Artificial Intelligence (AI). Automation. Machine Learning. Hyper-Personalization. These are just some of the terms that have entered the lexicon of retailers. Today these ‘buzzwords’ often do little more than perpetuate many of the myths surrounding their use. Nonetheless, these technologies are redefining the art of consumer marketing, with online channels at the heart of this revolution. It is important therefore that retailers expand their current understanding of omnichannel practices, are transparent about their use of AI, and let their actions speak for them to demonstrate how they can deliver benefits to shoppers and customers.
The first step in proving that AI provides something more tangible than ‘hype’ in the retail sector comes from dispelling some of the most common myths surrounding the term.
Myth #1: AI is a miracle cure
AI is not a ‘silver bullet.’ Too often retailers are led to adopt AI in their quest to deliver omnichannel excellence through an enhanced in-store presence, but quickly realize AI is only as good as the data you feed it. The goal shouldn’t be to simply say, ’I’m using AI,’ but rather, use it to connect all customer touchpoints, create sophisticated customer profiles, and incorporate other contextual factors such as weather and date in a way that helps inform more intelligent marketing strategies and sales forecasts.
To reach this level, however, retailers must first prepare their baseline, and there are tools which can help in this process. By using these advanced technologies wisely and in the right order, they will be more likely to keep up with competitors and adequately respond to growing shopper demands.
AI is by no means a ‘one-size-fits-all’ solution, and it is not advisable to try to leapfrog from a standing start to full automation. There are, however, numerous ways it can be used to create a better experience for customers. Take the fashion industry, for example. Retail giants such as ASOS and H&M have worked to incorporate AI into the customer journey in numerous ways. While H&M has launched a chatbot service nested in Facebook Messenger to help its customers shop its expansive range, ASOS has deployed AI to help shoppers establish their true size. Both methods deliver personalized experiences that improve customer interaction and minimize the number of returns.
Myth #2: AI just means automation
The biggest pitfall for retailers going forward is thinking AI is just an automation tool designed to help reduce workload. True, AI can bring a multitude of benefits, from forecasting and informing merchandising decisions to troubleshooting operational issues. But that’s not where the journey ends. Retailers shouldn’t overlook the use of AI to augment the shopper journey, and create unique, individual pathways for each user. Not only does it work to establish good relationships with consumers, it also builds the trust needed to ensure customers continue sharing data with you. Only when you have a rich pool of information on your shoppers can you really deliver the one-to-one personalization they demand – whether in-store or online. AI helps you scale far more than automation by unearthing and implementing knowledge that can drive commercial success through happier customers.
Myth #3: AI will steal your job
While AI will replace certain tasks and play a major role in automation, the function of brand positioning will in no way become obsolete. On the contrary, by taking on time-consuming, labour-intensive tasks and working data harder – through aggregation, analysis, recommendations and segmentation – brands will be able to invest their time and energy in refining shopper journeys and sales strategies. AI will undoubtedly take on a bigger role in day-to-day operations, supply chain management, and in optimizing the sales lifecycle, but automation is no substitute for creative engagement with customers.
In the future, retailers will rely on AI to complement human interaction, by taking care of the digitally-led aspects of their brand and allowing them to concentrate on their first love: their brand’s overall purpose. After all, shoppers need stories to encourage them to actively engage with brands, creating true loyalty extending beyond a first one-time purchase.
The promise of AI is no myth
It is clear AI is shaping the next generation of the retail sector. However, today it’s languishing somewhat on the periphery of wider acquisition strategies, as many retailers race to catch-up with what they see as complex technology. It’s essential brands begin their journeys to incorporate AI into their strategies to uniquely tailor the experience of each customer.
The maths of shopping is simple: according to a recent Emarsys study, 41 percent of consumers will boycott a brand if it fails to deliver offers and recommendations not personalized to them. Shoppers are now more open to the use of AI in retail if it improves their overall experience. Brands can march ahead now, confident they have the technology to fulfill the promise of true one-to-one personalization.
About the writer: Grant Coleman is the Vice President and Market Director at Emarsys for the UK, Nordics, and Benelux. In his role Grant is responsible for operations across these regions and delivering high-quality support for clients throughout the end-to-end customer journey. He has a wealth of experience in e-commerce and digital marketing, and consistently prides himself on helping his customers deliver on the promise of marketing.