Artificial Intelligence is Disrupting Retail

You already interact with retail AI

Artificial Intelligence is becoming more and more prevalent in every day life as we see the technology adopted in everything from digital assistants to autonomous vehicles. One sector that has huge potential for AI is retail. You might not know it, but if you’ve ever submitted an online query to a retailer, then you’ve probably already spoken to an AI. Brands and companies are quickly beginning to realise the benefits of automation, applying AI not only to behind-the-scenes operations but also to customer services. This is causing huge changes to the way that retail companies work, from tourism to banking. With AI startups now offering adaptable software, it’s easier than ever for businesses to integrate the tech into their business strategies. So, how can retail companies use Artificial Intelligence, and how disruptive will it be for retail services as a whole?

How is AI applied within retail businesses?
For almost any business, AI is a blessing when it comes to efficient administration. Think automated timesheets, improved financial operations and customer records that are easily and instantly accessible. AI has also been used to detect fraud (which has become a problem as businesses become increasingly digitalised) by flagging up anomalies in financial records. In short, AI contributes to the general improvement of company organisation, especially in the retail industry where brands have to deal with a high volume of stock and endless customer records.

The merit of AI also shines through when you consider the amount of knowledge that is gradually acquired by experienced retail professionals over the course of their careers. When these experienced professionals retire, the company has to train new employees who will only reach the same experience level after a matter of years. By accumulating important information through AI software, companies can offer the best customer service possible. AI can also deal with customers on a personal level by logging specific information from previous interactions, which helps the business to understand what certain individuals want. Dealing with AI is also far quicker and more concise than muddling through an issue with a human operative. It’s no wonder that some retail companies are aiming to reserve human customer services as a last resort.

How will AI disrupt retail?
From an administrative, operative perspective, AI has brought positive disruption to the retail sector by improving efficiency. The technology has provided an answer to some of the key issues that retailers come up against, such as retaining knowledge, detecting fraud and making it easier to access data. However, as AI continues its upward adoption curve, business admin will become increasingly automated. . . and we all know what that means.

An estimated 850,000 white collar jobs will be lost to automation by 2030, including over half of UK retail jobs. This is a worrying prospect, so retailers will need to seriously consider whether the benefits of AI are worth the costs. Unemployment aside, AI will quite literally change the face of customer services. Customers already interact with artificially intelligent systems when submitting online or over-the-phone queries. Employees at RBS, for example, currently work alongside AI to give the best answers to clients. The next step is the use of AI on the shop floor, cutting out the initial human conversation. This doesn’t mean that customers will never deal with human employees, though. For the moment, AI will respond to simple issues. It will be a while before they can tackle more complicated questions – but not too long, as recent developments have shown. If an AI can predict the outcome of a human rights trial, surely it can help you get a damaged item refunded. For marketers, AI makes it possible to gather in depth information about customers which can then be used to tailor ad campaigns. But there’s a difference between using a better understanding of your customer base to improve ad campaigns and bombarding bewildered consumers with ultra-personalised messages that could, quite frankly, really put them off.

Retailers need to be careful to avoid alienating their consumers when it comes to adopting any kind of innovation, but AI in particular has suffered from bad press. Many people are still very wary about the capabilities of artificially intelligent systems, rejecting the idea of submitting important personal info to the digital sphere. Because of this, many will be cautious about ‘face to face’ interactions with AI. How can they know that their data is properly secure, and used for the right reasons? In order to encourage people to accept AI, retail businesses should introduce AI gradually, and make sure that human operatives are on hand to take over any complicated questions. AI software may well have potential in SMEs, but it’s more likely to be adopted by big brands with a consistently large following. This is due to less administrative need and also because of cost – for example, Conversica offers five annual subscriptions with the cheapest costing $30,000 per year. Sure, you can get free trials of AI, but not ones that are appropriate for handling the mass data of a business.

Artificial Intelligence is ultimately an important tool for the retail sector. Whilst AI could really enhance operations, administration and customer satisfaction, brands also need to be aware of the pitfalls of using automated, intelligent systems. Will people really want to talk to machines when it comes to making a purchase? Is AI worth the cost? How can collections of digital data be protected? These considerations, and others like them, have stunted the growth of AI adoption within businesses as a whole. However, the advantages of using Artificial Intelligence within retail seem to outweigh the potential difficulties. The most interesting changes will affect customer services, although the challenge for retailers is to use AI to learn as much as they can about their consumers. . . without tempting them to take out restraining orders.

How could AI help your business? How else could AI enhance the retail sector? How will customers react to the use of AI on the shop floor? Comment below with your thoughts and experiences.