According to recent data, the majority of retailers think artificial intelligence (AI) will be a competitive necessity in the next few years. This comes as no surprise, with the expansive list of benefits that AI brings to the retail industry, including improved customer experience, reduced operational costs and increased efficiency.
As retailers are rushing to realize the benefits of AI and machine learning technologies in tandem with customers expecting a top-notch in-store experience across all touchpoints, the challenges with adoption are becoming apparent.
At some point, whether online or in-store, consumers will want to speak with a live person. When it comes to integrating technology into the retail experience, there will inevitably be a time when it makes more sense for a customer to speak with someone face-to-face or on the phone.
Consider an instance when a customer is having a repeat payment issue online. They try to resolve the issue with a chatbot on the retailer’s website, but aren't able to fix the problem. For situations like this, retailers need to figure out the right balance of when to use technology and when to have humans intervene.
How do retailers successfully find the balance between leveraging technology and knowing when to supplement with human interaction? Retail organizations need to center their AI implementation around the following two key strategies:
1. Keep customer experience at the forefront. Providing a stellar customer experience is vital to any retail organization’s success. When using AI as part of the customer experience, think about moving from a cost center to a profit center. In other words, retailers should use the technology to automate tasks that take employees away from personal customer interactions, such as inventory or cash management.
Once these tasks that don’t require a human touch are automated, employees’ time will be freed up to perform higher-value work where AI technology cannot perform, like interacting with customers.
2. Find the balance with Internet of Things (IoT). IoT devices are being used more widely across the retail space today to provide personalized and tailored customer experiences, as well as manage the supply chain in stores.
For example, smart shelves are especially useful in larger stores. By placing an RFID tag on items that transmits data to an RFID reader, stores can assess their inventory in real time. AI technology can then take this IoT-driven data and aggregate it for retailers looking to understand which products are most popular to support sales and marketing efforts.
In addition, managers can also use this technology to monitor when shelves are running low on a certain item. This balance of AI/IoT and human analysis helps retailers be more proactive across the supply chain.
Technology innovation across retail is outpacing other industries such that AI has been democratized and retailers are implementing it across their businesses. However, the most successful AI implementations will be those where retailers don't fully rely on this technology, but rather use it to supplement their operations.