Despite the promise of artificial intelligence in the retail sector, we won't have any concept of its impact until years pass. The best we can do is monitor substantive trends and gauge what they mean towards the future of retail. Here's what industry pros see as the likely future of AI in retail:
1. Michelle Bacharach, founder and CEO of FINDMINE
“AI will power nearly every experience in the near future, in some capacity. Particularly in retail where there is a ton of data, a ton of customers, a ton of products, etc. AI is extremely valuable for making things happen (glean insights, deliver experiences, detect anomalies) at scale. Conversational commerce, fraud prevention, personalization, better and more scalable story-telling and brand building, better product design, and creation are all things that AI will enable in retail over the next several years. And then it will be so ubiquitous that we’ll just stop talking about it as this “trend” or phenomenon.”
2. Kerry Liu, co-founder and CEO of Rubikloud
“Data is the new digital currency for retailers. In this digitally-powered world, there are vast libraries of data available, providing businesses with more opportunities to better understand their customers. To take advantage of this digital currency, retailers will integrate new and
disruptive technologies like machine learning and AI. This intelligent automation will allow retailers to enhance business efficiencies behind the scenes that will ultimately improve the overall customer experience and drive more revenue.”
3. Shep Hyken, Customer Service & Experience Expert, NY Times Bestselling Author of Amaze Every Customer Every Time
“AI will help us understand our customers better; their buying patterns, interests and more. This will allow us to target specific groups of customers, personalizing their experience, and getting them only the information that they want and is relevant to them.”
4. Joe Skorupa, Editorial Director at RIS News
“Coming faster than many retailers anticipate is AI-voice assistance or AI-driven voice commerce. By the end of 2019, according to eMarketer, a third of the U.S. population will use voice assistance monthly. By 2020 50% of all online searches will be performed by voice assistance technology, according to Comscore. And note that AI-voice assistance is not limited to search or just using smart phones and speakers. It will soon include cars, tools, appliances and much more. The stage is being set today for AI-voice assistance to become a ubiquitous interface for consumers within a few short years and a brand new channel for retailers to stake their claims.”
5. Sanjeev Sularia, CEO of Intelligence Node
“In the immediate future, retailers will use AI analysis to make more 1:1 comparisons that allow them to understand how their products and their prices compare to their competitors. In the near future, monitoring of counterfeit good manufacturing and minimum advertised pricing violations will be an area of major investment. Down the line, we expect to see retailers deploy AI to help them act on the insights they glean from retail analytics platforms. These implementations of AI technology will help businesses to reduce inventory waste, reach consumers at the right price, elevate service quality, and improve bottom lines.”
6. Brian Walker, Chief Strategy Officer at Bloomreach
“AI and machine learning will be an essential tool to help retailers compete and thrive. It will be used in a wide variety of areas of the business and will continue to mature to compliment the expertise of merchants, marketers, designers, buyers in driving better business outcomes. It will be increasingly used not just in digital channels, but throughout the business.”
7. Sean Byrnes, CEO of Outlier
“Retailers have a lot of historical customer data, but AI, machine learning and automation allow retailers to see and act on current customer behavior within a much shorter period of time. This will enable retailers to meet customer expectations, make richer connections, and flex costs much faster, creating a competitive advantage.”
8. Jeff Hunt, founder of Snap36
“The Holy Grail of AI in retail is super-targeted advertising. Let’s say I am a retailer, and I have two customers. One — let’s call her Katy — is consistently buying costume jewelry from us, and the other — let’s call him Jeff — almost always buys denim overalls. An artificially intelligent system can determine this, and then serve up different types of content to those different shoppers. So Katy actually gets marketing messages that have pictures of costume jewelry in them, and coupons for costume jewelry, whereas Jeff is getting emails letting him know when denim overalls are on-sale. But the targeting here is really exciting because say those shoppers’ buying histories can also be saved on loyalty cards. AI can make recommendations at the point-of-sale so that even the sales clerks can deliver a more personalized experience to each shopper.”
9. Trey Courtney, Chief Product & Partnerships Officer at Mood Media
“AI is here to stay and will have profound impacts on retail, especially customer experience. I think the future is going to bring us very sophisticated solutions in the following areas:
Personalized Shopping Assistants: AI will allow retailers to create shopping assistants that can help customers get the right product when they're shopping. These assistants will follow customers from their phone to the store kiosk and back to their home.
Virtual Fitting Rooms: Cameras and sensors will allow customers to try on clothes (both at home and in-store) and find the perfect fit.
Store as a Community: Brands are looking for ways to make their environments feel like an extension of the community. AI has the ability to process large data sets and derives insights from this data very quickly.”
10. Amanda Nichols, Senior Manager for Retail, Hospitality, and Food Service Practice at Kronos
“The future of AI in retail is all about building better labor forecasting—e.g. accurately forecasting customer traffic and aligning staffing levels appropriately. Often, large retailers are going to have data scientists adjusting and tweaking a forecast report to factor in certain variables that experience has taught them matter—but what if AI did that for them? Then those same data scientists could turn their focus toward uncovering deeper efficiencies and higher planning initiatives.”
11. Brian Kilcourse, Managing Partner at RSR Research
“AI will be integral to virtually every process that retailers employ to run their businesses. Retail is moving from plan-to-execution model to. A sense-and-respond model. That would be impossible without the decision automation that AI enables.”
12. Akhilesh Tripathi, Global Head of Digitate
“AI will redefine business processes and customer engagement strategies across the industry. As the supply chain continues to become more complex and agility becomes a major advantage, retail organizations will commit increasingly substantial funds to ensure resilience and reliability with AI and cognitive automation. Organizations are also continually finding new ways to use AI to improve various aspects of operations and business processes, and this trend will continue.”
13. Kevin Sterneckert, CMO, Symphony RetailAI
“Although I believe we’re only in the early stages of the AI phenomenon, I see adoption accelerating in the near-term future. Within five years, every aspect of retail will leverage AI for sensing and reacting to market changes, recommending new approaches, and personalizing decisions. We will see retailers develop hyper-localized assortments and personalized marketing offers that build customer loyalty and create deep engagement between consumers and retailers.
Retailers will apply AI to help them engage with consumers in the way they want and through the channels they prefer. AI will influence which new products come to market and how retailers create, distribute and evaluate offers and promotions. They’ll be able to know what motivates and excites a particular customer and communicate with them in a way they are receptive to.
AI makes it possible for retail strategies to not only drive more sales but do it in a way that customers truly appreciate and reward with loyalty.”
14. Gil Larsen, Vice President of Americas at Blis
“Retail has changed drastically over the last decade. From the boom of the department store to the rise of Amazon and e-commerce, the industry continues to adapt to meet changing consumer expectations. AI has the potential to reduce costs, save time and improve the customer experience.
It remains to be seen whether or not shoppers will fully embrace the technology as it enhances the shopping experience, but it has proven thus far to be helpful to retailers in finding new ways to appeal to the ever-evolving customer.”
15. Oz Etzioni, CEO of Clinch
“The future of AI in retail, in a few words, is the ability to automate and optimize at scale in order to drive more sales both online and offline, using big data. This future means identifying and communicating better with consumers, and freeing people within the organization to focus on specific roles and actions for which the organization needs humans to fulfill. AI will change all interaction with consumers, from prospecting the right potential consumers to delivering the most relevant messages, all the way to purchases and building loyalty with consumers, while executing and optimizing the logistic process for the best and most effective service. It’ll be embedded in every touch point of the journey, whether through voice, touch or behind the scenes. The goal of a relevant, seamless, and a memorable shopping experience at large scale can only be achieved with AI integrated.”
16. Mike Callender, Executive Chairman at REPL Group
“1. Move to new areas like
i. Staff planning
(starting to happen)
ii. Recruitment AI
selecting right person for right job
iii. All items in
point 4 become better and more sophisticated
iv. Predicting returns
and stock availability
v. Predicting orders
before they happen and moving them up the supply chain”
17. Chris McCullough, CEO and co-founder at Rotageek
18. Carol Spieckerman, President of Spieckerman Retail
“For the near term, visual search will hold exciting possibilities because it passes the shopper-centric benefit test while furthering the retailer’s goals. When images of desired items can be instantly translated into confirmed availability and clickable transactions, everyone wins. In general, AI will become more integrated within retail organizations. Rather than being treated as a separate, discrete tool, it will be embedded into multiple functions.”
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