There are other checks on automation. Negotiations with suppliers typically require a human touch. Even if an algorithm can help buyers make decisions more quickly and accurately, there are limits to the number of supplier relationships they can juggle.
Arti Zeighami, who oversees advanced analytics and artificial intelligence for the H & M group, which uses artificial intelligence to guide supply-chain decisions, said the company was “enhancing and empowering” human buyers and planners, not replacing them. But he conceded it was hard to predict the effect on employment in five to 10 years.
Experts say some of these jobs will be automated away. The Bureau of Labor Statistics expects employment of wholesale and retail buyers to contract by 2 percent over a decade, versus a 7 percent increase for all occupations. Some of this is because of the automation of less sophisticated tasks, like cataloging inventory, and buying for less stylistically demanding retailers (say, auto parts).
There is at least one area of the industry where the machines are creating jobs rather than eliminating them, however. Bombfell, Stitch Fix and many competitors in the box-fashion niche employ a growing army of human stylists who receive recommendations from algorithms about clothes that might work for a customer, but decide for themselves what to send.
“If they’re not overly enthusiastic upfront when I ask how do you feel about it, I’m making a note of it,” said Jade Carmosino, a sales manager and stylist at Trunk Club, a Stitch Fix competitor owned by Nordstrom.
In this, stylists appear to reflect a broader trend in industries where artificial intelligence is automating white-collar jobs: the hiring of more humans to stand between machines and customers.
For example, Chida Khatua, the chief executive of EquBot, which helped create an exchange-traded fund that is actively managed by artificial intelligence, predicted that the asset-management industry would hire more financial advisers even as investing became largely automated.