Shape Shifter: AI Takes On New Roles In Retail

The digital-first economy must revolve around the customer. Just getting a serviceable eCommerce site won’t cut it in the “new normal.” As retailers of all shapes and sizes race to get online to catch the consumer’s digital shift, they will need to move beyond simplicity and into more sophisticated – and personalized – customer experiences. It’s one of the areas where new technologies and data-driven tools like customer behavioral analysis, artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning and bots will need to factor into the entire commerce value chain.

AI in particular is becoming a critical tool for achieving this new sophistication. AI-powered bots that use machine learning (ML) algorithms are developing smarter replies to customer service questions. This type of innovation can also help to predict inventory and automate processes such as support, payments and procurement. It can also expand business intelligence to help create and personalize digital marketing plans.

“When you talk about eCommerce now, it’s all about providing a personalized experience to the customer,” Sheetal Pansare, CEO of Futurism Technologies, told PYMNTS. “It’s like going into a store and everyone knows you. Everyone knows that you like to be treated differently. But now we can achieve that level of personalization through AI. It enables your website to function like the smartest store personnel.”

Futurism has recently upgraded its commerce suite with additional AI and ML capabilities that will not only help companies put their businesses online, but also help them completely digitize their commerce lifecycle. That lifecycle, according to Pansare, includes digital product catalog creation and placement, AI-driven digital marketing, fulfillment and financial reporting – all from a unified platform.

Security is another basic component that is included with many AI retail feature sets, as algorithms can detect fraudulent activities such as fake registrations and bogus reviews. Pansare said it is particularly important for retailers that have had to play catch-up with their digital capabilities during the pandemic.

And so is another technology that retailers will eventually have to integrate: blockchain.

“Look at some of the newest elements that retailers need to be aware of and eventually start to capitalize on,” said Pansare. “With all of the goods moving with cross-border transactions, there needs to be a trusted record. So we’ve developed blockchain-integrated commerce, where every transaction is basically immutable, trusted and has its own identity. That enables us to have smart contracts and finely detailed payments. Those are the kinds of things we can do with blockchain.”

Pansare also stresses that the data generated by AI can help inform marketing campaigns. The new version of Futurism’s platform includes a heat map that shows where customers have been on their digital journey and what they have purchased. That data can then help prevent misplaced, mispriced or misguided digital marketing campaigns. By using this level of AI, Pansare has found that even retailers just starting out on their own digital journey can get started with a fairly rich AI capability. He noted that retailers have been surprised at how quickly they can get started.

“I think a lot of retailers are way behind the curve,” he said. “Especially with the pandemic, they think they have to cut costs and don’t think about digital transformation. Whereas if they actually got in there and figured it out, digital transformation would help them save costs, but they’re not there yet. So, when we talk to those kinds of customers, that total cost of ownership comes into play. Everybody knows that to compete with Amazon, you need to have personalization. Because if you don’t, you’ll be behind the curve.”