Retail’s Big Show (organised by the National Retail Federation), aka NRF, in New York City each January is the big opportunity for IT suppliers from around the world to showcase their latest retail technologies.
Most are simply the latest iterations of existing solutions and as such there are never many genuinely radical things on show – which is why things like gimmicky robots and drones tend to attract rather a lot of attention.
This year one of the more (genuinely) interesting things was the emergence of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and machine learning. Yes, it’s a term that has been bandied around for some years, and it was again on the lips of far too many companies whose desire was to simply gain some credits for referencing the technology rather than actually deploying it.
But rather excitingly, there was also some hard evidence that AI is actually having a positive impact on some of the more progressive retailer’s businesses. Outdoors specialist The North Face is using the technology to help its customers find the right products on its website.
It had been frustrated with the limitations of the regular search and filtering tools typically deployed by retailers and therefore turned to AI to develop its Expert Personal Shopper (XPS) solution.
Using regular language it asks the customer a series of questions in order to gradually hone in on the ideal product for them. There are no set paths for the questioning – it is determined on-the-hoof by the ongoing learning of the technology. As the potential products are selected, XPS gives reasons why it has picked them.
Other retailers – such as Asos and Rapha – are also going to be beneficiaries of machine learning as a result of the latest developments from customer service platform Zendesk. At NRF it highlighted its ‘Satisfaction Prediction’ technology. This involves the predictive analysis of customer signals – such as the language they are using – which generate dynamic scoring in real-time. This then determines how the interaction with the customer continues.
The idea is that these better predictive capabilities will enable an increasing number of customers’ issues to be handled on a completely automated basis rather than resorting to human interactions. The company reckons it is typically quicker and more efficient to operate this way.
With this early evidence of the benefits of AI and machine learning coming through maybe it is time for retailers to at least think about how such technology could positively impact their businesses.
Glynn Davis, editor, Retail Insider
K3 Retail deliver multi-channel solutions that enable retailers to create joined up shopping experiences for their customers whether they choose to buy on-line, direct, in-store or via mobile. It has over 20 years’ experience delivering award winning solutions, to more than 175 internationally recognised retail brands.