In case you haven’t noticed, there’s yet another major shift in technology.
This one has to do with the A.I. and chatbots that help us in our daily lives and at work.
They offer many advantages, but adjusting to them has been no easy task. Despite some of the massive advancements we’ve made in tech, it’s clear we’re still in an “adjustment period” — with A.I., in particular.
Natural selection is taking its course, as individuals and entire industries are forced to get smart or fall behind. But those that can adapt swiftly and seamlessly are pushing the boundaries, not just of excellence but of human discovery.
Retailers around the globe are taking advantage of this. Faced with an ever-growing set of unique challenges, tech teams are bending over backwards to create ingenious marketing techniques and unprecedented customer service methods.
Chatbots have stepped onto the scene as an extremely multi-faceted tool for reaching and connecting with customers. They’re so good, in fact, that they’re on their way to obviating human interactions — to an extent, of course.
Shifting from physical commerce to electronic commerce and now to conversational commerce, the retail industry is obviously relying less and less on human interaction. It’s imperative, however, to pair these “chatter-bots” with humans to avoid another Microsoft Tay problem.
There will always be consumers who resist A.I. as a method of communication and commerce, but this is true with just about every type of technology. So I urge retailers to stop fighting the chatbot movement and embrace it. Just make sure you always add a touch of humanity.
In replacing the human behind the screen with A.I., companies can now shift resources to enhance the in-store experience for customers who are ready to make their next purchase.
Examples of A.I. helping retailers
A handful of retailers, however, are succeeding.
The nation’s largest department store chain, Macy’s, is currently testing its “mobile companion” app that aims to provide answers to questions that are specific to each store location (think inventory, locations of items and brands, dressing rooms, and more).
The chatbot, which was developed by IBM Watson, offers nearly instant feedback for users. It represents part of the company’s push to not only make shopping more enjoyable but to distinguish the brand as an emerging leader in A.I.
An app rolled out last year by Home Depot sought to relieve some of the pain of painting a room. You take a picture of a room in your house and pick a color to virtually “paint” the walls. The app will adjust the colors to reflect different times of day and types of lighting, so the user can see each color in its entirety. Tap a decorative object in the picture, like a pillow or chair, and the app will recommend colors that best match it.
Reviews of the app, however, are uneven, and it’s unclear whether improvements are to be expected or not. Unfortunately, when it comes to A.I., it’s way more than just the thought that counts.
Neiman Marcus did a soft launch earlier this year of Bluetooth beacons, a tool designed by their innovation lab (called iLab). The beacons are basically wireless nodes that communicate with shoppers and serve as locators. In their current infant stages, the beacons guide customers toward in-store sales, but the possibilities are endless — stay tuned. The retail giant has also been testing memory mirrors that are just about as magical as they sound. You record and store video to a personal account that can be accessed remotely and allows you to compare outfits you’ve tried on, digitally change the colors, and, of course, share it all to social media.
All of this is to show that A.I. is not one-size-fits-all. A brilliant app that proves integral to the shopping experience at one store may be totally useless in another. There are no shortcuts when it comes to finding the perfect fit for A.I. in your business.
Target is a stellar example of a company utilizing A.I. to serve its particular goals. It recently introduced its “Open House” store — an interactive, high-tech space that connects the customer and the vendors directly by allowing vendors to design a physically interactive demo of their product in real time. Although the Open House is still in its experimental phase, Target has found a way to create a smart-home showcase that appeals to the mainstream consumer. It’s fresh, it’s unique, and although it’s quite techy, it’s human.
But Target, more than anyone, knows that innovation is only half the battle. Designing an A.I. and optimizing web presence is easy. Maintaining in-store magic despite the growing convenience of online shopping is where the new challenge lies. For stores to survive, we need to think deeper when it comes to luring in the target demographic, and location is the steepest hill any retailer will have to climb. It’s more important now than ever to invest in the right locations — and there is a plethora of technology to help you do so.
Some people are intimidated by the sheer power of A.I., but if you can’t beat the robots, join them.
Or better yet, teach them to work for you. Have you adapted?