Between Siri on our phones and Alexa in our homes, it is obvious that modern-day consumers are increasingly trusting non-human sources for purchases and solutions. In fact, a recent study found that 63% of consumers believe AI will help solve complex problems that plague modern societies. In stores, technology driven by artificial intelligence allows consumers to shop checkout-free, visually search for products and communicate with chatbots at all hours of the day.
While most products are available online, and many are delivered within a day, the majority of purchases are still made in physical stores by people being helped by people, proving there is something more to the shopping experience than product availability and specifications.
In a paradox of progress, as retail becomes more ‘artificially’ intelligent, there is growing evidence that the human experience of shopping is critical to brand definition, conversion, and sales growth. This surge of AI on the retail floor is demanding more from sales associates and altering shopping experiences for their customers.
Operational intelligence vs. emotional intelligence
While technologies like AI and robotics attack operational costs and assure product availability, human associates have a longstanding history as the masters of the social and emotional elements required for engaging shoppers, building customer loyalty, and driving conversion. How then can AI improve associate performance and in-store shopper experience?
With AI projected to become a $190 billion industry by 2025, retailers will have to balance intelligent automation vs. human connection with shoppers. When considering the shopper’s perspective, associates are under pressure to be more personable, likable, intelligent, and available. Yet from an operational perspective, associates are pressured for more productivity, conversions and effective use of time.
There is no app for that
Today’s shoppers cruise the aisles with smartphones in-hand, typing away to find the perfect products to purchase. But this accepted behavior for shoppers is not at all acceptable for associates. Finding an associate heads-down typing or reading, even while chatting with a customer, means the human connection is interrupted or lost completely.
Face-to-face connection with eye contact plays a primary role in building trust and relationships. In a world where there is now an app for most everything, the loss of eye contact and connection can lose a sale. Rather than approaching retail technology as a replacement for employees, an alternative is using AI to augment the talents of associates and help them increase the human relationship with in-store shoppers.
For example, using wearable technology to whisper in the ears of associates, retailers can ensure that each associate has hands-free access to the right information at the right time and in the right place to make a measurable impact on the customer eperience. The operational benefits are measurable sales uplifts and embedded analytics measuring individual performance.
Technology offers advantages and opportunities to transcend the limitations of human intelligence across the enterprise. Just don’t forget that personal connection matters too – maybe more than anything else – and that wearable technology has the power to bring it all together.
-Guy VanBuskirk, Co-founder, Theatro