The Digitisation Of In-Store Retail

Image source: SACSC website.

According to the South African Council of Shopping Centres (SACSC), Artificial Intelligence (AI) has become a critical feature in the digitisation of in-store retail, personalising the customer experience and creating a more engaging retailer consumer interaction. For retailers, both big and small, AI is more than just a buzzword. It is creating new opportunities while bridging the narrowing gap between virtual and physical sales.

Companies are investing heavily in AI, and the global annual spending on AI by retailers is expected to reach USD 7.3 billion by 2022. The most popular use of this technology in the retail industry is for search, recommendation engines for content, and data science.

Using AI can free up time for retailers by assisting with typical daily tasks, allowing them to dedicate more time progressing their overall business strategy. AI can even gather detailed customer patterns and preferences, allowing for better-informed business decisions. When customer and sales data are processed through these algorithms, the AI model discovers actionable information about a business, its customers and inventory.

With the help of AI technology, apparel brands are able to create virtual racks and trial rooms with gesture walls and touch-free monitors. This helps shoppers find the right style, without having to shuffle through a pile. This will enhance the shopping experience and also help customers to choose from millions of options. Also, stores will be able to gather more in-depth insights into consumer behaviour, optimising their product portfolio for much better retail experience delivery. And, with the help of virtual trial rooms equipped with digital mirrors, customers can actually try on clothes without having to change again and again.

Using a gesture and touch-based interface, a shopper can mix and match various outfits, accessories and shoes to finalise the perfect look. Virtual mirrors do not only benefit apparel brands, they can also make it easier for cosmetic companies and beauty brands to test how a lipstick shade or foundation would appear on real skin without applying the product.

By making use of modern surveillance equipment powered by AI and computers, retailers can also capture and study customer behaviour inside stores. The significant benefit of this is that they then have a better understanding of engagement levels with current store layout and have the option to optimise operations for higher engagement and revenues.

Emotion Artificial Intelligence, a subset of AI, is a term used to describe machines that mimic human cognitive functions, such as learning and problem-solving. Similar technology will also allow retailers to track how a shopper navigates through a store, monitoring which shelves they stop at and which relevant products they have missed, ensuring optimal store layout.

Video analytics can also improve in-store security significantly, greatly reducing the chances of theft. Surveillance footage can be monitored in real-time and critical alerts will be sent to administrators and store owners for immediate action.

When provided with the sales data, machine learning can also discover patterns in your customer’s buying preferences and identify the products they frequently buy together. Stringing together this data, AI can provide retailers with suggestions on what items to put next to each other in their store, getting customers to purchase more. And as those suggestions are based on real data provided by real customers who are buying in a particular store, they are guaranteed to deliver positive results.

AI-powered chatbots are also enabling retail brands to engage with their customers more efficiently. With the use of chatbots, retailers can deal with hundreds of queries instantaneously, without having to increase their staff numbers.

Chatbots can easily be configured to answer questions, provide shopping suggestions and offer prompt support. Using a mixture of AI chatbots and humans, retailers can deal with their customers better and provide users with an improved resolution of problems. With the help of AI, staff can also focus on doing high-priority tasks that require human attention — no more wasting time doing unproductive tasks. So, from robotic shop assistants to personalised marketing campaigns, modern AI is expected to impact all spheres of the retail industry.

Along with all the other competitive-edge trends to keep up with, brands, stores and shopping centres are probably set up for a contest to increase AI applications in order to find or retain top spots on the retail ladder.

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