AI to bring the human touch back to the high street

With the onslaught of bad news about the state of the British high street, much of the discussion has focused on how 'brick and mortar' retailers need to improve the customer experience to win back customers from their online rivals and increase brand loyalty. Uwe Weiss, CEO at Blue Yonder, argues that artificial intelligence could be key to achieving this, enabling retailers to automate processes and focus their resources on delivering the best possible customer experience.

Uwe says: "'Brick and mortar' retailers are increasingly being undercut by ecommerce providers, who operate with much lower overheads, and so must find another point of differentiation, other than pricing. For physical retailers, their biggest asset is their staff, who can be key to creating the very best customer experience. Staff on the shop floor who are available to help customers with enquiries and show them where to find products can help customers to forge a genuine, personal connection with a brand, helping to further build loyalty. With a real focus on the customer experience, retailers can bring the human touch back to the high street and gain a competitive edge on online retailers.

"It may seem counter-intuitive, but automation could be the key to bringing this human element back to the high street. By automating core business processes, such as replenishment and pricing, AI removes the necessity of manual intervention, reduces the amount of time that staff spend on back office tasks and enables them to spend more time on the shop floor, helping customers and ensuring the store looks its best."

Retailers have access to a huge amount of data from past sales patterns, customer footfall to events, trends and even weather forecasts. When this data is combined with advanced AI technology, replenishment optimisation solutions can accurately predict customer demand and automate stock level decisions, across thousands of product categories and hundreds of stores.

This data can also be used to optimise pricing, with AI solutions learning the relationship between price changes and demand while incorporating a retailer's business strategy. Price optimisation solutions can then use these insights to automatically set the optimal prices to deliver the best bottom line, while rapidly sensing vital demand signals from changing market conditions and data such as sales, promotions, weather and events.

Uwe concluded: "Humans can't compete with AI when it comes to analysing data, making predictions and optimising the replenishment and pricing process. However, what humans can do better than any machine is to provide the human touch – be it excellent customer service, helping shoppers to find the products they need, giving them more information and helping them through the checkout process. In a market where consumer spending patterns are changing and 'brick and mortar' retailers are under evermore pressure from online competitors, retailers must recognise that their key differentiator is the personalised service they can offer customers. They must focus their staffing resources on this and leave the machines to do what they do best, which is to analyse data and make replenishment and pricing decisions."

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