Future of Work News

The Surprising Growth of AI in Retail Businesses


AI technology is becoming pervasive in the customer service industry, and its use in contact centers is on the rise.  But, a surprising number of retailers are also taking advantage of AI and chatbots in their brick and mortar spaces as well – even grocery stores, department stores, clothing and even home improvement stores are making use of AI in some fashion.

According to research compiled by Noodle Analytics, retail use of AI grew 600 percent from 2016 to 2018.  The company estimates that, by 2023, 95 percent of supply vendors in the consumer goods space will use AI.  The biggest use case for AI in retail, thus far, is on the operations side of business, where 74 percent of AI technology is being utilized.  The remaining 26 percent is being used for the customer-facing side, to improve satisfaction, reduce complaints and lower customer churn.

A whopping 15 percent of all retail companies report that their business is actively investing in and adopting AI technologies.  Multi-category businesses like department stores are leading this adoption at 42 percent, followed by apparel and footwear retailers, food and grocery stores and home improvement businesses.

There are a number of exciting AI applications already in place at some of the most popular retailers on the planet.  Walmart is working with autonomous mobile robots from Bossa Nova Robotics for real-time, on-shelf product data in 350 of its stores.  The robots have cameras designed to track on-shelf inventory and determine if products are priced correctly based on their shelf placement.

McDonald’s has spent hundreds of millions of dollars this year on predictive AI technologies to create its McD Tech Labs in Silicon Valley.  The company is testing technology to recognize license-plate numbers at some of its drive-thrus, enabling the company to suggest purchases based on customers’ previous orders.  Customers must agree to give away this data before the technology is used.  The company hopes to eventually use the technology to vary its drive-thru menus based on the time of day, weather, current restaurant traffic and trending menu items.

Then there’s Amazon Go, the cloud giant’s foray into the brick and mortar retail space.  Its stores feature no checkouts, no lines and very few human workers.  Customers use an app to enter the store and simply take the products they want. AI technology tracks which products are taken from a shelf (or returned) and stores them in a virtual cart. When customers leave the store, their Amazon accounts are charged only for the products they take.  Human employees work behind the scenes in the store kitchens and are also available to help customers.  Amazon currently boasts 21 stores in Chicago, New York, San Francisco and Seattle, with three more coming soon.

To provide more information about how AI, robotics and machine learning are impacting the retail space and other industries, TMC is hosting its Future of Work Expo in Fort Lauderdale, FL. The event, which is happening February 12-14, 2020, will explore how AI and machine learning technologies are being used for throughout a host of vertical markets and are rapidly shaping the future workplace.

Edited by Erik Linask

Future of Work Contributor

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