How Brick-and-Mortar Retailers Can Embrace Artificial Intelligence
With the continued and rising use of mobile devices and cloud technology, the overall shopping experience is shifting dramatically. According to a recent global survey from PwC, 46 percent of shoppers purchased products via their mobile devices at least “a few” times last year. In addition, Euclid Analytics reports that 83 percent of consumers stated their smart devices are central to their shopping experience. As mobile and online commerce continues to boom and new technologies arise, department stores and retail chains are looking towards the future (now more than ever) to stay relevant. With the looming risk of becoming outdated, retailers are developing a completely new in-store experience for customers using artificial intelligence (AI). But with AI being a data-intensive endeavor, having a strong network infrastructure in place is an essential first step.
AI capitalizes on new, emerging tools such as machine learning and cognitive computing technology to provide convenience for, and interaction with, retail consumers. Macy’s new “On Call” app combines these tools with location services to provide answers to questions to the shopper’s mobile device while they are in the store, without the help of an associate. Not only does the application eliminate the need for customers to wander and find a sales associate to answer their questions, it also makes it much easier for consumers to complete their purchase (especially via mobile).
AI is advancing so quickly that in the future it may help customers beyond location technology. As time goes on, AI will only get smarter. Remember Cher’s virtual matching closet in the ‘90s classic cult movie, “Clueless.” AI has the potential to provide in-store experiences that are “totally rad” — helping consumers match outfits, find gifts by entering information about a loved one and much more.
AI can also help set retailers up for future prosperity and success. For example, a juice and smoothie bar in New York City has already begun to collect insights from customers to choose where to expand its brick-and-mortar store locations. AI can help to retain current customers, bring former customers back to the store and attract new customers — all with the hopes of delivering a fresh and modern shopping experience.
Before these applications and projects are possible and a company can fully integrate AI, a reliable, secure, high-performance network infrastructure is needed to transfer and support all of the data and voice traffic from AI and its associated applications and systems. To succeed in executing this new, high-tech experience, retailers must build their networks accordingly. A reliable network ensures the following:
- Information Sharing and Integration: Investing in a high-performance network enables “behind the scenes” AI as well as omnichannel technologies to run smoothly and work together. The importance of the infrastructure continues to increase as customers’ expectations of an omnichannel experience grow. Mobile applications, point-of-sale systems and inventory management programs can share information across multiple locations using the network.
- Efficiency: Productivity and convenience is also enhanced with strong connectivity — i.e., customers can find what they need and fast. The network can also improve communication between employees, different store locations, suppliers and headquarters for better operational efficiency. A trustworthy network connection is the backbone that enables information sharing among various groups that need to work together in real time.
- Happy Customers: An enterprise-grade network can greatly improve the overall customer experience. With improved performance, customers will spend less time waiting for a web page or app to load, and more time recommending or promoting a store or product via social media. With a faster delivery of information, AI has the potential to increase customer retention and overall sales.
Today, applications with location services; tomorrow, virtual closets. As innovation continues, a dependable network can only set retailers up for future success as they take advantage of more new technology advancements. The key to enabling AI starts with a fast, secure and dependable network. Malls and department stores, as we know them, may be changing right before our eyes, but they're not going away anytime soon. They will simply work differently, leveraging a level of technology and intelligence that's designed for the consumer of the future, today.
Kim Epley is vice president, strategic client group at Comcast Business.