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Which Trends Are Shaping AI In Retail This Year? 20 Experts Share Their Insights

  • 19 September 2019
  • Sam Mire

What's shifting the current state of AI in retail? Who is using artificial intelligence to sell you more stuff, and how? Is AI going to change the way that retailers purchase inventory and digest customer data, and if so, when? These sort of trends are critical to understanding the timeline for full-blown AI adoption in retail. These industry insiders and observers shared their views on the most critical AI trends in retail. Here's what they said:

1. Gil Larsen, Vice President of Americas at Blis

“Through different AI apps, customers are able to have a personalized experience they can come back to time and time again. And using that data, stores are able to create experiences for shoppers that keep them engaged while also building brand loyalty. For example, DTC brands like ThredUp use
AI to recall customer preferences and help build a carefully curated experience that they receive with each order. Additionally, we’re seeing it applied in-store to make check-out more frictionless, with digitally-native brands like Amazon opening physical locations with no cashiers – an interesting concept piquing the interest of the broader industry.”

2. Michelle Bacharach, founder and CEO of FINDMINE

AI certainly has brought personalization to a new level, which we see everywhere from targeted personalized messaging and product recommendations. However, too much personalization will dilute a brand’s POV, the ultimate defense against Amazon. So a balance must be struck between the brand’s expertise, which the consumer craves, and personalized experience that makes the endless options feel manageable. AI must be used thoughtfully.

There is also so much confusion of noise for signal when it comes to personalization. I’ll click on something plaid and suddenly the whole website is plaid products! Ham-handed experiences like this are another example of where personalization can do more harm than good. People are also fickle and change what they want on a whim. Any company that attempts to claim to have figured out consumers purchase intent is smoking something. It’ll be years before the industry can get there and maybe not even then. GDPR and CCPA will also take away many of the data sources previously available to train AI applications on, which will further complicate the personalization landscape in years to come.”

3. Shep Hyken, Customer Service & Experience Expert, NY Times Bestselling Author of Amaze Every Customer Every Time 

Shep Hyken“The use of AI in sales and managing the customer database continues to be a major trend, if not the number one trend. The use of AI to manage the customer experience is a great opportunity.”


4. Vidyuth Srinivasan, CEO of Entrupy

“I think the trend of AI getting into the backends of retail and how the value being added is enormous, as evidenced by companies like Celect being acquired.”


5. Julian Fisher, CEO of jisp

“The number 1 trend shaping AI is ‘price’. Retailers, notably online, are using AI to fine-tune algorithms to price products dynamically against an ever-changing market. While Amazon remains the king of AI, new solutions, which monitor price fluctuations across multiple marketplaces, are delivering price parity between stores – ie., reducing price variations. As such, if a consumer can’t make a decision based on price, with retailers offering an almost identical price, it will come down to added value, such as fees or delivery options.”

6. Brian Walker, Chief Strategy Officer at Bloomreach

I would say the top trend shaping AI in retail is in applying machine learning to optimize the holistic experience, inspiring customers with personalized content and of course the right products and offers while also driving business results. While this is not necessarily a new talking point in the industry, the reality is that this is now something that can be rolled out en masse.”

7. Kerry Liu, co-founder and CEO of Rubikloud

“The retail revolution has made it more complicated to run a retail business now more than ever before. Retailers offer multiple ways for consumers to shop, and with that, consumers have now come to expect a certain level of experience where retailers provide the right product, at the right time, and at the right price. Fortunately, retailers have multiple touchpoints with consumers, whether that’s through a website, mobile app, via direct marketing or in-store. These various touchpoints translate into data that retailers can utilize to improve the customer experience, build loyalty and drive revenue.”

8. Alexandra Sheehan, B2B Retail Copywriter for Shopify, Vend POS, and Stitch Labs

“Omnichannel. Though it’s something we’ve talked about for a while now, retailers are only just starting to wrap their heads around how to truly execute on the omnichannel experience. AI can be applied to so many touchpoints, use cases, and channels. It’s now up to retailers to ensure everything has synergy — rather than adding friction to the customer experience, an omnichannel approach needs to enhance and streamline it. AI is a powerful tool in this, and retailers who understand how to bridge the gap between the online and “offline” worlds will see the most success.”

9. Mike Callender, Executive Chairman at REPL Group

“I think this is a mix of people starting to roll out demand planning across their categories after running trials over the last few years. They are also starting to take price optimization seriously and we are seeing lots of pilots popping up in this area. The large supply chain and retail system software vendors are starting to acquire some of the more interesting start-ups to add more AI capabilities to their software portfolio. We have started to see retailers like Waitrose adopt AI in their labor planning tools for the first time with pilots planned for this year.”

10. Sanjeev Sularia, CEO of Intelligence Node

The rise in concerns related to global tariffs and the impact this will have on goods manufactured in China is shaping how retailers view their inventory right now. Retailers are concerned with how these tariffs will impact pricing for vendors and suppliers, whether those costs will get passed on to consumers, and how to adapt pricing strategies to deal with those additional costs.  This concern, in combination with intense competition from the likes of Amazon, have retailers keenly focused on profit margin. Intelligent price optimization AI solutions can help maximize product profitability – all the way down to the SKU level – by giving retailers new capabilities to adjust prices in real-time.”

