Artificial Intelligence (AI) has been lauded as humanity’s loyal friend and assistant (think Jarvis from Iron Man) or more often vilified as its destroyer (think Skynet from Terminator). In the last few years, we’ve had IBM’s Watson win at Jeopardy while Google DeepMind’s AlphaGo beat one of the best players of this generation in Go.
In this blog, I talk about a new contextual and personal AI from Google, and how it could change our shopping experience in the future.
Did we witness the birth of Skynet in October?
On 4th October, Google launched a number of products from their relatively new hardware division. However, Sundar Pichai, CEO of Google, was focused on one thing and one thing only at that event –introducing Google Assistant and sharing the tremendous learning that has gone into bringing it to life.
Google Assistant is your personal voice-activated window to answering questions and doing tasks you may normally do, such as booking a dinner for two at your neighbourhood bistro. This is built on Google’s ongoing investment in machine learning and AI, bringing together text-to-speech, image recognition, and machine translation. This is now available as a capability on Pixel - Google’s new phone, Google Allo - an IOS and Android messaging app, and Google Home - a voice-activated speaker that is a smartphone and home control centre.
And no, it’s not Skynet – so there’s no need to invest in an arsenal just yet.
The future is an AI cloud waiting to answer questions you haven’t yet asked
In the near future, you could have a conversation with the Google Assistant about purchases near your location.
In this scenario, I am in London looking to purchase a GoPro to record my upcoming cycling road trip.
Here, the assistant is able to suggest a contextual (in central London) offer as I shared my location. Google then put my location, my question for GoPro cameras, and my recent searches for that specific camera together, and show me a contextual offer with real in-store prices.
From my perspective as a customer, I am able to understand if my product is available to purchase nearby, and then complete a purchase without leaving the conversation.
This opens up possibilities regarding how products and services can be presented to customers, and for retailers to drive greater sales.
In this case, retailers, could surface products, prices, and discounts to all customers via a new avenue where customers are more likely to buy given the context of the conversation.
This is just the tip of the iceberg. Now imagine you could use the Assistant to remind you to buy a present for your husband/ wife when you are near Regent Street, or remind you to buy milk as you’ve not bought any in 5 days? Helpful, huh?
Now imagine the value to retailers, if the Google Assistant can create demand when customer didn’t even know they needed something. Back to my shopping scenario - I’m currently in central London, as a mountain biker, I'm planning my next trip, when I’m offered a GoPro (when I didn’t even realise I needed one) and suddenly it becomes my ‘must have’ man purchase? If retailers can offer the right product, in the right context, imagine the possibilities.
I’m a retailer and my world is ending!!!
As a retailer, the opportunity to properly connect with a customer (1-2-1), and provide them what they’re looking for (even before) they want it, is immensely powerful. With AI, retailers have the opportunity to enhance the shopping experience to engage the customer, conduct a purchase and provide a service, and do so without the customer even walking in to the store.
Yet, to provide this service, retailers do need to keep a few things in mind:
- How do I tailor my offer?
Understanding the offer and its target customer is one of the most critical areas to get right in order to maximise return on investment and improve conversion rates. However, in order to make the offer, you must be able to answer two important questions – who is my target audience and what is my offer to that audience?
Retailers need advanced customer analytics to allow them to generate the offers for the target customer and the ability to articulate these via advertising campaigns or curated content to drive traffic for additional purchases. This insight must consider the retailer’s single view of customer and augment it with data from external sources (purchased or publicly available).
- How do I surface the information?
Most retailers have online capabilities, and this could be an extension to existing online or social selling capabilities. However, retailers need to make this information available in real time to ensure they can capitalise when the customer is online. In addition, content may need to be designed for different user interfaces. For example, you may want to have a much abridged set of content for a connected watch and voice enabled content for a speaker.
Most retailers are moving to service-oriented open-sourced architectures to harbour such information in order to allow for agility and ease of integration with new selling channels as they come available.
- How do I fulfil the order and complete the sale?
The ability to sell a product online must be matched by a supply chain that is geared to operate at that speed. Retailers need to understand where this channel fits in their operating model, its service levels and costs, and fulfil to this service by leveraging their people, process and technology. The retailer supply chain needs to be able to plan for sales, stock product at the right location, and be able to pick and deliver that product to the customer in minutes and hours rather than days.
These changes in operating model may have profound impacts in the way the retailer operates their stores, plans for new products, or runs their promotional campaigns. Retailers who have a clear understanding of their channel delivery cost-to-serve and have end-to-end supply chain visibility stand to gain the most by being first to market with such capabilities.
The End of the
AI can be a force for good for retailers. Here I’ve laid out one example of how AI can be used to sell a valuable product or service to the customer, and for retailers to delight customers and maximise their investments. There are other capabilities worth mentioning as well– AI based chatbots for customer service, next-best-offer retailer assistants for up-selling, and AI-based planning and replenishment...but that’s a blog for another day.