Robots will eventually come to dominate the retail sector, according to the head of Chinese e-commerce company JD.com.
Richard Liu told an audience at the World Retail Congress in Madrid that he expects robots to replace human workers in the future, Reuters reports.
“Sooner or later, our entire industry will be operated by AI (artificial intelligence) and robots, not humans,” Liu said.
China’s second-largest e-commerce platform is already investing in disruptive technologies such as drone delivery, warehouse automation and AI.
Its extensive logistics network covers 99% of China’s population and includes a commercial drone service to less-developed areas, but the retail group still has 65,000 human employees to help move parcels around the country, Essential Retail explains.
The transition to full automation is likely to be gradual: Liu said he thinks it will take another decade for the technology and shoppers to be ready.
“We have to make a lot of innovation every day and never stop … Reduce cost and improve customer experience. That’s all,” Liu commented.
Many stores around the world already have self-service technology, of course, and Amazon is conducting a pioneering trial in Seattle where it has opened a real-world supermarket with no checkouts — instead relying on cameras and sensors to identify each customer and track the items they select.
However, other retail leaders at the event warned against replacing all employees with robot workers.
John Lewis’ group director Tom Athron told Retail Gazette: “Humans and machines together will always be more powerful than machines on their own or humans on their own.
“If consumers don’t want the human touch in retail then we are in real trouble as an industry.
“The easiest thing to do when sales fall is to cut costs by taking jobs out of stores but that’s not what customers want.”