Getting Started with Retail AI Might Not Be as Hard as You Think


Artificial intelligence (AI) used to seem like a lofty concept – something reserved for large tech companies and revolutionary futuristic pursuits. In reality, AI is more accessible to retailers than ever before. If AI is the way of the future—and can help companies stay ahead of the competition—why is doubt holding executives back from implementing it?

Breaking through this hesitation and embarking on a plan to bring this technology into a company is well worth it – AI is positioned to boost profitability in retail and wholesale by roughly 60% by 2035, according to Business Insider.

Alternatively, AI helps to deliver the experiences that customers are now demanding. Consumers have more choices and access to information than ever before. Given this, they expect an overall experience that matches their standards for product quality. According to Salesforce, 80% of customers say the experience a company provides is as important as its products and services.

For success in a world dominated by Amazon-level expectations, retail companies will need to find or create well-thought-out AI solutions to compete. It’s important to know what needs to happen first to help make a compelling case for its uses, as well as leave the overall team with a realistic set of steps for its rollout.

You Have Data – Use It

According to Salesforce – 59% of customers say tailored engagement based on past interactions is very important to building brand loyalty.

Consider Sephora who has been allowing customers to color-match their foundation with Color IQ technology since 2012– AI is driving the car and Sephora is continuing to open more brick and mortar locations despite the looming “retail apocalypse.”  

In the age where all companies are becoming tech companies – retailers know the value that AI can provide.

"Upstream work on the quality and relevance of data is necessary for systems to function properly. You can’t afford to be complacent or lax at this level, said Pascal Voirand, VP Southern Europe, Salesforce Channels and Partnerships. “The technology must be based on reliable information. This is all the more true as artificial intelligence must be used to free up time for other tasks with higher added value.”

For example, features like predictive sort use machine learning to personalize the order in which products appear in search results. A predictive model is created for each buyer based on their purchase history and navigation behavior. These actions free up time for online retailers to do other tasks.

Once you’ve decided on the perfect solution that will collect all relevant and accurate data in one easy-to-access location, machine learning can begin to make assumptions and self-learn to become ‘intelligent’ as well as effective. We recommend looking for a solution that aggregates customers’ interaction points, transactions and case history. Remember, it’s not about big data, but smart data. This ensures AI is actionable, and most importantly, meaningful. 

Select A Vendor Who Understands Your Goals

Now that a robust set of customer data has been assembled (including their interaction points, transactions, and case history), it’s time to engage in conversations with technology vendors. Evaluate each AI solution for capabilities to not only solve your immediate business goal, but how will this tool grow with and evolve with your business.

One solution could focus on customer service automation, handling easy case resolution and suggestions, while empowering service agents to focus on higher priority matters. AI and machine learning solutions enable organizations to look at their strategies more holistically, but also can be used more tactically, like providing service reps with customer data to upsell.  When information is collected and served in a useful way, it’s more likely to be acted on.

Build on Solid Ground

Once smaller-scale AI use cases are mastered, retailers will be well-positioned to start making more confident decisions about what additional areas of business could also benefit from the technology. What needs to be done to provide the best customer experience possible? Is it in-store robots?  Inventory restocking based on several buying behaviors and weather predictions? Brainstorm and dream big picture.

The ability to deliver sensational customer service using data is top of mind for many retailers who seek to keep shoppers coming back, as well as leverage consumer data in a way that provides a path to fully optimized sales and service. The faster this data can be acted upon is key to staying competitive. Proactively managing customer expectations and predicting their demands is where AI will be a game changer for any brand. 

Once retailers established their vision and selected the perfect vendor, retailers can confidentially dip their toes into AI, or dive in headfirst. The benefits will be rolling in in no time, for both the organization and the customer.

-Gerard Szatvanyi, President and CEO of OSF Commerce

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