Robots could take half a million UK retail jobs within the next five years

UK retail is set to lose over half a million jobs to robots, according to the 2019 Harvey Nash/KPMG CIO Survey.

According to the study, the move towards automating the retail sector is being “driven from the top”, with almost half (44%) of IT leaders reporting that using automation to improve efficiencies is one of the big issues that their board is looking for IT to address.

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These findings are published shortly after the Office for National Statistics (ONS) estimated that two-thirds (135,000) cashier jobs in UK retail are at high risk of being automated.

Additionally, the John Lewis Partnership also announced that it is one of the companies behind an open framework which will help companies understand the relationship between humans and robots, after it has trialled the use of robots to harvest produce from its farms for Waitrose stores.

The research also revealed that two thirds (67%) of IT leaders in UK retail believe new jobs will compensate for job losses to AI/automation. This combined effect of job losses in ‘traditional’ areas and new job growth requiring new ‘digital’ skills is likely to lead to a “significant reorganisation” of roles across retailers.

Albert Ellis, CEO of global tech recruiter, Harvey Nash, said: “Whilst most consumers’ experience of retail automation may be the frustration of having an ‘unexpected item in the bagging area’, this Survey shows how the influence of automation is being felt across the entire retail organisation.

“If you also consider the radical changes happening in the high street, and the explosive growth of online commerce, it’s clear the retail sector is undergoing massive change.”

He added: “But, while much of the narrative has been around what jobs might be lost, the real battle for success will be around which retailers will be able to attract and develop the right skills and talent for this new automated, digital world.”

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