Why Retail Should Tune-In to the AI Conversation Now

How is AI revolutionizing the retail industry? We explore the possibilities - from accessibility to outreach and data analysis.

By now, you’ve likely heard the term “AI”. What used to be considered the likes of sci-fi is now becoming a more tangible aspect of our lives. For years, AI has been used in different industries, from image recognition to video games and self-driving cars (or at least, assisted-driving). But with the recent launch of ChatGPT and similar large language models, the public is currently reckoning with the potential of this technology to greatly impact our everyday lives as well as various industries as a whole.

While conversations have been abuzz for a few months now, the application of AI within the retail industry has been surprisingly quiet. So today, we’re exploring the tip of the iceberg and wondering aloud how AI may impact the retail industry in the quickly coming future.

What is AI

AI, or Artificial Intelligence, is a type of computer technology that can do things that would normally require human intelligence. This technology is able to do this by using special algorithms, which are like sets of instructions, to process large amounts of data and learn from it. It can then use that learning to perform tasks, solve problems, or make predictions. 

For example, AI can be used in image recognition, where it can analyze pictures and identify objects or people in them (think of when you visit a website and are asked to click 3 traffic lights out of a set of photos before accessing the page - this is a very simple form of AI training). It can also be used in language processing, where it can understand and respond to human language, like when you talk to a voice-activated assistant on your phone. Yes, Siri is a form of AI.

What Makes ChatGPT Different

ChatGPT is a large language model developed by OpenAI that uses artificial intelligence to generate human-like text responses and engage in conversations with users. While much of the information generated by ChatGPT can be flawed, its ability to create text that feels human-generated is exciting. ChatGPT can be prompted to create many different forms of written communications as well, from texts and emails to essays and campaign outlines. Much of the technology using AI up until now has been directed by experts, rather than handed to the public to sculpt. And because ChatGPT’s dataset is so vast, the possibilities seem endless. That leaves a lot of questions about the future of this technology.

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AI Technology in Retail Today

In many ways, the ethics of using large language models and other forms of AI in society are still being hashed out. Italy, for example, recently banned ChatGPT for commercial use over privacy concerns. And of course, there are also lingering questions over ownership, copyright infringement and liability. However, in the United States and many other countries, excitement continues to grow over the technology.

When it comes to retail, AI brings a wealth of possibilities to brands who are looking to grow their customer base and increase purchase value. Here are just a few ways AI tools are already making that possible:

Accessibility - AI is revolutionizing both digital and real world accessibility. For example, Danish startup Be My Eyes is developing a free mobile app that it describes as a virtual volunteer. The purpose of the app is to provide visual support to users with accessibility needs, from visual descriptions to navigation services. For brands, such technology could provide customers with accessible product catalogs and navigation support to and through physical stores. Now everyone from small to midsize businesses can offer enterprise-level accessibility support. 

Outreach - AI tools can be used to create outreach campaigns to build customer loyalty. Brands can create templates for these communications that retail teams across many stores can then use, while still having the flexibility to personalize them for the intended recipient (or group of recipients). This is the next level in modern clienteling.

Data Analyzation - With retail, it’s easy to end up with a lot of data, but quite a challenge to sort through it for meaningful insights. With AI, summaries of data can be made quickly, giving us humans the ability to understand the numbers faster and strategize more effectively. At Endear, we integrate the data that retailers have across platforms into a Customer Data Platform, which in turn creates customer profiles where insights are clear, and outreach is scalable. For physical stores, another example that feels exciting is Amazon’s Dash Smart Shelf, which automatically tracks inventory so that small and mid-size businesses always have an accurate count of merchandise, as well as the ability to restock with the click of a button.

So how do you see AI changing the retail industry?