

It is no doubt that robots will fuel retail’s future, but they may pose a risk to human employment.

At the annual World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos this week, participants discussed how artificial intelligence (AI) labor could be a threat to retail industry workers in upcoming years, Reuters reported.

“Jobs will be lost, jobs will evolve and this revolution is going to be ageless, it’s going to be classless and it’s going to affect everyone,” Hewlett Packard Enterprise chief executive Meg Whitman said at WEF.

Many major brands, including Adidas, have already incorporated robotics into their worldwide factories. The athletic wear company now has Speedfactory facilities that cut the production process drastically, streamlining overall operations costs. Market pressures and growing consumer demands have also pushed retailers to establish automated warehouses. IDC firm market research also said robotics spending hit an estimated $84 billion in 2016 and is expected to grow at a 17 percent compound annual growth rate (CAGR) between 2015 to 2019.

According to the WEF’s annual risk report, economists anticipate that 86 percent of U.S. manufacturing job losses will result from the industry’s technology implementation. This risk could potentially minimize the chance of bringing jobs back to the U.S. and furthering the nation’s economy in the long run.

ManpowerGroup CEO Jonas Prising discussed how U.S. unemployment is a problem for 90 percent of American workers with low or no skills.

“The idea that we would ban automation as part of an evolution within the manufacturing industry, is not really part of the discussion,” Prising said at WEF.

Although the retail industry would have to address concerns over job-stealing robots, other executives, including Proctor & Gamble chief executive David Taylor, said that in this technology takeover, workers currently employed in the manufacturing sector would have to be accounted for and possibly trained in other fields to avoid unemployment.

Related Stories

“If we don’t own responsibility [for the problem of displaced workers], it’s only going to get bigger,” Taylor said at a WEF.

The National Retail Federation’s annual show, the NRF Big Show 2017 in New York last week, also highlighted technology concerns. The show’s wearables and AI panels noted how retailers need to approach digital optimization with caution. Although incorporating smart apparel could potentially boost retailers’ future sales and increase consumer involvement, it does pose potential risks, including privacy infringement and failure to accurately facilitate omnichannel capabilities.

While the retail industry dabbles with AI, robots and wearables, retailers may want to evaluate how this technology shift could potentially harm human jobs and halt manufacturing employment progress in the future.