Tuesday, 11th December 2018

The future of retail: personalised AI-driven customer ‘extra-periences’

The future of retail lies in customer-centric applications of smart technology, artificial intelligence (AI) and new, emerging technologies such as virtual and mixed reality, biometrics and omnichannel ecommerce experiences. By Anil Gandharve, VP and head of Retail, CPG and Manufacturing, Mindtree.

The rapid growth of mobile ecommerce alongside the demise of many traditional high street stores – such as the recent closures of House of Fraser and Marks & Spencer stores and the collapse of the Maplin and Toys R Us chains – indicate that we are in a period of fundamental transition in the retail industry.

Technology is never developed in a vacuum. And in this case, technology is developing in an age of rapid customer demand. Today’s consumers want better customer experiences, more competitive prices and great service from retailers.

However, despite the headlines, the majority of sales today still take place in physical stores. And the latest ‘concept malls’ and tech innovations from traditional retailers such as Walmart and shopping mall giant Westfield that have been revealed in recent months only serve to reinforce the fact that, even in a decade’s time, the retail industry will still be doing good bricks ‘n’ mortar business.

AI-driven personalisation is the future

Personalisation in retail is already a necessity for most modern brands, with the vast majority of shoppers consistently responding well to personalised marketing, promotions and new in-store experiences.

And where better to have a truly personalised customer experience than in store? Today’s AI-driven personalised customer marketing is mainly about delivering messages and offers to users that are context-sensitive and relevant to their habits, likes, purchase history and so on.

Yet in the future, AI will also power the very stores and shopping malls where shoppers will continue to flock for the ‘extra-perience’ of a social and communal experience. Westfield, for example, recently released its ‘Destination 2028’ concept mall, which features innovations such as AI-powered walkways, which will read a consumer’s profile and fast-track them around the centre accordingly, delivering highly targeted and personalised ads, offers, tips and recommendations along the way.

So while today’s critics may decry the ‘demise’ of the high street and foresee a dark future for physical retail, but the reality is that those retailers that embrace new technologies will not only survive, they will thrive, both online and on the high street.

‘Extra-perience’ is the light on the horizon for in-store retail

Westfield’s ‘Destination 2028’ is something of a light at the end of the tunnel for those retailers still bemoaning the rise of ecommerce and its impact on physical retail.

The truth is that both are going to grow and develop in different ways, using technology to innovate and create the experiences that consumers want. That’s why Westfield’s experts have based their concept mall on an extrapolation of current technology trends: in artificial intelligence, virtual and mixed reality and omnichannel retailing.

“As we celebrate ten years of pioneering retail in London we’re already looking forward to the next decade,” said Myf Ryan, Chief Marketing Officer at Westfield UK and Europe.

“We’ll continue to work closely with brands to deliver innovative retail spaces that create the ideal environment for them and our visitors – including developing technologies that converge digital and physical shopping to enhance that Extra-perience in state-of-the-art surroundings.”

Despite reports of its death, physical retail is, in certain sectors, in rude health. And its those brands that are adopting AI, ecommerce and omnichannel experiences into their physical retail strategies that are already starting to reap the benefits.

The stores, malls and supermarkets of the future

Stores, malls and supermarkets are adapting to modern consumer’s new and emerging wants, needs and desires. Which means they need to offer far more than just traditional shopping, they need to incorporate leisure and wellbeing attractions, they have to offer AI-powered experiences that are completely centred on the individual consumer and they must offer a social and communal experience that people desire and cannot get elsewhere.

It’s also instructive to look at the latest tech innovations from one of the US’s more traditional retailers, Walmart, with the company recently revealing its plans for an AI-powered text message ‘personal shopper’ called ‘Jetblack’.

The idea is amazingly simple. Shoppers send a text to Jetblack with a request or an image for things they want, and the AI acts as their ‘personal shopper’, replying immediately with relevant reviews, recommendations and so on, until the shopper has decided upon his or her list of things they want to buy.

They then merely hit, click or swipe ‘buy now’ and head to their nearest Walmart to pick up their shopping. Or have it delivered same-day or next-day, depending upon whichever is most desired and convenient.

The future of retail is bright and it lies in smart, personalised technology. It will be driven by further continuing innovation in AI, biometrics and mobile technologies. It will be personalised, omnichannel and driven by destination experiences such as Westfield’s impressive ‘Destination 2028’ and simple AI-powered text-bots such as Walmart’s ‘Jetblack’.

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