Right from Google’s predictive search, Apple’s Siri to Facebook’s automatic friend tagging and Uber using artificial intelligence (AI) applications, AI is making big noise and has got attention of the world in a massive way. While AI is increasingly everywhere what you probably don’t hear much about is AI in retail. While it may not sound as sexy as AI applications empowering recommendation engines for Google and Netflix, AI in retail will affect how we all shop, be it online or offline.

AI and deep learning uses software programs to perform complex tasks without active participation or insight from humans making the task at hand a hundred times easier and faster to complete.

Understanding online behaviour

Armed with the ability to research a retail brand online, customers are today more knowledgeable than ever before. A striking 80% customers research a product online before visiting a store. Yet when customers visit stores, they’re greeted by sales assistants who aren’t aware of the shoppers’ level of product knowledge, don’t have a system that shows customers what they want and may even fail to recognise what the customer is looking for. Such a scenario could leave the customer feeling disappointed and the brand having lost out on a potential sale.

Need to put the geek in chic

While brands spend millions in advertising budgets, there is no proper hand holding process in-store when a customer visits. In-store selling has not seen any technological innovation for years, unlike online which has recommendation engines tailored to customer’s taste. Improving and restructuring customer relationships is one of the guiding forces for retailers. Thankfully, artificial intelligence can empower retailers to offer shoppers with personalized recommendations and help with customer retention as well as conversion.

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With online shopping gaining popularity, in-store outfits have struggled. Now, more than ever before, brick and mortar retailers like online businesses must adapt to technological shifts in order to get back into the game.

Retailers must try AI for size

When a customer visits a store three core questions must be immediately answered; i.e, “what should I buy?”, “is this available in my size?” and “is there something similar to this?”. Technology can help answer these questions either offline or online by syncing into the store’s social media or website, and in the process prevent the loss of a sale.

Progress of predictive AI, machine learning along with big data and cognitive computing is making e-commerce and retail smarter and more personalised. Some of the emerging use cases that exist in retail using AI and machine learning are:

Assisted Selling

A sales assistant armed with a tablet is viewed by shoppers as having the ability to immensely improve their shopping experience. This is also validated by the UK Shopper Satisfaction Study wherein every 1 in 3 respondents said that assistants should be armed with tablets. Tablets empower sales associates with access to online product reviews, product comparisons and corporate wide view of the inventory which helps provide a personalised in-store shopping experience. Coupled with information of past purchases of the customer and you can build an intelligent recommendation engine. The engine uses image recognition and classification built with deep learning libraries.

Conversational commerce and the debut of bots

While apps have had a great run since the launch of Apple App Store in 2008 and Google Play Store in 2012 to around 4 millions apps being available across mobile stores today, users have become fatigued with using apps resulting in them soon going to plateau. People find it difficult to download apps because of the everyday hassle of navigating between apps. According to an article in the Economic Times, 75% of users uninstall an app within 90 days of downloading it and it is not easy to increase user retention.

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With chatbots having made it to our home screens, it will soon be the way we communicate, book flights, order a pizza and even buy a pair of shorts. Subway and Domino’s Pizza in the US already use chatbots to take orders. Bots are riding the rise of instant messaging. Users around the world have already opened up to messaging services indicating that they will happily talk to bots. Millions of users are already on instant messaging platforms such as Facebook messenger, Whatsapp, Skype etc.

A conversational interface is the new way for retail brands to interact with customers. A chatbot can help retail brands respond to customers, answer their queries and even make a sale. It can also function as an in-store shopping assistant, helping customers with product discovery. For example, in case of apparels you can tag products based on certain attributes and occasions using deep learning libraries. These tags can then function as conversational hooks for customers’ interactions with bots.

If there is interest from industry leaders, just like there was for apps, the bot market will also mature. Having said that, the mobile world is complex and it will always be a mixed affair with apps, websites and bots creating room for themselves. Bots will, however, grow into being the preferred tool for quicker responses.

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