10 Ways AI is Impacting Retail Shopping for its Customers
Bowing to powers mightier than us, we consumers have found our way online. Throughout ‘imprisoning’ restrictions and lockdowns, we’ve continued to repay our online shopping saviours with steady, or maybe even increased, revenues. Fortunately for us, the pandemic has forced businesses to go online to survive while AI has played a crucial role in supporting this move to the point of being a game changer for shopping and ecommerce business. In fact, the current pandemic has massively increased retail industry disruption by approximately 5 years in the last 12 months. Along with this acceleration, AI has burgeoned, according to a survey by KPMG.
As for AI future predictions, global investment spending on AI is projected to reach $35.8 billion by the end of 2021 with retail spending leading the trend with a forecast of $5.9 billion being invested in automated customer service agents, shopping advisers, and product recommendation platforms (www.spd.group). Retail business leaders support this forecast anticipating that in the next two years, AI’s biggest influence will be on customer intelligence, inventory management and customer services .
What does AI in retail mean for us as consumers?
Imagine yourself in this common shopping trip scenario: While you’re browsing, searching for fashion items on various ecommerce sites, AI powered recommendations appear with other similar products as per your preferences for colour, size, and budget etc., saving you time, and potentially money. In fact, you’ve probably already experienced this many times without realizing it’s AI helping you out, right? This begs the question, where else are we experiencing, or soon to experience, AI in retail?
1) Cashier-free, check out-free stores.
No wasting time fighting off queue rage or the creeping, seething irritation of watching human cashiers gossip endlessly with customers or struggling to find your bank card deep within the recesses of your bag, pants or whatever. Sounds like a shopper’s dream? But no, this is already a reality e.g., Amazon Go and Just Walk Out Shopping technology responds when customers remove something from the shelves or return it, so when customers leave the store with the products, the Amazon account takes money for their purchase. So easy and fuss free, it’s almost unbelievable!
2) Customer service chatbots.
No more being put on hold by some outsourced call centre for interminable periods of time before you can air your grievances about a faulty, missing, wrong etc., product. AI powered chatbots are already used, or going to be used, by 80% of brands globally soon. Tommy Hilfiger and Burberry have already launched chatbots to assist customers navigating through their collections. Chatbots enable a higher level of customer service, improving searching, sending notifications about new collections, and suggesting similar products. All great for us!
3) Paper price tag-free shopping.
If you’re anything like me, squinting at the tiny print on price tags to find out not only the cost but the correct size, preferred manufacturer, brand etc., is a typically fruitless, vexing experience I’d rather not repeat. This technology replaces traditional paper price tags with smart tags. These display extra information, such as, video ads, nutritional information, and promotions. Lowe’s autonomous, in-store robot (Lowebot) helps consumers locate what they need in the store using different languages. It has real-time monitoring capabilities which means it can help with inventory management – no more frustrating, time-wasting waits while the shop assistant looks ‘out the back’ for your size etc.
4) Best sales price adjustments.
Many of us, spend a lot of our precious time trawling through retail sites to find the best prices on offer for the items we want to purchase, sound familiar? Through AI capabilities in retail, business leaders can present the best pricing offers to get new customers and boost their sales figures. AI enables them to set the best prices for their products after visualizing the probable outcomes of various pricing strategies.
5) Price forecast feature.
It’s painfully disappointing when I go without my treats to save and finally buy an item I’ve coveted for ages, only to find a week or two later, it’s gone down significantly in price. However, through AI, it’s possible for retailers to give us prior knowledge about how a product price will change for better consumer decision-making e.g., it can forecast product prices based on demand, seasonal trends, characteristics, date of release of new models etc. of the same product. Such a prediction feature builds customer loyalty to a business and is a win-win for all stakeholders.
6) Visual searches.
When we upload images of products to search for similar ones based on colours, shapes, and patterns, this is powered by AI. In fact, Cortexica image recognition technology claims a 95% accuracy.
7) Voice searches.
Many big brands already use Google or Amazon AI to provide their customers with easy, fast voice searches. All we have to do is ask Alexa to find the desired item and then check its delivery status, without needing to type anything!
8) Virtual Fitting Rooms.
These are a fabulous boon for shoppers. They help us avoid buying an item that doesn’t suit us or fit our body shape, then having to go through the tedious, time-consuming process of returning/replacing it. These days, virtual fitting rooms can even help us to choose and match other accessories for a particular item. For instance, a virtual fitting kiosk called Me-Ality is able to scan you in 20 seconds while also measuring 200,000 points of your body in this time. Say hello to perfectly fitting outfits! Attesting to its success as a retail technology, massive sales increases occurred when stores like Levis, Gap and Brooks Brothers installed these in-store.
9) Customer satisfaction tracking.
This sounds a little creepy to me, but I can see the potential value to both customers and retailers. AI is used to detect customers’ moods while shopping in-store. The aim is to build stronger customer relationships. I’m not sure how this technology can differentiate between my bad mood due to my recalcitrant child, and my bad mood from not being able to find what I want on their racks. Maybe it can’t. However, Walmart has already installed a facial recognition system for this purpose, so I guess we will find out.
10) Customer behaviour prediction.
There are now AI platforms, such as, Personali that retailers can employ to work out an individual approach to selling their products to their customers. How? Through an algorithm that processes a customer’s emotions and behaviour across previous shopping trips in order to find optimal pricing offers for them in future trips. So, be careful what you feel and do in stores to get the best deal!
AI in retail shopping is here to stay so embrace it to enhance your shopping experience.