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AI is bridging the online vs. in-store gap. Are you ready?

Voice Data and Wireless     |     Electrical     |     November 9, 2018

“Online retailers will be the end of brick-and-mortar stores.” The pundits have been saying it for so long, at this point it sounds like an established fact instead of an educated guess. But at NET, we’re seeing something different from our position on the frontlines of retail technology. And it looks a lot less like a murder plot and a lot more like an evolving (and, may we say, exciting) partnership.

The way the world’s largest and most innovative retailers are using artificial intelligence is changing, and the relationship between online and in-store is changing with it—for both brands and customers. Want proof? Just look what’s happening at Wal-Mart.

While other retailers are still learning to plumb e-commerce resources for their big data, the global retailer leader is leveraging AI-backed video surveillance and a network of nearly 12,000 stores worldwide to find out more about their customers’ demographics and buying patterns. At the same time, IBM is refining the use AI to interpret customers’ reactions to in-store displays—turning every “Oooo!” and “Ah!” into actionable intel that can help retailers make on-the fly adjustments and highlight what sells.

But big retailers aren’t just squeezing insights out of their locations. They’re bringing their online experience and data in. Head to home improvement retailer Lowes, for example, and you just might end up following around an AI-powered LowesBot. The machine answers questions, tracks inventory (as well as traffic patterns), and helps you navigate Lowe’s notoriously enormous stores.

Target is also getting in on the action with a plan to put AI into floor associate’s hands. Execs say this new POS tech is designed to give employees at-a-glance inventory updates and the power to complete purchases and even arrange shipping for customers, no matter how many aisles away they are from the store’s check-out lines.

And while no one has refined the technology yet, it’s easy to see a future where trends in consumers’ online retail behavior (and even their social media habits) will influence real-time in-store promotions, product displays and even the recommendations shoppers get from friendly sales associates.

Your company may not be at the forefront of this AI revolution…yet. But you can take steps to make sure your organization is prepped for success when the time to integrate AI into your online and in-store retail strategies comes. Three steps, to be precise.

Step 1: Make your case

Not every retail organization is lucky enough to have an innovation incubator like Walmart’s Store #8. But taking the time to develop a thorough use case for the integration of an AI-backed technology is essential. Knowing who will interact with your solutions and how it will impact current systems and employees will save you time, money, arguments and effort down the line. It will also ensure you get the ROI you need to stay competitive and ahead of the curve.

Step 2: Check your infrastructure

Big data can place big demands on your existing systems and infrastructure. And that doesn’t just mean bandwidth. Getting ready for implementing AI technologies means making sure you have the institutional flexibility and raw computing power to handle the changes ahead. You might need to beef up your company’s electrical, cabling or wireless systems, implement new training programs and tech support plans, or strengthen how you secure data.

Step 3: Look for holes

Before you can interpret data, before you can turn it into insights or change the way you reach consumers, you have to ensure you have quality data. And that may not be as easy as it sounds. Look for gaps in your data collection system. Collecting one customer’s fake phone number may not influence your conclusions or misdirect your marketing decisions, but 10,000 gibberish area codes may. Understanding where your data comes from and how reliable that source is can help you buttress against costly errors.

NET has the retail industry services and expertise to help you vet the latest AI technologies, choose the right options for your needs and install it with care—whether you’re testing solutions in 10 stores or rolling out game-changing tech at 10,000 locations. Talk to a NET tech specialist today to get started.