In 2024, AI will work in concert with humans to boost customer service and efficiency in retail


As has been the case with other industries, AI’s arrival in the retail sector has ignited fears that the role of human workers might soon become redundant. However, according to Laurence Brenig-Jones, VP of Product Strategy at RELEX Solutions, these fears are unfounded.

Far from replacing in-store workers, Brenig-Jones believes, AI’s effect in retail will instead free staff up from mundane, repetitive tasks and enable them to focus on more essential and fulfilling high-value tasks while boosting their productivity as well.

“Leveraging AI to enhance staff productivity is key as labour shortages continue to be a megatrend that is changing and reshaping retail,” explained Brenig-Jones. “The shortage of labour affects retail operations across entire networks – including in-store, transportation, and distribution centres.” 

Recent research by the Retail Technology Show, an industry conference in London, found that 73 percent of shoppers believe that there will always be a role for human interaction in retail. Brenig-Jones claims that AI will transform retail in a way that reflects a growing set of technologies available and how they can address the sector’s pressing needs and opportunities.

“More retailers will use Machine Learning-based demand forecasting with probability-based optimisation algorithms to plan and streamline entire inventory flows end to end,” said Brenig-Jones. “For operational teams in distribution centres and stores, this means much more efficient workloads. For in-store staff, AI-driven alerts will direct them to tasks and areas of attention that add the most value in terms of customer experience and sales.”

“Meeting customer expectations and demand is the perennial challenge for retailers,” he continued. “Product innovation continues to drive intense competition for market share, and product quality, particularly in fresh produce, is an important competitive differentiator. At the same time, in the current global economic climate, shoppers are more price-conscious than ever.”

“Shoppers increasingly want more sustainable alternatives when shopping, added Jones. “Successful retailers will respond by using AI to be laser-focused on how they promote and price their assortment to drive better results. They’ll use capabilities like ML and AI-based neural networks to model and optimise complex factors that impact demand, such as shortages, delays, and price increases.”

Jones continued, “A major pitfall in the hype around AI is rushing to use it for tasks that it simply isn’t suitable for. Retailers should leverage analytics to allow for a better understanding of performance using ultra-granular root cause analysis. For example, uncovering the true impact of inaccurate inventory data or the actual impact of poor supplier performance can ensure new AI-based initiatives maximise value. Retailers can use autonomous methods for generating this insight continuously to aid understanding and decision-making.” 

“The advent of generative AI in particular will prompt retailers to leverage AI technology more in 2024. Expect always-on co-pilot tools to help drive productivity across all retail staff roles, including at senior management level. Reporting and analytics will be directly available using real-time queries that tap into the vast intelligence contained within advanced AI-based platforms and these developments will significantly reshape retail operations” concluded Jones.

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