Larger retail companies have already implemented active and successful projects based on AI. The competitive advantages that can be achieved and the use of AI by competitors are increasingly putting pressure on all companies to emulate.
Half of all people surveyed by the BVDW (period July – August 2018) assume that their business will no longer function without AI in 2025. In addition, the need to deal with AI is rated as high to very high overall. In the opinion of the respondents, AI is clearly of economic relevance for retail. Above all, the acquisition of knowledge about customers and their needs is mentioned, which improves the advice, increases the relevance of search results or is used in the service. The use of chatbots in service and consulting (conversational commerce) is also mentioned several times. In addition, the respondents see relevant application possibilities in the areas of warehousing / logistics, forecasts and product ranges.
The key question for the success of AI in retail will be which fields of application it will ultimately be used for.
1. AI will be used by retailers and brands to become more personal, more efficient and faster for customers
If one examines the possible areas of application of AI in retail, it quickly becomes clear that the customer is the driver here too: the personal customer agreement is likely to be viewed by the retailer as the ideal test field for AI, as confirmed in the BVDW survey. In the discussion about AI in retail, therefore, the focus should be primarily on: the customer: in the considerations, and not – as is often discussed at the moment – the opportunities of using AI for the provider.
To see AI solely for the use of a provider is therefore not enough. Perhaps the retailer is much more influenced by a consumer’s AI use himself. With Duplex, Google recently introduced a way to give private individuals access to AI, for example to have appointments made by a bot, in this case by telephone.
If this possibility is spun further, it cannot be ruled out in a few years that private customers will commission bots for shopping – including online – and that this bot will nestle between the retailer and the customer. Thus, the view on e-commerce and AI should be expanded to include how the interaction with customers can change overall. The view should not focus exclusively on what the retailer as a provider has to consider when using AI.
2. Even medium-sized and small companies (SMEs) will be forced to use AI systems (within the scope of their possibilities and their business model) in order to survive in the market
At the moment, AI is being driven primarily by very large, multinational players. In order for German companies to also benefit from the use of AI, medium-sized and small-sized companies in particular have to invest massively in AI. In particular, there is a lack of knowledge and a transfer of know-how. In addition, AI cannot be “thought” within purely German borders; European economic and political cooperation is of essential importance. The initiative for a Franco-German research center for artificial intelligence and the convening of the High-Level Expert Group on Artificial Intelligence (AI HLG) of the European Commission are first, important steps in the right direction.
The Federal Association of the Digital Economy is currently developing a whitepaper on AI in retail that will appear shortly. Artificial intelligence is a focus topic of the association, which is currently being promoted with several events and working groups.