The retail sector is on the brink of being revolutionised as new technologies emerge, with artificial intelligence helping redefine the way retailers engage with consumers. In 2016, the sector generated an estimated annual income of around £358 billion in just the UK alone, with a 2.1% increase in sales on the previous year.
Artificial intelligence has come a long way in the past 20 years, having advanced to the point where it can make decisions far better than people can. Industries such as manufacturing and healthcare have led the way in the use of this technology, with robots becoming a critical component in terms of their success.
While it may not be as glamorous, retail is another sector that is poised to benefit from the advancements of artificial intelligence. AI enables retailers to engage with consumers more in depth than ever before to enhance their experience with the brand, yet despite this there are still retail managers who are happy to use their own experience to drive the decision-making process.
Despite the human brain’s natural talent for recognising pattern trends, and no matter how reliable your "gut feeling" may appear to be, sacrificing speed, efficiency and savings will get you nowhere fast.
Machines have shown time and again that they can consistently outperform established methods by taking advantage of a multiplicity of factors that humans would not be able to.
In order for retailers to tap into the full potential of today’s customer-empowered marketplace it requires a complete overview of the customer across every touchpoint and medium. Understanding what customers want, need and expect is critical to how successful your organisation can be, and having the right processes in place can provide that.
Having said that, the next few years are expected to be a ‘golden age’ for consumers, with shoppers being permitted more choice and control than ever before. They will be presented an increasing amount of products, many of which are specifically targeted to their needs, all at the touch of a button whether online or otherwise.
How AI can influence the retail sector
Genuine artificial intelligence relies heavily on the vast amounts of data it collects. It uses this information to carefully identify specific patterns and traits that could take humans years to configure.
Some benefits AI can introduce to the retail sector include:
Personalised online shopping
The offers presented to users online and on mobile can be increasingly personalised – including knowledge or estimates about not only the consumer’s history, needs and interests but also their budget, time or storage space constraints, for instance.
VR technology has seen tremendous growth in recent times, with perhaps the biggest breakthrough being in gaming with the Playstation. By sitting at home, retail consumers can visit various stores, view their entire catalogue, and look for all the latest collections from their favourite brands or designers.
The physical process of visiting a store will always be favoured by shoppers, but that doesn’t necessarily negate the use of AI within them. We’re already seeing breakthroughs with automated tills, but if you take the features Snapchat uses for instance, who’s to say it won’t be possible for shoppers to don the latest outfits without actually having to?