In the first four months of 2017, 14 retail chains declared bankruptcy. That’s as many as shut up shop throughout the entirety of 2016. Many more – including those that have dominated the industry for decades – are closing stores and shedding staff in a bid to stay afloat.
“It’s the end of brick and mortar stores!” the casual observer might exclaim. They do so incorrectly.
Over the past several years, leading eCommerce companies including Rent the Runway, Etsy, and Alibaba have established physical stores. They have done so because they recognise the potential to augment the offline customer experience in a way traditional retailers have yet to grasp.
That potential, as discussed in a recent research report in the Firebrand Group’s Future Proof magazine, will be realised through Artificial Intelligence.
“…global revenue from AI will skyrocket from $643.7 million in 2016 to $36.8 billion by 2025. This means that any company that isn’t using AI to help their business will be losing out on substantial amounts of revenue. Not only that, but any company not using an AI product by 2025 will find it incredibly difficult to compete. To that end, it’s time for all companies, retailers included, to take a good look at how AI can help them achieve their objectives”, claims the report.
With no universal consensus on how AI will be implemented, it will be up to individual companies to strategise, innovate, and apply their own.
The Three Elements
In a series of case studies presented in the report, it becomes clear that AI systems already proving successful for retailers are underpinned by the importance of three elements:
Ease: It’s the definitive factor for many online shoppers. Now, brick and mortars need to work out how to make the process of shopping in store easier. One way Amazon’s Seattle fully AI-automated supermarket, Amazon Go, is providing an easier experience is through sensors that monitor shopper’s progress. As they select items, these are placed in a virtual cart. When the shopper leaves the store, the price of this virtual cart is deducted from their account automatically. With no time wasted at the register, Amazon Go customers are in and out much faster than those that visit a Coles or Woolworths.
The same concept can be applied to just about any store that sells basic products, and provides the added benefit of cutting staffing costs.
Efficiency: At Lowe’s, AI-driven LoweBots lead customers to where they can find the items they want, automatically tracks stock figures so that shelves can be refilled on the go, and even has the ability to offer assistance to idling customers. They’re not replacing human workers, the LoweBots are supporting them, by taking care of small tasks that otherwise make them less efficient.
Experience: 66% of online shoppers say they prefer an optimal in-store experience than buying digitally. Optimal being the key word. They want professional service. They want to ask questions, and experience the product for themselves. And they want this from a human, not a robot.
A successful retail store isn’t just a point of sale. It’s somewhere its customers look forward to going, where they feel comfortable taking their time looking around and reaching out to staff for answers that will inform their purchasing decisions.
That’s the experience fewer and fewer retailers are concerned with providing, and that’s why people are increasingly turning to eCommerce.
By keeping these three elements in mind, brick and mortar retailers have the ability to develop exciting new AI to restore and refine the value of their brand, and their industry. The ones that embrace this are the ones shoppers will be frequenting in ten years time. The rest will be no more.