3 ways AI can help retailers stay relevant

- Global Industry Solutions Director, Retail, Microsoft

As the retail industry changes and competition grows across every channel, retailers are turning to new technologies to move their customer experience forward and maintain relevancy. Now one area specifically is becoming more of a focus for retailers around the globe.

Microsoft recently partnered with Blue Yonder, a JDA company, to survey retailers everywhere on how they are adapting to the rapidly evolving retail market by using new technologies. The findings show as retailers face new challenges in customer loyalty, competition online and changing consumer expectations, they are more committed than ever to investing in technologies like the Cloud and artificial intelligence (AI).

And there’s good reason for retailers to look to AI, machine learning (ML) and automation as they embark on a digital business transformation to stay competitive and relevant.

Here are three ways AI can help retailers survive in an unpredictable market:

  1. Advancing your customer experience.

Retail is no longer a business centered around products and promotions – it’s all about customer experience. Creating a more positive in-store experience and meeting the expectations of customers and demanding service level agreements is critical for retailers who want to remain competitive and build brand loyalty

Customers can tap into their eCommerce data using AI and machine learning to focus on inventory being sold most in specific locations and stock their store accordingly. In addition, having these powerful technical capabilities empowers retailers to be able to offer and support in-store pickup and same-day deliveries that are now becoming the norm.

AI and machine learning can ensure their inventory is prepared, their distribution centers are in alignment to prioritize the first shipments, and their inventory is moving along the right routes and channels to avoid disruption and get to customers right on-time.

2.  Keeping an edge over the competition.

Customers have never had more options than they do in today’s omni-channel marketplace. Retailers are competing with manufacturers, eCommerce companies and their own direct competitors every day. If a customer comes to your store to make a purchase and their product is out-of-stock they will probably be going somewhere else to find it in the future – whether that’s in-store or right from their phone.

Using technology with AI and machine learning, retailers can predict the right levels of inventory and assortments to meet customers’ needs and expectations without risking costly overhead or waste.

Having solutions that tap into AI and machine learning is key. This keeps your technology gaining more awareness over time on your customers and market to continue making more precise calculations, so you can make the best-informed business decisions moving into the future.

These same technologies can ensure that your pricing, promotions and markdowns are aligned with competitor pricing and customer demand without carving unnecessarily into your bottom line.

3.  Surviving the undeniable impact of tariffs.

Retailers need to start preparing now for the impact of current and oncoming tariffs. The first round of tariffs started at the beginning of the year with 30-50 percent penalties on washing machines and solar panels. Next, the tariffs expanded to a 25 percent tariff on steel and a 10% tariff on aluminum – challenging businesses in sectors with products from cars to canned goods. Last September, more than 800 categories of tariffs were added.

To-date, tariffs have impacted $250 billion in imported goods, costing individual American households by approximately $167 a year.

Surviving these tariffs while remaining competitive means understanding price changes and their impacts to better predict what your customers are able or willing to absorb. Using the latest in AI, retailers can ensure maximum revenue and customer satisfaction in the face of these new tariffs. By tapping into insights from historical data on customer buying behaviors, competitor pricing, demand levels and other impacts like current events and weather, in real-time, businesses can advance their strategies with exacting predictions.

AI-enabled forecasting tools can keep retailers aware of constant changes in the market by delivering a clear picture of demand in real-time across every channel.

The unmistakable move to AI and Machine Learning

As the industry landscape continues to move forward with changing customer demands and the continuing rise of Amazon, studies show AI, ML and IoT offer retailers more ways to compete.

With the right technology in place, retailers can use their own eCommerce shopper data to identify trends and set the right prices and service levels with confidence – boosting profits, reducing waste and increasing efficiency, every step of the way.

3 ways AI can help retailers stay relevant
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