You must relentlessly pursue the personalization of products, brands, services and experiences for each and every one of your customers, because you can, And must. Those who do so will be the big winners. Those who do not will be lucky to survive.
For many retailers, the path to personalization is through artificial intelligence and machine learning. However, these whiz-bang technologies need mountains of consumer behavioral data to feed on. That’s why Amazon, as in so many other ways, is the undisputed retail leader. From “Day One” they were collecting consumer data from the millions of daily transactions. And they continue to accelerate their aggregation of data, now powerfully enabled by their intelligent Echo device providing conversational commerce with Alexa. Apple’s Homepod with Siri, Google Assistant, and Microsoft’s Cortana are also verbally assisting consumers while collecting their behavioral patterns.
Accordingly, as consumers learn that it is now possible to receive highly personalized products and experiences, they are raising the expectations bar. Everything that used to win their dollar—new products, more often, and even generic experiences—are now the price of entry. If you can’t fulfill their personal expectations, they will simply cross the street to another store or key tap into another site that does provide what they want.
So now that retailers and brands are equipped with AI and machine learning, their number-one challenge is to seduce consumers on a one-on-one, personalized basis. Forget the old-world concept of build it and they will come. You now have to build it one by one, one for one. And the underlying formula for success is a sensational idea your customers want, not what your marketing team thinks is cool. And the glue that holds it all together is complex data science, analysis and insight to market to people in a way that feels natural and relevant to them. A personalized experience has become the norm.
While AI is being used extensively to create personalized experiences, it is also used in many other areas in retail, including in the supply chain, in pricing and merchandising, to power voice-activated assistants and more. Among the many “courses” being offered at Shoptalk, the AI and machine learning sessions are must-attend to help you anticipate the future, not catch up to it.
By Zia Daniell Wigder
In 2018, Shoptalk will feature retailers and brands across different categories that are using AI-based solutions—it will also highlight some of the leading providers of AI-based technology, including fast-growing, venture-backed startups. Below are just four of the many sessions where speakers will address the topic of artificial intelligence at Shoptalk:
Track Keynote: Understanding the AI Revolution
AI is one of today’s biggest buzzwords, with the technology poised to change everything about how we learn, shop, travel, remain healthy and more. Some believe it will lead the world to a more promising future while others remain terrified of its impact. In these track keynotes, two leaders in the AI space will provide an overview of AI and the ways in which it could revolutionize the entire world:
- Having raised $174 million from investors since its founding 10 years ago, Sentient Technologies is one of the world’s best-funded AI startups. In addition to providing software that helps retailers deliver personalized online shopping experiences to their customers, as the primary inventor of the technology behind Apple’s Siri, Sentient’s Co-Founder and CEO is a well-known industry authority on the impact that widespread AI adoption will have in and outside of retail. He will share his perspectives on the long-term potential for AI as well as its limitations and potential impact on civilization.
- Arun Sundararajan is a Professor of Business at New York University’s Stern School of Business. Widely recognized as a thought leader on the implications of AI on society, Arun has provided testimony about the digital economy to government agencies and regulators including the United States Congress, the European Parliament and the Federal Trade Commission. He is also a member of the World Economic Forum’s Global Future Council on Technology, Values and Policy. In this presentation, Arun will discuss his latest research on how digital technology will transform business, government and civil society, as well as how AI and robotics will influence the future of work.
The rise of voice-activated assistants like Apple’s Siri, Amazon’s Alexa and Google Assistant is creating a new mass market platform that is enabling discovery and, increasingly, commerce. At the same time, innovative startups are building technologies that allow retailers to incorporate voice capabilities on their own mobile apps and websites. In this session we’ll hear from:
- Launched in 2016, Google’s AI-based personal assistant Google Assistant is now available on over 100 million devices ranging from smartphones to the company’s voice-activated speaker Google Home, and increasingly on other platforms such as cars and smart home appliances. Hear the Director of Global Business Development of Retail & Shopping at Google discuss how shoppers are interacting with and shopping at retailers such as Walmart, Target, Home Depot and Costco through Google Assistant and how retailers are leveraging the local inventory data they already share with Google to drive consumers to their stores.
