Redefining the Customer Experience with AI

The National Retail Federation’s annual conference is where the industry comes together to see the future of retail. This year’s 38,000 attendees saw a future shaped by the rise of Generation Z. People born during or after 2001 will comprise 40 percent of all US consumers by the end of 2020. Gen Z are digital natives who have grown up online, in a world of high-speed communications. While they use social media to learn about new products, 67 percent do most of their shopping in the store. They desire the in-person experiences that stores offer, and they are more willing to ask associates for advice.

To capture mindshare, wallet share and loyalty from Gen Z, retailers are focusing intently on the customer experience, and specifically the physical store. In the age of ecommerce, the store is a place of education, aspiration and inspiration as much as a place to buy. Artificial intelligence technologies—along with edge technologies, computer vision, high-speed networks and 3D/AR/VR—are helping retailers deliver immersive experiences that exceed the expectations of Gen Z while also delighting Millennials, Gen X, and Boomers. They’re also giving retailers the ability to see, learn, and make decisions in ways never before possible, empowering employees with real-time insights, optimizing supply and demand, and increasing operational efficiency.

It’s all in the service of creating the optimum customer experience at every encounter—the better to convert each encounter into a sale.

AI is Central

Success in retail depends more than ever on data and its value in enhancing and curating the customer experience. Artificial intelligence is indispensable to this goal. Analyzing data collected from every touchpoint, AI enables exciting new ways to deliver a seamless and immersive customer experience.

At NRF this month there was an increased focus on transforming the physical store using AI. Some of the key use cases included:

  • Customer behavior analysis: Using computer vision to better understand the customer’s in-store shopping experience and their path to purchase. The goal is to help retailers know their customers better so they can cater to their needs.
  • Inventory and shelf management: Predicting when the supply chain must adapt to real-time demand. This ensures that products are on the shelf when customers walk into the store, reducing frustrations over out-of-stock products.
  • Frictionless stores: Using cameras and sensors in conjunction with AI to operate a store without a cashier, eliminating the need for customers to stand in long check-out lines.
  • Theft prevention: Using computers to monitor self-check registers to identify scanning errors and potential theft.

All of these tasks are typically done by store associates. When AI automates these tasks, it provides an opportunity for employees to be more customer-focused. It empowers them to focus on more productive tasks and deliver a superior in-store experience by creating human-to-human connections that cannot be automated. The Intel booth showcased a number of solutions that support these use cases.

Hisense’s modular POS kiosk combines AI, computer vision and edge technologies to pave the way for grab-and-go shopping, more reliable inventory management and loss prevention, greater employee productivity, and more.

UST Global, CloudPick and RBS have created a shopping experience that lets customers simply select items and walk out. The solution uses Intel’s cutting-edge computer vision and processor technology, motion detection, and payment integration with the retailer’s application on the customer’s mobile device.

To learn more about the solutions in the Intel booth, see this blog by Joe Jensen, General Manager of Intel’s Retail Solutions Division, and this Intel Booth Demo Fact Sheet. You can also find a snapshot of AI in retail two years ago in my 2018 blog and check out some examples of these in-store experiences in this video.

Building the Future

While NRF 2020 highlighted exciting successes, there are still many retailers that are playing catch-up. The show was a good reminder that those retailers who innovate will survive. However, innovation will require embracing change and a culture with digital transformation at its core. Retailers must now start anticipating and predicting their consumers’ evolving needs and habits by transforming their business decisions through embedding AI in their DNA. It also requires investment in people and technologies that can bring their visions to life.

Intel provides a broad portfolio of AI products that deliver to each customer’s unique needs from edge to data center. It also provides advanced communication and networking technologies, whether 5G or Wi-Fi 6 to enhance AI-driven solutions at the edge. Through our partnerships, we curate a global network of developers and technology providers that collaborate with retailers to speed groundbreaking innovations.

One example is Intel’s Open Retail Initiative (ORI) which promotes the development of open, interoperable solutions that maximize value for retailers and solution partners alike. Each solution can stand alone or be used with other ORI solutions to increase value and impact for retailers. ORI helps speed up retail technology adoption and solution deployment at the edge by championing an open source community of retail solution partners, empowering vendor choice via interoperability across solution.

At NRF, Intel also announced a collaboration with AREA 15 to establish the Intel Experience Incubation Hub, a multiuse venue that allows Intel’s retail ecosystem partners to test new design concepts and technologies. Opening in Las Vegas in April, the hub will further the development of solutions that empower retailers to deliver real-time personal experiences.

I’m excited to see how today’s solutions will advance, and what unimagined breakthroughs are on the horizon. Together with our partners, we’re building the future of retail today—a future where data fusion and AI provide insights from the first customer engagement, to purchase, right through to predicting demand.