Retail has had to evolve quickly to keep up with the rise of e-commerce. It hasn’t been the smoothest transition. Foot traffic in malls has halted, department stores have closed up shop, and many smaller stores, once anchored by larger establishments, have been left without a safety net.
How can retailers succeed in this environment? On top of the move away from brick-and-mortar, consumers want to browse retailers' product catalogs from home; they want to know about in-store pickup options; and they want round-the-clock answers to questions about returns or replacements. Retailers can address the needs of shoppers with digital assistants through phones, tablets, PCs or in-store kiosks.
Assistants know which sales are relevant to each customer, sharing product options as well as pricing and shipping estimates. For personalized items, customers can use the assistant to check when the product is ready and shipped. Unlike the robotic communications of the past, today’s digital assistants are naturally conversational, answering questions in a realistic and lifelike manner that helps build a connection with the customer.
With so much potential, artificial intelligence (AI) is on pace to completely transform the retail industry. There are three primary reasons for this transformation:
1. Unmatched Memory
AI when combined with machine learning can figure out how to solve a variety of problems. It excels with an impeccable memory that can retrieve customer selections and preferences, keep track of retail visits, and make predictions about future purchases. Customer questions are automatically stored to provide better, more accurate answers down the line.
While sales personnel can’t offer the same benefits, they can use an AI-equipped mobile device to answer customer questions. That’s a win-win for everyone.
2. Instant Communication
Conversational AI can also be utilized to answer most questions through an app or in-store kiosk, serving as an extension of the retail experience, creating a stronger bond with customers. Retail staff could also benefit by using that same app to help fulfill customer requests. For example, if an employee isn’t available or if the customer doesn’t have the app, retailers can use in-store kiosks to provide an easy and convenient way to deliver outstanding service.
3. Grab and Go Without Checking Out
Amazon.com's popular AI-infused convenience store, Amazon Go, has helped to popularize the “just walk out” idea of shopping, without the need for cashiers or registers.
Using a mix of computer vision, deep learning algorithms and sensor fusion, retailers can tell exactly which items customers intend to purchase. The transaction isn't complete until they walk out the door, leaving them optimal time to swap items as necessary. As the example of Amazon Go shows, this is another way to bolster a brand and offer the fastest and most convenient shopping experience possible. Without AI, a store like this wouldn't be possible, and consumers would have to continue lining up at the checkout counter.
Brick-and-Mortar’s Future Has Never Looked Better
The world of retail is changing — and with those changes comes the necessity for technology that can meet the evolving needs of consumers. AI is an especially important part of that evolution. It paves the way for a new era in retail, one where questions are answered quickly, concerns are addressed immediately, and long lines are a thing of the past. With these benefits propelling brick-and-mortar to the forefront of the shopping experience, consumers will be genuinely excited by the prospect of returning to their local merchants.
Jonathan Crane is chief commercial officer at IPsoft, a conversational computing company.
Related story: Empowering Your Retail Staff With AI