What does the future hold for the retail industry? According to the 2019 Retail Robotics and AI Conference, fellow retailers are already making advances in automation by embracing Artificial Intelligence (AI) and robotics initiatives and finding opportunities to expand their footprint.

The Retail Analytics Council (RAC) and Platt Retail Institute held its annual conference in Evanston, IL, neighboring the Northwestern University campus. Insights poured in from leading retailers, academics, and professional experts, informing attendees on both the science and practice of practical AI strategies and use cases in retail robotics. Over 45 retailers attended the event, which included a tour of the RAC’s Retail Artificial Intelligence Lab and campus.  EnterWorks is a sponsor of the AI Lab and a member of the Retail Advisory Board of the RAC.

Through a unique knowledge-based format and many opportunities to interact with panelists and attendees, the conference covered topics including:

  • U.S.-China Retailers, Consumer Trends, and AI
  • Observations on the State of Retail Technology and AI
  • How to Implement a Retail Analytics Function
  • Advanced Analytics in Customer-Centric Strategies
  • Bayesian Machine Learning Applied in Marketing
  • Data Privacy
  • Robots in Retail Competition Presentations
  • Robust Perception for Robotics Systems
  • Intelligent Automation
  • Current Retail Robot Applications and Benefits
  • Future Retail Robot Applications

Let’s explore a few of the key themes we observed throughout the event.

Insights on Retail Robotics and AI

“East to West” – China Robotics and AI: Deborah Weinswig, Founder/CEO of Coresight Research and EnterWorks Executive Advisory Board member, joined fellow panelists for a session on U.S.-China Retailers, Consumer Trends, and AI. She spoke on seeing “east to west” movement in retail. According to Weinswig, “Innovations developed in China [are] now being implemented in U.S. [and] Europe. Robotic delivery [is] already happening in Shanghai and other Chinese cities.”

When it comes to anticipating change, Weinswig has previously pointed out that technology will increasingly strip friction from brick-and-mortar retail and innovations are moving  from West to East in retail. One example is the rise of unstaffed stores in China, enabled by disruptive technology. In China, checkout-free stores combine with the commonality of apps such as WeChat, which allow for both shopper identification and payment. Weinswig notes, “In 2019 we expect just-walk-out stores to extend more fully into nongrocery sectors in which speed and convenience are important to shoppers.”

Experiential Approach: John Ponnett, Giant Food Stores SVP of Operations, presented on Current Retail Robot Applications and Benefits, in which he described an “Experiential Approach” of incorporating robotics to pave the way for improved customer interactions. According to Ponnett, this is seen as “Employees adding valuable info to customer interactions, while a robot takes care of tasks like identifying spills or detecting out of stocks… I don’t need an employee with 30 years of experience walking up and down the aisle to identify potential slip and fall hazards. The robot can do that, then call for help.” He added that the “googly eyes,” smile, bowtie, etc. help to personalize Giant Food’s “Marty the Robot” and make him more approachable to kids, noting, “Now, he’s visiting classrooms.”

Retail Transformation: To the point of Giant Foods’ use of robotics, we are seeing AI and robotic technology transforming retail by streamlining labor and saving costs, improving personalized customer service, and yielding a treasure trove of data that helps retailers boost sales across channels, both by cultivating new customer relationships and nurturing existing customers. Technology is being introduced such as intelligent robots that work alongside humans. Not only will these robots handle labor tasks, but they’ll also start to take on a more cognitive role by learning algorithms that allow them to make decisions for us.

Data and Insights: According to Sachin Kothari, Managing Director of Global Privacy and Compliance at AT&T, in order to build accountability and transparency into data systems, “AI must operate within a structure that is scalable and customer-friendly.” Retailers must recognize that the pace of change is fast, and AI and robotics are quickly becoming an investment priority. Agility is necessary, as is scalability and flexibility, in technology solutions. Data and business intelligence are the foundation and fuel for AI and robotics initiatives. According to RAC Director Steven Keith Platt, “As AI enables more personalization, message content at-scale is required. To achieve this, sophisticated systems are a requirement. Applying AI to trusted data significantly improves the accuracy of results for retailers.”

How Can Retailers Embrace AI?

Retailers want to embrace AI and other areas such as Augmented and Virtual Reality in shaping compelling experiences for their customers to drive sales and margin lift, but the truth is that many companies struggle in bringing the right expertise to bear for near-term success. EnterWorks’ vision and capabilities are directed to make AI practical without the need for teams of AI scientists in-house. At EnterWorks, we have the foundation for helping brands and retailers build the necessary information management foundations that enable AI strategies to be built on existing systems and operations.

The EnterWorks platform is founded on the perspective that successful application of digital technology is shaped by the ability to enable compelling experiences in both digital and physical commerce.  This is the basis for the EnterWorks Enable platform for Multi-Domain Experience Management (MxM) comprising the elements of its:

  • Master Data Management (MDM) solution across multiple domains of product, customer, location, assets (e.g., store fixturing), and supplier to provide the necessary data elements to drive to enable offer personalization
  • Product Information Management (PIM) and Digital Asset Management (DAM) as foundational elements for describing and visualizing products for delivery to both physical and digital touchpoints.
  • Agile Data Fabric™ (ADF) architecture (which enables plug-n-play for own as well as third-party AI cloud innovations), benefitting retailers from many sources of innovation.

For more details on how EnterWorks and the RAC are working together to transform analytics and technology challenges into pragmatic insights for retailers, read more here, and download our e-book on Multi-domain Experience Management (MxM).

Rick Chavie

Rick Chavie

Rick Chavie was appointed CEO of EnterWorks in May 2015. He came to EnterWorks after serving as SVP, Global Solution Management with hybris and SAP’s Customer Engagement and Commerce group, where he brought together digital and physical commerce and CRM assets for seamless customer experiences. Mr. Chavie brings industry experience from his leadership roles at retailers such as The Home Depot and C&A. He brings technology experience from his role as the global marketing leader for NCR’s retail and hospitality business, and management consulting expertise from his partner roles at Deloitte and Accenture, where he served clients across retail, branded consumer and wholesale verticals. Chavie is a Harvard MBA, a Fulbright Scholar in International Trade, and a summa cum laude graduate from the University of St. Thomas in Minnesota. He is a noted speaker at industry events, an author on the wholesale industry, and frequently comments on commerce, marketing and customer engagement topics.

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