Digital can pose a range of risks for a bricks and mortar (B&M) retailer including:
- Declining market share as customer loyalty to its established, traditional brand is eroded away by disruptive new on-line entrants and more innovative high street competitors
- Poor ROI from implementing new in-store digital technologies because they fail to create a superior personalised customer experience across its physical and online channels
- The inability to deliver better inventory management using big data and analytics due to immature organisational capabilities in these areas across its supply chain
So how could scalable retail artificial intelligence in the cloud – Brand AI – potentially turn these challenges into unique opportunities for competitive advantage during the next five years? Here are some disruptive ideas…
Brand AI as a personal human relationship
A retailer could personify its brand as a virtual customer assistant accessible anywhere, anytime using voice and text commands from a mobile device. But unlike today’s arguably bland, soulless smartphone versions that focus on delivering simple functionality, Brand AI would have a unique, human character that reflects the retailer’s values to inform its interactions and maturing relationship with an individual customer. Intended to be more than another ‘digital novelty’, this disruptive form of customer engagement builds on and enhances a B&M’s traditional brand as a trusted long-term friend throughout the entire customer journey by offering compelling, timely presale insights, instant payment processing and effective after sales support and care.
Brand AI as an invisible omni-channel
A customer is empowered to select what personal data they choose to share (or keep private) with the Brand AI to enrich their relationship. Social, location, wearable or browsing and buying behaviour data from complementary or even competing retailers could, potentially, be shared via its cloud platform. The Brand AI can analyse this liquid big data using its machine-learning capabilities to create dynamic real-time personalised actionable insights seamlessly across a customer’s physical and digital experience – it is the heartbeat of the retailer’s invisible omni-channel offering.
Critically, Brand AI can transform every retail store visit into a memorable, exclusive customer experience distinct from anything a competing digital disruptor could offer. For example, the Brand AI can advise in-store sales staff in advance what specific products a customer wants or needs that particular day to help personalise this human interaction, provide on-the-spot guidance and critical feedback about products available immediately to drive a purchasing decision, or tailor in-store digital experiences such as virtual reality or media walls to create genuine moments of customer delight. In addition, the AI can capture the customer’s emotional and physical reactions via wearables to these experiences (such as a raised heartbeat when seeing a new product for the first time). Such insights can then be explored later by the customer (including socially with family and friends) using the AI on the retailer’s integrated digital channel to sustain their retention.
Brand AI as an operating model
A further opportunity for using Brand AI is its potential ability to streamline inventory management to improve the customer experience and reduce operating risk. Key processes such as store returns and transfers could benefit from such an approach – not only would the invisible omni-channel AI enable a customer to easily raise the need to return goods, it can also capture the specific reasons why this is happening (rather than this information having to be interpreted by different customer service staff using prescriptive reason codes, for example). Also because the Brand AI has an established personal relationship with the customer it can proactively order a replacement for home delivery or pick up (store or other convenient location) or suggest a suitable alternative product or other cross-sell opportunities to keep the customer satisfied and minimise revenue losses for the retailer.
Managers can also use the AI to help interrogate and identify trends from this complex dataset on returns and transfers. Inventory management reporting and insights are available on demand in a manager or team’s preferred format (such as data visualisation) to support stock purchasing decisions, resolution of supply chain performance issues or investigate region or store specific fraud and theft. And because these analytics are running in the cloud they can be aligned to existing organisational capabilities in this area.
The illustrative benefits for a bricks and mortar retailer using scalable artificial intelligence in the cloud (Brand AI) potentially during the next five years include:
- Refreshes the competitive advantages of an established, traditional high street retail brand using new disruptive forms of marketing and customer advocacy
- Materially de-risks strategic investment in new in-store digital technologies by explicitly linking these capabilities to an holistic, long-term customer experience
- Can improve organisational agility using big data and analytic capabilities to improve existing business processes that directly benefit the retailer and its customers