Artificial Intelligence Boosts Bot Performance in Stores
The future is already happening in retail stores across the globe. From robotic retail associates to virtual reality checkout counters — artificial intelligence is primed to shape the retail store of the future. Statista projects that by 2022, the U.S. market for surgical robots and AI will have grown to be worth 18 billion dollars. Retailers are already implementing robotic learning into their customer service, marketing and eCommerce growth strategies and it looks like robots enhanced with AI will be the differentiating factor in retail stores for 2018.
In the coming year we will begin to see robotics and machine learning shape the customer’s journey to purchase. These four trends in retail robotics will set the stage for the retail storefront’s evolution and they will change the way we think about doing business.
Trend #1: Robotic Fulfillment Centers
The big guys are no longer packing orders themselves. Since customers expect increasingly fast order fulfillment and hourly wages are climbing rapidly, more and more retail companies are turning to warehouse robots to fulfill customer demand. Amazon, Hudson’s Bay and Staples already utilize robotic fulfillment, with many more retailers expected to follow suit as artificial intelligence is enables these robots to sort and pack products more effectively. In addition, The Wall Street Journal prophesied that robots will soon be picking, boxing and shipping online orders, stating that machines can move products up to 50 percent faster than human workers.
Trend #2: Virtual Reality Checkout Counters
Soon customers won’t need to leave the comfort of their homes to have an in-store shopping experience. Visa and IBM recently pioneered virtual reality checkout counters, which I had the ability to experience firsthand at Shop.org. With VR checkout applications, customers can see their potential purchase in action on a model in a virtual fitting room and then simply click a button to be led to another “room” where they can see their shopping cart and make their final purchases.
Trend #3: Robotic Retail Assistants
Remember Pepper, the humanoid robot from Softbank robotics? Well her makers have been busy growing her functions exponentially in the past year. With the addition of a new update that’s been aptly dubbed Promoter, Pepper can now be programmed to easily fulfill basic marketing tasks including loyalty programs, sales, and even brand campaigns. To take things a step further, Softbank Robotics also partnered with an AI facial recognition platform to enable Pepper to recognize customers by name and to deliver personalized, targeted marketing messages.
Trend #4: Better Speech Recognition from Chatbots
We obsessed about chatbots in 2017, but in the new year chatbots will be refined with AI to better understand natural language and turns-of-phrase. Newer chatbots will also be equipped to detect human emotion based on the words and phrases customers use in conversation, which will enable them to better respond to issues and address customer concerns. As chatbots become better at processing nuances that thus far have taken human attention to address, they will be able to replace human labor in multiple retail sectors such as customer service, marketing, and even personal shopping.
The Final Word:
AI, Chatbots & Robotics are shaping up to become a disruptive force in the already-disrupted Retail and Distribution industries. As technology evolves and improves, so do aspects of fulfillment and the customer experience that are so essential in modern retailing. Whether Retail and Distribution become fully automated, or still require the “human touch” remains to be seen, however we shall watch closely these trends as they unfold.