Just a few short years ago, AI was still side-eyed by retail tech skeptics, a buzzword seen on vendor websites and tradeshow banners, while its practical implications went underestimated.
However, industry innovators – the brands and retailers seeking to disrupt shopping and to create truly impactful customer experiences – knew from the get-go that AI would become mission-critical technology. And now, the rest of the world is catching up.
With the release of ChatGPT in November 2022 and the resulting hype surrounding generative AI, the spotlight is back on artificial intelligence – but this time, the attitude in the retail industry at large has changed. Everyone is scrambling to find out how AI can take their business to the next level.
As the CEO of Syte, the leading visual AI company in the retail and eCommerce space, I can confidently say these are exciting times. In this piece, I’ll delve into the ways in which generative and visual AI are already transforming everything from merchandising to search, and how we can expect these technologies to mesh and create brilliant experiences on-site while maximizing efficiency for retail businesses behind the scenes.
How Visual AI and Generative AI Work
Before we dive into the real-world applications of generative and visual AI, let’s first take a step back to understand how these vital technologies work.
Visual artificial intelligence trains machines to make sense of images and visual data just like people do. With the help of visual AI, machines are able to understand the meaning behind images. For example, they may learn to categorize objects within an image and understand if each object is a dress, a top, or a skirt, which colors and styles they are, and so on.
Generative artificial intelligence also falls under the machine learning umbrella. It uses a type of deep learning called generative adversarial networks to create entirely new content based on input provided. That content can come in the form of text, images, code, and more, depending on what the algorithm has been created for and trained to do.
While generative AI can’t replace visual AI and vice versa, the two are uniquely positioned to work together to achieve exciting results for brands and retailers.
The Nexus of Visual and Generative AI
Visual AI and generative AI have natural synergies. One clear use case that innovative brands are already leveraging is AI-powered product tagging, wherein, visual AI technology analyzes images in a customer's catalogue to classify items and their respective details. This process is further enhanced when combined with generative AI, which creates product tags for each image from the visual input. The image-to-text process enables brands and retailers to benefit from visual AI’s keen “eye,” identifying every product detail, from color and texture to tiny embellishments, and then enjoy the efficiency of automatically created tags.
With accurate and consistent tags in place for their entire catalogue, a brand can ensure better results for on-site search, apply merchandising rules to promote or demote items based on visual characteristics, and even track and forecast the styles and details that their customers prefer. The tags can also be combined with generative AI to auto-create accurate and detailed product descriptions, saving time for eCommerce teams.
This is just the beginning. The magnetic appeal of AI is that the possibilities are, quite literally, endless. Retailers are no longer limited by pre-packaged eCommerce experiences; they can now dream up experiences for their customers and bring them to life.
Here’s what that could look like:
Imagine getting to an eCommerce site with a clear idea of what you want but no reference image. You enter a prompt into a text-to-image tool: “black mini dress with short puff sleeves, red stilettos, and a silver clutch.” The generative AI behind the scenes presents you with a few images to choose from. You select the one that most closely matches what you envisioned, and as you click through on the shoes, the dress, visual AI serves you up with the most similar-looking items from the store’s inventory. You are shopping your own creation.
Auto-Design Best-Selling Inventory
When it comes to backend eCommerce operations, the combination of these two technologies is no less powerful. For example, with the help of the visual-AI-based product tags discussed earlier, a brand can easily understand which product categories and attributes are trending on their website. Then, they can use that as input, asking a text-to-image solution to create a few versions of a “lavender” “maxi” “spaghetti strap” dresses, and then send the best designs to a manufacturer to streamline production and align it with demand.
We’re just beginning to uncover the full range of practical applications for artificial intelligence in retail. With the unique synergy between visual and generative AI, brands and retailers will soon see the tremendous value of connecting these technologies for better experiences both on-site and in inventory planning.
About Vered Levy-Ron
Vered Levy-Ron is the CEO of Syte, the leading visual AI platform for retail. Syte empowers shoppers to instantly find items they’ll love with inspiring, visual product discovery journeys that drive conversion. Syte's solutions include visual search, out-of-stock and shop similar recommendations, and smart merchandising tools, like automated product tagging, thematic curation, and more.