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If bricks and mortar retailers think they just have competition from online shopping sites to be concerned about, then they need to think again, and fast, according to DMA Partners Associate Angus Jarmer.


Once considered the domain of the military and sci-fi films, artificial intelligence (AI) is coming at the retail sector like the proverbial freight train.


“AI is here and it’s expanding fast. It’s all about enhancing the customer experience, or CX if you like to use the latest jargon, through empowerment and accessibility,” Angus said.


“The consumer is driving everything and that’s definitely not a new concept.


“It’s obvious now that those retailers that have embraced technology to feed consumer desires are coming out on top,” says Angus.


“But as the saying goes, it’s tough at the top, and to stay ahead of the pack, retailers will need to combine the elements of both digital technology and the human customer experience, in the online environment and in-store.


“Retailers of all persuasions are bringing new product offerings and options to the consumer, but to think that the future game is all about AI only is a huge mistake.


“While AI and other technologies are delivering new and critical insights to the retail sector, it’s actually the combination of this data and a red hot focus on an exceptional consumer experience which is the differentiator,” Angus said.


“By using data to identify what the customer wants, when they might want it, how they might like to buy it and by customising both the product specifications and the buying experience for the purchase, AI-friendly retailers are establishing new relationships with their customers.


“Imagine having a brand new washing machine delivered to your door just a few hours after conversing online with an intelligent robot who can determine your preferences, needs and even your future needs based on a few questions about your day, your lifestyle and your weekend activities.


“AI is all about personalisation and intuitive service.”


Angus said AI would permeate every single element of the customer-retailer relationship.


New devices like Google’s Home Assistant, Amazon’s Echo, and Apple’s HomePod have all created ways for both consumers and suppliers to be always ‘on’ and create a seamless connection to facilitate sales and purchasing.


Angus said, “this will create a touchpoint consumer experience, which will drive the next stage of evolution in retail.


“Retailers then will have a far more complete picture of what customers want as they will consolidate the data from all those touchpoints.”


He said the further challenge for retailers would be agile development and innovation hubs within their organisations to make the most of opportunities and consumer technology up-take.


“And, as transactional volumes increase, it will be critically important to ensure consumers are not overwhelmed and the store experience remains strong, efficient and memorable.”