AI needs to be more than just a bright, shiny object

Nov 27, 2019 2 min

Retailers are being taken for a ride by consultants and software companies who use the term artificial intelligence (AI) as a strategy to promote their products and charge higher fees. This practice has overcomplicated the process of buying and deploying new technology. Retailers need clarity.

There — I’ve drawn a line in the sand.

Gartner’s “2019 CIO Agenda” survey reveals that the number of companies implementing AI grew from four percent to 14 percent in the past 12 months. Unfortunately, the survey also shows that while companies are making progress with AI, they’re still making a lot of mistakes. One of the biggest is deploying AI that ultimately shifts work from employees to customers, covering everything from smart shopping to frictionless checkout.

Such an approach runs the risk of diminishing shopper engagement to the point that customers are driven to other channels. Rather than shifting tasks to customers, AI is put to best use by automating repetitive tasks to free up retail personnel for higher-value and customer-centric work.

There are many retail business use cases where AI is delivering great value. Walmart, for example, uses AI in its “Stores of the Future” to track items and sales and alert staff when shelves need to be restocked. A few other retailers are leveraging AI to good result in areas such as theft reduction and improvements to payment processing.

If you’ve walked the floor of practically any retail conference in the past few years, though, you might be led to believe that AI can cure every challenge you’ve ever faced. You might think it can boost performance immediately and throughout the retail enterprise. You might also believe that not implementing a dedicated AI strategy solution will leave you at a significant competitive disadvantage.

The truth is that good use of AI in retail requires that companies place value on the people over the systems. It needs to give workers more actionable knowledge and provide suppliers with more accurate and current data. Most of all, it needs to keep shoppers engaged. Retailers best accomplish this by deploying pragmatic AI tools that can automate their most time-consuming tasks, freeing their personnel to focus on the meaningful improvements to shopper experience that will encourage customers to return many times over, both in stores and on digital platforms.

This article was originally published in RetailWire.

Written by

Andrew Blatherwick

Chairman Emeritus and Advisor