2019, The Year Of The Robot?

Technology is improving exponentially and is certainly part of our everyday life. How many of us are now using Google home to order uber, check the weather forecast or order a pizza? With smart fridges re-ordering on our behalf we are becoming so reliant on technology at home.

It’s much the same in the workplace where Bill Gates certainly realised his dream of everyone having a computer at their desk! Technology is fully integrated with what we do and will become more and more advanced.

What does this technology avalanche mean to retail? We are already seeing lots of advances, with interactive displays, many retailers now using iPads to check out customers. Technology is allowing us to see how clothes look without trying them on. Seafolly, Australia’s largest swimwear label, are trialling an interactive mirror for this purpose which also allows the customer to call for a sales person to help them in the change room.

It’s hard to imagine where technology will take the customer experience, as retailers use this to combat the ease of shopping online. There is another massive reason to invest in artificial intelligence (AI) and that’s the massive cost savings it will bring.

Recent research by the Capgemini Research Institute, a global leader in consulting, technology services and digital transformation, reported that AI is a $300 billion cost saving opportunity for retailers who are able to scale and expand the technology. However, it is very early days, as only 1% of global retailers have achieved the necessary level of development.

Based on research of 400 global retailers, which found that over 25% of these retailers are deploying AI in their business and this is a seven-fold increase on 2016. Their research also found that 98% of the retailers surveyed expect customer complaints to decrease while 99% expect to see an increase in sales.

However, Capgemini vice president global consumer products, Kees Jacobs, had a strong warning for retailers investing in AI – “Retailers should be wary not to chase ROI figures without also considering the customer experience.” This is where I see the biggest danger of AI, retailers thinking that replacing humans will naturally enhance the customer experience. Of course, in a number of areas it will as it speeds up sales transactions (Amazon Go is one example), provides quicker and more accurate stock ordering and replacement.

Where AI and the human touch have to come together is to make it easier for both staff and customers to better interact. Staff will still need to be kings of product knowledge to ask customers the right questions and then provide the right advice. They will need to use their emotional intelligence to deal with customers differently and create that individualised experience you can’t get from a robot!

It’s going to be another exciting year as the advance of AI becomes even more prevalent in our retail stores. Please don’t forget that your staff are still critical in creating that amazing experience and need ongoing training and coaching to maintain their high performance.

Roger Simpson – CEO, The Retail Solution and Author of “The Ultimate Retail Sales Experience” With over 35 years’ industry experience, Roger Simpson is recognized as Australia’s #1 Authority on customer ROI in the retail industry and as a global expert on staff coaching, customer service, and selling skills.