All rights reserved: The Daily Telegraph – Isabelle Fraser
Artificial intelligence is the key to the future of online retail, business bosses have said, providing a crucial way to help shoppers find what they want. Alex Baldock, chief executive of Shop Direct, which runs very.co.uk and Littlewoods, told the Telegraph Festival of Business in London that artificial intelligence was the company’s “big bet”.
“You have three seconds to seize the shopper’s attention – it’s called thumb stopping, the three-second audition,” Mr Baldock said. “That’s where personalisation comes in.” Shop Direct is owned by Sir David and Sir Frederick Barclay, proprietors of Telegraph Media Group, the publisher of the Daily Telegraph.
Mr Baldock was joined on a panel discussing the role of technology in business by Adrian Blair, the chief operating officer of Just Eat, the food delivery website. Both Mr Baldock and Mr Blair affirmed that all their online growth was now coming from mobile: Just Eat, for example, currently takes 80pc of its orders on mobile devices.
The delivery company also uses chatbots and artificial intelligence for restaurant recommendations, and customers can now order food using an Amazon Echo, a voice command device produced by the US tech giant.
“When I was a student I would have dreamed of that,” Mr Blair said. “Through technology we have made it unbelievably simple to order food, and have cut out the payment step. Those sorts of things point the way to the future, making things unbelievably easier for the customer, and more efficient for the provider.”
Just Eat is also trialing land-based drone deliveries, which would deliver food to the customer by road. The consumer would then input a code to remove their food from the drone, which Mr Blair described as having a “rectangular R2D2 face”.
Facing threats from Deliveroo and Uber Eats, Mr Blair said that unlike his competitors, Just Eat’s restaurants employ their own drivers, and so avoid the legal issues that have plagued rivals.
“That makes the economics of our business look very attractive,” he said. “We are able to operate at a scale others would struggle to match because of our model.”
Also on the panel was Dr David Landsman, executive director of industrial conglomerate Tata. He said that automated manufacture was used throughout the company, from creating teabags to steel and cars.
“Once you can bring in the five digital forces – cloud computing, big data, social media, artificial intelligence, mobile – you can start looking at whole process and virtualise the whole factory, and work out what’s going to happen before it does,” he said.
Jenny Knott, chief executive of Icap’s Post Trade Risk and Information division, also argued the AI had a role to play in the future of financial services – particularly alongside blockchain, a type of digital ledger that can speed up secure transactions.
Ms Knott said blockchain was an immutable, “golden version of whatever you are keeping a record of”. She tipped big things from “blockchain with a brain” – partnering the technology with artificial intelligence and big data.
“It’s incredibly empowering in creating transparency,” Ms Knott said. “It will be very powerful in affecting how we operate.”