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News Roundup: Virtual reality, cashless societies, and the timelessness of good customer service

July 3, 2019 Updated: September 8, 2020

Harvard Report: Customer Service Key for Retailers to Survive in Digital Age

“Retailers that want to thrive in today’s and tomorrow’s ever-more-competitive markets have to offer a better customer experience,” according to the report. Investing in workers and customer service builds deeper consumer loyalty and actually reduces costs in the stores due to lower turnover and shrinkage.

Just pouring more money into automation and other technology while ignoring what customers actually want will only worsen the “operational problems” and “poor customer experience” so many stores are already confronting.

Hong Kong Highlights Dangers of Cashless Society

With Chinese authorities closely monitoring protests in Hong Kong, pro-democracy activists ditched a popular digital payment card for cash to avoid being tracked. “We’re afraid of having our data tracked,” said one protester. As one reporter noted, “there is simply no substitute for the privacy that cash provides.”

With many U.S. companies like Amazon already pushing an aggressive expansion of the cashless model, this Hong Kong story only further heightens concerns for consumer privacy. As consumers express concerns about privacy, retailers and other businesses should keep these risks in mind before going cashless.

2020 Debate Puts Spotlight on Automation Threat to Economy

“Technology is now automating away millions of American jobs,” said Andrew Yang, presidential candidate and former tech entrepreneur, during last week’s debate.

“We automated away 4 million manufacturing jobs in Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin,” he added, saying “We’re about to do the same thing to millions of retail jobs, call center jobs, fast food jobs, truck driving jobs and on and on through the economy.” As companies continue this automation push, workers will look for more candidates and lawmakers to address this issue.

Walmart Now Using VR to Evaluate Workers for Promotion

Workers at the country’s largest private employer asking for a promotion, will now be fitted with a $250 virtual reality headset instead of simply meeting with their supervisor. Many companies are already pouring millions into self-checkout and other technology that replaces human workers and undermines customer service.

Walmart is clearly determined to double down on that trend by now diminishing the human element in employee reviews as well. One company not using VR in its promotion process? Strivr, the maker of the VR headsets Walmart is using to evaluate its employees.

Number of the Week: 9

That’s the number of Dunkin Donuts next-gen stores testing touchscreen kiosks that process orders and payments. In addition to automating tasks done by human workers, these devices could be just the beginning of a push toward technology that raises major privacy concerns for customers. As more restaurant chains adopt these kiosks and as more customers order and pay through rewards programs, there will be an increase in customer information stored on these servers.

One report showed that “facial- and voice-recognition are on Dunkin’s radar,” and that the chain was also looking at AI. With so many major companies vulnerable to hackers, the risks that come with this technology could make customers think twice about where they get their next donut and coffee.


Any upcoming stories about the impact of automation on the retail industry and the economy?

If you’re interested in speaking with UFCW, email awhite@www.ufcw.org for a quote, statistics, or interviews with workers in retail and other sectors of the economy.