In an ever-competitive retail market, forward-thinking retailers are getting an edge over their competitors with artificial intelligence.

AI is no longer solely the domain of the likes of Google, Facebook and Amazon, which are making big bets on this technology.

Retailers are experimenting with other applications for AI – and some are pulling far ahead of the pack. 

Customer sentiment analysis

AI, machine learning and natural language processing (NLP) can be used to measure customer opinion and communication by analysing customer emails, chats and even phonecalls.

This data is analysed, and targeted customer service approaches are recommended, based on the rules the software has learned and been taught.

Ocado has developed AI-enhanced processes in-house to do just this.

Instead of staff wading through hundreds of customer service emails daily and manually prioritising them based on importance, employees can focus on responding to urgent queries.

This results in greater response times to important queries and less time spent filing incoming emails for manual evaluation. 

Luxury fashion marketplace Farfetch is working with Re-infer (a start-up that uses ‘deep learning’ to make communications data understood and actionable) to make better product decisions by enabling it to analyse vast amounts of customer feedback.

Automatic stock replenishment

AI and machine learning can be a powerful tool to automate stock replenishment.

By using multiple variables including weather, promotions, holidays and special events to make probabilistic forecasts, the technology predicts what a store requires and automatically orders the stock in.

It constantly learns and collects data on ongoing store purchases, trends and stock flows, so it can adjust its behaviour continuously.

Morrisons has implemented the technology in all 491 stores, automating over 13 million ordering decisions a day, and reducing out of stocks by 30%.

Automation also reduces cost to serve, freeing up more time for employees to help customers on the shop floor, improving service.

Smart packaging

Smart packaging provides supply chain transparency from farm to fork.

It uses AI to give consumers details about the food’s origins, quality certificates, location details and the like, all just by using a smartphone to point and click.

Carrefour has trialled smart packaging in its stores in China to help give customers access to a vast array of information on products with a tap of their smartphone.

It has partnered with The Visual Trust Initiative, which is a partnership between SGS, a global expert in food certification, Transparency-One, a supply chain transparency tool, and Blippar, a technology that uses advanced image recognition, computer vision and augmented reality.

Facial-recognition authentication

Biometric authentication using fingerprint log-in is becoming mainstream in banking and payment apps. The next stage is facial and behavioural recognition, much like what is used by the iPhone X.

Alibaba is using facial-recognition technology for authentication in its payments business, Alipay, and as a form of employee ID to enter buildings on its campus in Shenzen.

Alibaba is also testing Smile to Pay, a payment method via selfie, in the KFC in Hangzhou.

To stay in the game, retailers will need to be front-footed when developing their AI technology capabilities.

Retailers stand to learn much from their early AI experiments and should reap the benefits accordingly. Those playing catch-up may find themselves continuing to do just that.

Retail Week Live 2018

Karina van den Oever is speaking at Retail Week Live – the UK’s premier festival of retail and consumer commerce – taking place in London on March 7-8, 2018.

Find out more about this session here.

The event attracts over 1,400 retail chiefs and leading business personalities who gather to experience the unique combination of networking, inspiring content, strategic thinking and innovation.

To view the programme and book your ticket visit: