Successful retailers put customer experience first – be it online or in stores. The emerging retail trends, where customers expect to be able to shop from anywhere, at any time and on any device in a seamless fashion, are forcing retail organizations to rethink the way they have operated for decades.
New technologies such as artificial intelligence and machine learning are fueling the digitalization of the retail landscape.
Talking through the challenges
Such shifts in the digital landscape and what they mean to retailers were the subject of a panel discussion I took part in earlier this year, organized by Tata Consultancy Services Netherlands/Digitate and Women in AI.
My fellow panel member, Evgenia Logunova, the Ambassador of Women in AI, Netherlands, began the event ‘Artificial Intelligence and its Practical Applications in E-Commerce’ by outlining the issues retailers are facing.
She said the challenge for brands in online retail has always been to keep up with a rapidly changing landscape and customer demand – it’s estimated upwards of 70% of online shopping carts are abandoned before customers complete their purchases.
The world of e-commerce is today ruled by a few big players. As Evgenia asked: how can smaller brands learn from the successful stories of the titans?
How AI can help
There are tools every e-commerce business needs to support them in their mission to win customers.
Bernard Schreiner, who co-founded Paazl, which provides real-time data carrier management and final-mile delivery solutions for e-commerce firms, was the moderator for our discussion. As he said, retailers that thrive are quick on their toes and invest in a personal approach.
In his view, the power of AI can be summed up by the word ‘options’. It helps us minimize the time needed to search for an item and gives us relevant choices, whether that’s in shopping, shipping or other areas.
I believe that AI empowers customers to make faster, better and more informed decisions, and helps retailers focus on more strategic and innovative tasks, resulting in improved customer satisfaction and loyalty.
It also provides us with personalized options based on our areas of interest and past trends while we are shopping online.
The entire flow of a transaction, right from landing on the e-commerce portal page to product selection, payment, order tracking, shipment and delivery, can be streamlined and improved with AI working at both the front and back end.
Digitate’s award-winning cognitive automation product, ignio™, helps improve the end customer journey by ensuring a seamless transaction from start to finish, through better resilience, stability and reduced operational risks.
This creates an experience that encourages people to return to the site and become loyal customers.
ignio™ works by making sure the customer-facing application, the underlying infrastructure it’s connected to and each of its components are behaving as expected.
For example, it ensures the response time of a URL is just a few milliseconds or nanoseconds.
If ignio™ detects an anomaly in the normal behavior at any of the underlying layers, it will give recommendations to the team so they can fix the issue before it impacts on the consumer and it can also self-heal the issue on its own without any human intervention.
The supply chain is a critical element for any retailer. It needs to stay unbroken so promises are met, helping organizations deliver the best possible experience.
ignio™ manages more than 1.5 million technology resources autonomously and has been adopted by more than 100 clients, including many large Fortune 500 and Global 2000 corporations. Here are just a few examples.
A leading Canadian retail giant chose ignio™ to fuel its IT transformation, improving business resilience and the end-customer experience, eventually leading to a boost in sales per square foot, with smooth retail operations.
The availability of a business’s website is the first step in ensuring the right amount and kind of traffic is generated, resulting in product sales and revenue. ignio™ performed a health check of critical customer-facing applications for a large US-based fashion retailer that led to the elimination of any issues and downtime for the company’s online portal. The result was a 55% growth in new customers – all handled without a glitch.
Another customer, a multinational clothing retail organization, needed to embrace digital transformation to stay relevant amid the changes in consumer behaviour and expectations that influence shopping habits. But its large and complex IT landscape, dominated by legacy systems and traditional approaches, needed out-of-the-box technology interventions.
So ignio™ created a 360-degree blueprint of the existing IT infrastructure by connecting with various data sources. Using this intelligence, it autonomously handled alerts and incidents, leading to reduced reliance on people, enabling the customer to shift its focus from Run IT to Transform IT.
Looking to the future
Organizations have historically been process-controlled – but to succeed in the new era of Business 4.0, they need to be data-driven.
As Bernard Schreiner said in our panel discussion, “there is tonnes of data in each organization that we’re not using to its fullest potential”.
And companies need to embrace a human-machine mindset, in which technology is not a source of scepticism or fear, but is regarded as an augmentation of what the workforce is doing and what they can do in the future.
Fears of autonomous machines taking over human jobs and making mistakes are valid to an extent, but also overhyped.
The role of humans, now and in the future, will change from being doers of work to trainers of machines and exception handlers.
But there is a way to introduce a human intervention in the entire chain to protect us from unintended consequences.
The real risk is not from AI, but from the humans responsible for it. We are the ones charged with training and teaching these machines, and it is our moral and ethical responsibility to do that right.
The adoption of AI will require a shift in mindset and is an ongoing journey. But if we embrace it at an enterprise-wide level, it is set to have a huge impact on our workplaces, and our lives.