Artificial intelligence (AI) presents retailers with the opportunity to pack a powerful one-two punch: 1) identifying trends rapidly, and 2) acting on those insights quickly based on a highly localised and personalised understanding of consumer preferences.
In its article “Could Amazon’s Bots Be the Next Hot Fashion Designers?” PYMNTS.com offered up this hypothetical example: “Picture this: Bots scanning social media come across scores of consumers posting images of wooden shoes, which are available readily in Europe but not abundant in the U.S. Amazon AI technology identifies the trend across various sites, including Pinterest, Instagram and Facebook, then creates a new wooden shoe design for sale on Amazon. Because the Amazon bots have already determined the best day, month and time to launch shoes, the debut is timed perfectly and the wooden shoes become the hottest ticket of the year, all thanks to early identification of the trend by AI technology and unique positioning of the shoe during the optimal time and day.”
One. Two. Knockout.
But what is AI, really?
When discussing AI, it’s easy to feel a sense of information overload. Beyond the overwhelming notion of the sheer amount of data involved, there are some rather esoteric-sounding concepts like “deep learning” to try to digest. Intel’s tech culture magazine iQ did a nice job of boiling it down in a piece earlier this year. Intel turned to the Turing Archives’ definition of AI, which describes it as “the science of making computers do things that require intelligence when done by humans.” The article goes on explain that AI is a very broad term. It is at play in chatbots, visual recognition, driverless cars and even email spam blockers. With machine learning, a subset of AI, algorithms are “trained to spot patterns in large amounts of data.” Deep learning takes it a step further, “processing information in layers where the result/output from one layer becomes the input for the next one.”
Cognitive computing, another term used often in conjunction with AI, involves the way a computer system tackles a complex problem. “Cognitive systems are designed to solve problems the way humans solve problems, by thinking, reasoning and remembering,” said the iQ article. Saffron Technology has described how cognitive computing systems “learn and adapt as new data arrives” and “explore and uncover things you would never know to ask about,” according to iQ.
How Are Retailers Using AI Today — and Tomorrow?
Retailers are bullish on AI’s future prospects. ComputerWeekly.com cited an IBM study, which found that 91 percent of retail executives think cognitive computing will play a disruptive role, and 83 percent believe it will have a critical impact on their business’ future.
AI is already at work behind the scenes in virtual assistants such as Amazon’s Alexa and Apple’s Siri as they help end users find everything from their favourite song, to a good restaurant, to the right outfit. The Khaleej Times recently reported on how all new HTC smartphones are coming equipped with multiple “intelligent companions” — HTC Sense Companion, Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa.
Almost every retail website uses a form of AI to suggest product recommendations based on search activity and past purchases, but some are taking it to the next level. Drapers interviewed Shop Direct CEO Alex Baldock, who said the retailer’s next big bet is on AI. “AI will allow us to take our next big leap forward,” Baldock told Drapers. “It will allow everyone to have their own personal shopper and one who knows what she wants before she does.” Shop Direct is going to launch an AI-powered version of its customer service chatbot who can answer 32 different types of customer queries, recognise over 4,000 written phrases and respond accurately.
ComputerWeekly.com reported about how The North Face is using IBM’s Expert Personal Shopper (XPS) platform to help consumers shop for outerwear on its website. “XPS runs Watson’s natural language processing to help consumers discover and refine product selections based on their responses to a series of questions,” the article said. “For example, after a shopper enters details on a desired jacket or outdoor activity, XPS will ask questions about factors such as location, temperature or gender to recommend a suitable jacket.”
Google and Zalando recently announced plans to use AI to power a gift-finding assistant app, which will be available in Germany in late October. The app, running in conjunction with Google Assistant, is designed to offer a “fun and personalised experience,” Zalando said. A chatbot asks the shopper a few questions to help find the perfect gift and makes it easy to access product details and make a purchase.
ComputerWeekly.com also reported on a couple of potential AI applications that sprang out of a “hackathon” hosted by Yoox Net-a-Porter Group and supported by IBM. One idea sought to give shoppers the ability to upload a celebrity photo and ask the system to find the famous person’s outfit or something similar for the consumer to purchase. “Another idea tackles the issue of returns by understanding what clothes will fit, based on a deep understanding of the size of garment from fashion houses,” the article said.
Some retailers are using AI to analyse data from activity detection in their stores, reported RetailNext in an article posted by Venturebeat. By better understanding how shoppers move about the store and try on merchandise, retailers can adapt their stores and services to better meet consumers’ needs. “Other AI use cases in retail include better predictive and prescriptive models — essentially answering forward-facing questions like what will happen in a particular store tomorrow or this weekend — and automatic recommendations — along the lines of where new stores should be opened, what the layouts should entail, and what products should be stocked in the store and where,” the article said. “Shoppers’ needs and values will be better met when retail marries art and science.”
Ultimately, AI is one more important way to create a positive customer experience. It is fast becoming an essential part of any connected commerce strategy. A few things to consider as you forge your AI strategy:
– How can store associates use AI at the point of service to created tailored interactions with shoppers?
– With the rise of AI virtual assistants, why is real-time inventory management more crucial than ever?
– What role does AI play in gaining a clearer, 360-degree view of the consumer across channels?
Cegid has the answers to these question and more. Contact Cegid to learn how we can help you pack a powerful punch with AI.