Bringing the artificial into real retail

Posted by Ryan Raubenheimer on

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Artificial intelligence (AI) has been garnering a lot of attention in recent times, with e-commerce the major beneficiary of this algorithm-driven trend. A host of new apps, services and trials, however, see AI extend beyond the online realm as it makes its presence felt in the real bricks and mortar environment.

Here’s an insight into AI, and how it’s shaping the real shopping world.

Artificial intelligence

In a nutshell, artificial intelligence is algorithm-driven data that provides a greater insight into consumer’s shopping habits. It gathers and assimilates data on what people have searched for, social media trends, and even the weather conditions to provide the ultimate window into what people might wish to buy, when.

Based on these findings, virtual assistants like chatbots, Siri, Amazon Alexa, and Google Home can make suggestions about potential shopping choices, and assist with minor tasks. It’s a rapidly evolving feature in the world of e-commerce, but how does this computer based learning apply to real world retail?

The landscape

According to Business Insider using AI to personalize the customer journey is where the greatest potential lies

“Retailers that have implemented personalization strategies see sales gains of 6-10%, a rate two to three times faster than other retailers, according to a report by Boston Consulting Group (BCG). It could also boost profitability rates 59% in the wholesale and retail industries by 2035, according to Accenture.”

They further note: “By mimicking the use of AI among e-commerce pureplays, brick-and-mortars can implement similar levels of personalization. AI can be used to provide personalized websites, tailored product recommendations, more relevant product search results, as well as immediate and useful customer service”.

Here are just some of the ways that’s rolling out…


By and large the application of AI in real world retail has so far largely been restricted to analytics behind the scenes mainly focusing on inventory. However, that landscape is swiftly shifting as the tools at hand allow a better insight into shopper behavior.

Beacons have been able to glean information about consumer interest, while apps have also provided valuable data, and even heat mapping and RFID can tell where a consumer goes and what item they pick and put down.

The mobile Point of Sale allows further data access, informing about consumer loyalty details, their spending habits and even preferred payment method.

AI can quickly assimilate this information allowing retailers to predict what will garner interest based on the trends seen so far.

Self service checkout

According to Nextweb many believe in the future retail will be fully automated by AI “eliminating long lines and obviating the need for checkouts altogether”.

Already Amazon Go is testing a concept store in this vein, but the method is far from mature.

“Go uses computer vision, machine learning algorithms and IoT sensors to understand customers’ interactions across the store. The technology automatically updates the shopping cart in an associated mobile app whenever a customer picks up or returns an item from a store shelf.”

Customer service

Who could resist the services of a personal shopping assistant, and that’s just one of the functions AI may be likely to perform in store. Retail Leader notes Macy’s is already trialing a system at five locations where shoppers use a mobile app to interact with a shopping assistant.

At five other locations they’re using the app for interactive self-service within the store.

Meanwhile, Starbucks has announced plans for a My Starbucks Barista app, allowing consumer to place orders via voice command.

“It also announced plans to use AI to power a suggested-selling, voice-command recommendation function that will offer item pairings or add-ons,” Retail Leader explains.

Much debate focuses on how AI will affect retail, and the possibilities incur a lengthy list of futuristic scenarios. The key for retailers will be staying up-to-date on the trends and their successes, knowing what technology to implement, and when.

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