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02/23/2022

Levi’s saves labor with robots

Dan Berthiaume
Senior Editor, Technology
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Levi’s is automating routine processes with robots.

A leading denim brand is shifting valuable labor resources from mundane tasks to higher-value initiatives with robotic automation.

As part of a broader digital transformation effort, Levi Strauss & Co. is developing robotic process automation (RPA) capabilities. With RPA, the company can create bots that automate labor-intensive and lower-level tasks, enabling employees to spend time on higher-level analytical and judgment-based work.

Levi’s developed an RPA Center of Excellence (COE) team that works with different departments to find automation opportunities and scale automation across the business.

“For a company to truly transform digitally, we must approach it from all angles: top-down and bottom-up, Levi’s CFO Harmit Singh said in a corporate blog post. We’re ensuring teams across functions have the tools and services they need to work in a digital-first mindset. We are seeing not only an immediate reduction in operational costs but also increased employee satisfaction as teams can focus on higher-value activities. While RPA is common among tech and digital-native companies, it’s just beginning in the retail industry.”

RPA – one year in
The company’s entry into RPA started in 2017, but its dedicated internal RPA COE team launched afterward, with two proof-of-concept bots going live for the first time in February 2021.

One of these first bots completely digitized how Levi’s invoices wholesale partners. Prior to February 2021, teams in New Zealand and Australia would download and email monthly statements to the company’s roughly 700 retail partners in the region. Downloading and attaching each individual PDF statement took days to finish.

Since deploying an RPA bot that automates the entire wholesale invoicing process, while also improving invoice tracking management, in 2021, Levi’s has saved nearly 500 hours of manual work. What took a human more than five minutes to do from start to finish now takes 20 seconds with an automated bot.

For the second RPA project, Levi’s assisted merchandise coordinators (MCs) in the U.S. and Canada to turn what took multiple days and hours of work spread across roughly five people into one automated bot. To ensure stores had the current season’s products in their systems, MCs had to manually enter more than 4,000 product codes. The process was slow and prone to human errors.

After the bot was deployed, it saved nearly 750 hours. With the time saved from this manual data-entry task, MCs are spending more time building other skills.

Levi’s has been actively pursuing digital transformation. In January 2022, the company deployed a custom-built app called Retail Insights, designed to provide stores, districts, countries, and clusters with real-time access to intelligent data via mobile device, in North America.

Developed for the stores by the stores, the app was originally introduced in Europe. Retail Insights pulls sales, inventory, and product performance metrics into a mobile app that provides store managers with requested data. The application is hosted on the company’s new cloud-based Data Ocean, a Google Cloud-based data repository built by LS&Co. 

Future plans
Levi’s has developed a pipeline of roughly 50 new bots to be deployed during 2022 alone, which is predicted to save employees more than 20,000 hours a year One new bot set to roll out during 2022 is the Purchase Order (PO) Closure Bot, which will be able to automate and scale the amount of POs the finance organization is able to close out in a timely manner.

Traditionally, the finance team has set aside time at the end of each year to sift through thousands of POs that haven’t been closed. The process is tedious, typically involving multiple emails between internal teams and/or vendors until a positive confirmation to close out the PO is received. Open POs can cause issues across the organization and impact the company’s ability to have an accurate understanding of budgeting and finances overall.

The PO Closure Bot will fully automate the process, handling all correspondence and closing out a PO once addressed. As a result, the team will be able to reconcile their POs quarterly instead of annually, scale with growth spikes in POs, and gain time for other projects. 

Levi’s is also exploring ways to mimic employee workflows by deploying sensors across computers to understand how processes are completed, with the goal of optimizing how it standardizes and simplifies processes.