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I came to retail at a time when the landscape was dramatically changing. In the past, most retailers developed business models from the inside out, with the belief that success is primarily driven by the organization’s capabilities and offerings. However, soon after entering the space, I noticed we were on the cusp of a shift from ‘inside out’ to ‘outside in.’ Retailers were starting to think differently, realizing that customer-led businesses were essential for success.

Today, we live in a world where customer expectations are changing at a rapid pace. How can retailers cater to the always-on consumer and keep them at the center of their business? Advancements in technology have played a critical role in transforming the customer experience and are crucial in becoming a truly customer-centric organization. Among the many technologies that have transformed retail, Artificial Intelligence (AI) has taken center stage.

Using AI for Customer-Centric Retail

Over the last decade, we’ve seen major strides towards more customer-centric, personalized experiences in retail.

AI has proven to do a better job of assorting and predicting demand from customers, as well as matching supplies to these demands

Thanks to technology, we’ve come closer to creating the one-on-one, customized shopping experiences of the past. New cloud and data capabilities have allowed retailers to gain insight into consumers’ buying habits and preferences on a much broader scale. Retailers can use this data to make product recommendations based on a specific customer needs and provide a more personalized experience across all touch points.

In order to leverage this data in the most meaningful way, many retailers have turned to AI. AI, and particularly deep machine learning, are the most disruptive retail technologies to date. Machine learning can be used in countless ways to enhance the customer experience while driving business results. A common use case in the retail environment is for merchandising. For years, merchandising was a prized human skill, with retailers going as far as hiring individuals with expert prediction skills to foresee customers’ wants. However, today’s most successful retailers are using artificial intelligence to fulfill this task. AI has proven to do a better job of assorting and predicting demand from customers as well as matching supplies to these demands based on gathered data. This is a huge disruption for many retailers who hold human merchandising in high regard, making it difficult to transition from relying on humans to relying on technology to make decisions.

While AI has the ability to perform some human functions more efficiently, it should not be viewed as a replacement for all human activity. The most successful concepts in brick and mortar retail involve human interaction with customers. Retailers looking to reap the benefits of AI should view it as a supplement rather than a replacement, taking an integrated approach when implementing it into the retail experience. For example – Imagine a store in which sales associates wear an AI-enabled headset that listens to the conversation they are having with a customer. The AI can analyze the conversation and provide the sales associate certain information to help them make product suggestions based on expert recommendation systems. Meanwhile, the AI can check inventory in real time, and learn from conversations other sales personnel are having with customers to create the most useful suggestions and answers for each inquiry. This is just one of many scenarios in which AI can be used to greatly enhance the customer experience as a supplement to human functions, bringing to life the personalized, one-to-one interaction today’s customers crave.

Looking Ahead

In today’s ever-evolving retail landscape, customer centricity must be a priority for businesses to survive. Technologies like AI have aided retailers in keeping the customer at the core and making it possible to interact with them in a personalized way.

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