11. Amanda Nichols, Senior Manager for Retail, Hospitality, and Food Service Practice at Kronos 

“Competition in seasonal hiring is red hot, and effective use of AI and machine learning can be a differentiator among stores competing for talent. In 2018 for example, retailers hired more than 700,000 seasonal workers for the December holidays. AI and machine learning can be leveraged to quickly and efficiently match candidates to jobs, offering a speedy welcome to candidates who show real potential.”

12. Trey Courtney, Chief Product & Partnerships Officer at Mood Media

“This year the big trend in customer experience is using AI to augment the shopper's experience and assist the retailers' employees in assisting customers. This comes in the form of augmented reality applications such as smart mirrors or apps that use a camera to allow customers to virtually try on clothes and get product recommendations or using sales data to provide retailer's employees with insights into the customers who are in-store so they can make their shopping experience the best it can be.”

13. Jeff Hunt, founder of Snap36

“This year the big trend has been visual search, with Amazon, and Pinterest probably being the biggest trendsetters. There are a lot of predictions that by 2022, the majority of search queries will be picture-based rather than text-based. That's why we have been seeing a huge increase in 360° photography, because AI search engines need to be taught what the objects in images are, and the main way to do that is for them to be shown a high number of photos of that object at multiple angles.”


14. Kevin Sterneckert, CMO, Symphony RetailAI

The primary factor influencing AI’s adoption in retail seems to be the recognition that it can significantly improve specific, discrete decisions within the enterprise. For example, many retailers are deploying AI-enabled solutions as pilot programs in order to gauge their impact on inventory, forecasting and promotion management. As these programs deliver results and retailers can identify the measurable ROI, retailers will have the confidence to scale their AI capabilities across the full enterprise.”

15. Chris McCullough, CEO and co-founder at Rotageek

The current trend we see in retail this year, and which will continue to shape the industry, is a shift towards using data to fully understand the consumer, mainly triggered by an increase in customer expectations but also the evolving technological landscape.

Many retailers have started investing in AI and data analytics to gain knowledge that was once impossible to know and surface their customer insights, gaining the competitive advantage they need. Combining data sets with machine learning algorithms, retailers are now able to derive meaningful conclusions from data and meet their customer demands by delivering personalized customer experience as well as enhancing their back end operational efficiency and achieving higher ROI.”

16. Sean Byrnes, CEO of Outlier

“Retailers need to monitor and act on unpredictable customer behaviors daily.. But traditional analytics dashboards and business intelligence systems don't allow this. Retailers know they need to be more agile and have access to better, richer data insights.

To support this, retailers are adopting automated business analysis (ABA) systems. ABA offers daily guidance on unexpected changes in data and customer behaviors. It provides recommendations on how to optimize marketing, inventory, staffing, pricing, support and more based on these unexpected data or behavioral changes.”

17. Oz Etzioni, CEO of Clinch

“Personalization. It starts with making sense out of all the data being collected, and has been collected for years, and using that to better communicate to targeted audiences in a relevant way that will turn them into loyal consumers. Personalization provides ways to automate and optimize those consumer-tailored experiences per user/audience and, eventually, analyze and measure the impact per experience/audience/ location/ time of day and many more parameters that all eventually contribute to building a more powerful brand- and loyal consumer base with strong personal connections to the brand.”

18. Yigit Kocak, Inbound Marketing Manager at Prisync

“Business intelligence where retailers can make strategic business decisions via insights. From shopping cart behavior data to competitive pricing, retailers need to track many aspects that eventually affect sales, growth, and profit margins.”

19. Akhilesh Tripathi, Global Head of Digitate

“Retail organizations are competing to meet the demands of tech-savvy customers that expect an engaging 24×7 shopping experience, but siloed IT infrastructure is a drag on agility and supply chain bottlenecks slow the movement of goods to a crawl. Supply chain resiliency is a key element of competitive performance in retail today and it is shaping how AI is being applied throughout the industry.”

20. Carol Spieckerman, President of Spieckerman Retail

“Curating choice. The promise of “endless aisles” has over-delivered. Most shoppers have felt overwhelmed by choice at one time or another, particularly in the online environment. When shoppers are overwhelmed, they are prone to jumping off retailers’ platforms. AI is the pathway to a more intuitive and less stressful shopper journey – one that decreases the potential for cart abandonment and even product returns.”

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About Sam Mire

Sam is a Market Research Analyst at Disruptor Daily. He's a trained journalist with experience in the field of disruptive technology. He’s versed in the impact that blockchain technology is having on industries of today, from healthcare to cannabis. He’s written extensively on the individuals and companies shaping the future of tech, working directly with many of them to advance their vision. Sam is known for writing work that brings value to industry professionals and the generally curious – as well as an occasional smile to the face.