Retail shopping may soon resemble a science fiction movie, and it may happen sooner than you think.
In a memorable scene from the 2002 film Minority Report, Tom Cruise walks through a shopping center where his eyes are continually scanned, causing the 3D advertisements around him to start calling to him by name. (Of course, this is a problem, because he’s a fugitive.)
In some respects, the technology displayed in this scene is actually not that advanced compared to what we already have available today in 2017. Biometric scanning (identification through physically identifying markers) is now common and a core feature of the latest iPhone. Personalizing advertisements to greet an individual by name is done already on the Internet…it’s just not typically done in public yet.
What’s not clear from the brief scene is how much artificial intelligence is playing a role in the advertisements being delivered. Today, now, in 2017, AI could predict what products and services you might be interested in buying, based on your recent purchases, and display custom advertisements accordingly. This isn’t really any big news either, since any visitor to Amazon knows what it’s like to be targeted with custom product promotion.
So other than 3D screens and flying cars, how is the retail landscape going to change, and what role will artificial intelligence play?
5 AI and Technology Trends in Retail
AI in retail is happening, though it has yet to truly hit critical mass. Big box stores aren’t leaping on AI technologies quickly yet, but more and more, AI is creeping into the retail scene. Here are just a few of the current and future AI trends that are changing retail forever:
1. Realistic Robot Greeters
One of the first robots to interact and greet people at stores is a Japanese robot named “Pepper.” Pepper is programmed to talk to customers, and it can “understand” human emotions. Unlike some of the more human-like robot creations, Pepper looks like a robot from a science fiction movie. Small and plastic, with big black circles for eyes, the robot looks more futuristic than C3P0 from Star Wars.
A company called b8TA ran a pilot program using Pepper in its California stores, resulting in a 70% increase in foot traffic in Palo Alto.
2. Drone Delivery
Two of the biggest retail names that have tested drone delivery are Amazon and Domino’s Pizza. AI plays a unique role in the delivery of something as mundane as pizza. The robot delivery unit can sense the appropriate temperatures to keep the drinks cold and the food hot, all while navigating to the delivery destination.
3. Conversational Commerce
Talking computers are already a part of our lives, and with tools like Microsoft’s Cortana and Amazon’s Alexa, we will be doing more shopping simply by talking to our friendly AI assistants.
As AIs become more advanced, expect them to become more and more distinct personalities. Hopefully, they will become more like the friendly AI played by Scarlett Johansson in the 2013 sci-fi film Her, and not the cold and creepy Hal of 2001: A Space Odyssey.
4. Extreme Personalization and Predictions
We are already familiar with the type of personalization provided by an eCommerce site like Amazon. More and more, online retailers are using AI and machine learning to create custom recommendations to shoppers. Prices can even be changed based on customer behavior. This might not seem fair, but someone who has a habit of spending money on big ticket items will likely see price increases, unless governments step in to stop the practice.
The AIs can predict shopping habits so well that prices can be adjusted based on the individual user’s shopping and browsing history, in order to entice them to finally purchase that item that has been sitting in an online shopping cart of a while.
5. Augmented Reality
Augmented reality is the layering of virtual information such as sound and video over the real-world environment. With augmented reality, you could see someone walking down the street wearing a jacket that you like, view the person with the AR interface, and immediately get links and information on where and how to buy the same jacket.
The first major augmented reality device to hit the market was the Google Glass headset in 2013. It was a bit ahead of its time and sparked major concerns about privacy, and so was temporarily discontinued for a few years. Google Glass is now only slowly starting to make its way back into the public as a business device and not a consumer product.
The Pokemon Go game app is an example of augmented reality, where players can see a “Pokeman” though the phone’s camera that would be otherwise “invisible” to the naked eye.
By far, the most promising development for merchants interested in augmented reality is the latest Apple operating system. iOS 11 will allow the iPhone camera to “integrate” computer graphics with real world pictures. Brands such as Lowe’s and Ikea are jumping on the buzz with AR apps.
AI is the Future of Retail
While it might be a few years yet before we’ll be served by robot waiters, AI in retail is a hot trend that is only just getting started. Whether it will be through personalization, AI assistants, or augmented reality applications, artificial intelligence is changing the retail world as we know it.
Image Source: Adobe Stock