- NBC’s movie ticketing giant Fandango has been at the forefront when it comes to working with voice-activated assistants. Fandango is a preferred ticketing partner across a wide variety of assistants including Amazon’s Alexa, Apple’s Siri, Google Assistant, Microsoft’s Cortana and others, providing consumers with personalized information on movie titles, times, locations and ticket options. This session will feature Fandango’s Head of Global Strategy and Business Development who will discuss the company’s experience working across multiple voice-activated platforms.
- Five-year-old Voysis, which has raised $8 million in funding, allows ecommerce companies to launch their own brand-specific, native voice experience–the technology enables consumers to use natural language voice to search and transact on the site. Voysis gained recognition for its ability to create synthetic voices that sound more human than leading voice assistants in the market. The Founder and CEO of Voysis will share his vision on the growth of voice-activated commerce and how voice will fundamentally alter how consumers interact with brands.
Advances in Personalization: AI and Beyond
Personalization is playing a much larger role in creating relevant and engaging experiences, as well as assisting in product discovery. AI-based solutions are now able to analyze multiple disparate data sets in real-time to precisely tailor the customer experience online. This session will feature three consumer brands that are taking advantage of new techniques and technologies to customize shopping experiences and enhance customer engagement:
- Founded in 1995, eBay is one of the world’s largest online marketplaces with over one billion active listings and 168 million active buyers. eBay has a diverse catalogue of items and a wide range of photos and product descriptions, which can make discovery a challenge. The company has been investing in technologies such as AI to surface the most relevant listings and generate superior search results. The company’s image search, for example, is enabled by AI and machine learning–it allows customers to search for items using pictures instead of words. In this session, the Senior Director of Buyer Experience and Applied Research will share how the company is applying AI and machine learning to its vast repository of data across a wide range of products to optimize the customer experience.
- Founded in 2010, Lyst is a global fashion search and ecommerce destination that offers over 4 million fashion products from thousands of fashion brands and stores. The company has raised $60 million in funding. Lyst has a highly data-driven approach that helps users discover and shop current trends. Using sophisticated image analysis tools, Lyst’s algorithms analyze both consumer behavior and the product catalogue to showcase the most relevant items. In this session, the Co-Founder and CEO will share how the company crunches millions of data points every hour in order to generate personalized recommendations for users, thus providing them with an easier, more streamlined buying experience.
- Founded in 1923, The Walt Disney Company is a $55 billion multinational media and entertainment company that produces film and television entertainment through properties such as Disney Animation and Live Action, Marvel Studios, Pixar, Lucasfilm, ABC, and ESPN. The company’s businesses also include parks and resorts, cruise lines, and consumer products. In this session, the VP of Marketing & Operations at Disney Studios will discuss his experience using consumer data and insights to create personalized, direct-to-consumer shopping experiences that maximize customer loyalty and lifetime value.
How AI Will Impact the Retail Organization and Workforce
AI is being widely used to optimize consumer-facing offerings, yet the technology is also set to have a substantial impact on company’s internal operations. AI will affect retail leaders’ hiring, staffing, organizational structures and processes as well as the responsibilities assigned to their current workforce. This session will feature one direct-to-consumer startup, one established retailer and one technology startup:
- Stitch Fix is a six-year-old startup that combines artificial intelligence with its stylists’ knowledge to curate custom boxes of apparel, shoes and accessories for its subscribers. The company, which went public in 2017, uses data and proprietary algorithms to help solve merchandising challenges like demand forecasting, inventory optimization and design. The GM of women’s merchandise will highlight how Stitch Fix’s use of AI has impacted its merchandising teams’ responsibilities and will discuss the future of the merchandiser within the organization.
- With 350 stores across the U.S., Destination XL Group is the largest retailer of men’s big and tall apparel. The company is investing in machine learning capabilities to make better use of its data, including selling more products at full price and ensuring it has the right amount of inventory in the right location. The company is also testing the use of AI-powered chatbots. The Chief Digital Officer/Chief Information Officer will discuss how using AI will impact retailers’ IT and digital organizations, as well as what skills will be required of the workforce as these new technologies are adopted.
- Three-year-old technology startup Kindred.ai has raised $44 million from high-profile investors to bring artificial intelligence into the warehouse via its sorting robot. Designed to work alongside humans, Kindred’s robots leverage machine learning and imitation learning to quickly and accurately fill online orders. The Co-Founder and Chief Product Officer for the San Francisco-based startup will discuss how the implementation of its robots will change the role of the warehouse worker at retail organizations.