Retail Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Robotics took center stage at the recent Retail Robotics and AI Conference held in San Francisco. In its inaugural year, the conference featured presentations by leading academics and practitioners on emerging applications, advanced analytics, and industry trends.
The conference was presented by the Retail Analytics Council (RAC), an initiative between Northwestern University and the Platt Retail Institute. The RAC focuses on research in key areas affecting the retail industry, such as understanding the relationship between online behavior and in-store purchases, RFID, Robotics, and Big Data analytics.
In a follow-up to the event, we spoke with EnterWorks’ newest Executive Advisory Member, Steven Keith Platt (RAC Research Director and Director for Platt Retail Institute), to shed light on some of the key conference themes.
Q&A with RAC Research Director Steven Keith Platt
1. In the past, the RAC has focused considerable attention on omnichannel influences (i.e., online to offline) and consumer behavior. Is there now a shift to focus on Robotics and AI in retail?
Platt: I do not regard this as a shift, but rather as the continuing evolution of technology in retail. For example, applying AI will help us to better understand and leverage omnichannel relationships. Robots in stores not only provide for various operational and service efficiencies but also produce tremendous amounts of data. In the end, it is all about the consumer. These technologies will help us to better understand consumers and how to serve them effectively.
2. At the conference, Don Schulz, Professor at Northwestern and Director of the RAC, spoke about retail singularity. Can you describe “retail singularity,” and explain how it will affect retailer interactions?
Platt: Retail singularity refers to a single, integrated view of the customer. That is, of course, the essence of omnichannel. But with technologies such as machine learning, a better understanding of cross-platform customer behaviors can be realized.
3. How can AI help retailers better manage online and offline shopping experiences?
Platt: To answer, I’ll refer to a presentation from Jeff Donaldson, CEO of Intriosity and former SVP of GameStop, at the Robotics and AI Conference. Donaldson commented that store-based retailers need to integrate the best of the online and offline shopping experiences in order to create synergies that help unlock new potential. He suggested that retailers will find the answers by using data, insights, and creativity to determine how to right-size, right-purpose, right-assort, and right-invest in physical locations.
4. What are your observations about the evolution of AI in retail?
Platt: AI, for all the hype, is not easy. While a few retailers are executing at scale, the majority are in the early-adoption stages. We see tremendous opportunities here. In fact, we just announced the formation of the RAC Retail AI Lab to help advance this science by undertaking research projects for retailers and getting graduate students interested in retail AI careers. AI can be applied to understanding many issues that retailers face. Most efforts, at the moment, are focused around customer targeting. Along these lines, we are thankful to EnterWorks for their investment and involvement in this activity.
5. Is there more value in deploying robots in retail warehousing and logistics than inside the stores?
Platt: Currently, you will find more robots deployed in the supply chain, such as in warehouses. This is due, in part, because such environments are generally standardized and do not face the unpredictability that customers within a store can pose. Notwithstanding, retailers are slowly adopting robots inside their stores. For example, Ahold is testing shelf audit robots. As robot technologies advance and the ROI models prove out, we predict a lot of growth. In fact, this is a catalyst for the RAC forming the Retail Robotics Initiative. The goal of the Retail Robotics Initiative is to unite the industry, academia, and investors around the common objective of advancing robotic and data applications in retail environments.
You can learn more about this initiative at rac.medill.northwestern.edu/rac-robotics-initiative/.
6. In joining the EnterWorks Executive Advisory Board, how do you see contributing to the company’s continuing advancement as a Leader in Product Information Management (PIM) and Master Data Management (MDM)?
Platt: Retailers need to continually evolve and adopt new retailing models. A key to competitive success lies in embedding and scaling new technologies, such as AI. EnterWorks has joined us in our mission to help retailers tackle such technology challenges. Consider the following points:
- Applying AI to trusted data, enabled by EnterWorks PIM/MDM solution, significantly improves the accuracy of results for retailers.
- As AI enables more personalization, message content at-scale is required. To achieve this, sophisticated systems are a requirement.
- EnterWorks converges images and digital assets with product content and attribute data – all of which are important to constructing AI algorithms for experiential consumer moments.
- EnterWorks’ achievement of Leader status in The Forrester Wave for PIM Solutions reinforces the impact that EnterWorks is having on the market. AI is part of the EnterWorks’ current innovation cycle and will be a focus of my contributions on the Advisory Board.
Mark Your Calendars for the 2019 Retail Robotics & AI Conference
The next Retail Robotics & AI Conference takes place on April 11-12, 2019 in Evanston, Illinois on the Northwestern University Campus. Like the first conference, it is designed for retailers and will be by invitation only. Retailers interested in attending can email us for additional information at firstname.lastname@example.org.
On the evening of April 10, the RAC will present its research findings from its US-China Retail and Consumer Behavioral Study, at an event sponsored by EnterWorks.
For more details on how EnterWorks and the RAC are working together to transform analytics and technology challenges into pragmatic insights for retailers, read the announcement here.