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Artificial Intelligence to Help the Consumer: Reality or Utopia?

The e-commerce players today exploit the Artificial Intelligence to “coach” their customers online. To what extent is this new model transferable to physical retail?

There is no doubt that Artificial Intelligence technologies are set to take off considerably in retail, especially e-commerce. Like virtual coaches, conversational robots are now able to interact directly with the consumer on the net and respond to their requests via instant messengers such as Messenger or Whatsapp.

From Amazon to e-Bay and Uber, most of the major players on the web use these chatbots to inform their customers, accompany them in their purchase journey or facilitate the take control.

Capable of exploiting data from “Big Data” and garnering each contact of knowledge on the customer (purchase history, reviews, clicks, visits …), these software know how to make recommendations perfectly targeted and in real time. This model of Machine Learning makes it possible to analyze and cross each data to render intelligent and reliable information.

Result: e-merchants fly by offering the right products and promotions to the right people, through their recommendation engines, while generating maximum customer satisfaction.

Assist the customer and support the seller in store

But could we go even further and use Artificial Intelligence to advise customers directly at the point of sale? To a certain extent, yes, on relatively simple and repetitive tasks, using robots or smartphone apps acting as a personal shopping assistant.

As in many big companies like Macy’s or KFC, these technologies already inform the customer about the products and push, in real time, offers, recommendations and targeted promotions. They also help the customer to check if a reference is available in the store and reduce the waiting time at the cash desk by offering digital payment solutions.

While returning a modern image of the brand, these digital assistants make customers more independent. The automation, in real time, of sometimes tedious procedures thanks to software packages (order management, inventory management, procurement, etc.) also relieves the sales force, which makes itself more available to its customers and realizes more qualitative consulting missions.

Robots in search of emotion

Do not forget, because of their complexity or their subjectivity, some sales tips always require an indispensable human touch, as in the field of beauty or luxury. It is at this point that the added value of the salesman and his persuasive power take on their full dimension. Especially since, despite all their sophistication, robots still have great difficulty in understanding the cultural and social differences (level of politeness, language register, etc.) that are mastered by all humans, as demonstrated by an experiment of Doha University.

And even though many research and development projects are emerging, like Microsoft’s “AI” prototype, designed to help blind people in their social interactions by detecting age, gender, and certain emotions, their interlocutors, their daily applications, and in particular in a commercial context, remain very limited and are still to be tested. The human touch generates an emotion, user-friendliness and a link of proximity with the customer, which no machine is at the moment actually able to bring.

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