Recognised as ‘AI Adopters’ in Retail Week’s eponymous report, senior leaders from the homewares and beauty sectors lift the lid on their business AI strategies and the transformational tech generating real returns.

Ten of the country’s best machine-powered retailers were identified this month in AI Adopters, a new report celebrating the businesses making adaptive AI, among other forms of AI technology, add up. 

B&Q and Boots were among the 10 named for using AI in interesting and innovative ways – often in conjunction with other technologies – to improve their bottom line. 

Produced by Retail Week in partnership with, the report highlights B&Q tech and product director Lynn Beattie and Boots chief digital officer Paula Bobbett as leaders who spoke of their retailers’ approach to AI and how it is shaping their investment priorities.

Discover what they had to say below. You can also read AI interviews with leaders from the likes of The Very Group and THG in the report here

Lynn Beattie

Lynn Beattie, B&Q

B&Q: ‘By using AI, we retain and engage customers, driving loyalty and more sales’

For B&Q, AI and machine learning are playing an “important role” in its tech strategy, according to Beattie. 

Beattie says that AI is making it easier for B&Q customers to shop through better and more focused targeting. With 1.2 million products available via B&Q marketplace, this is a key advancement in helping consumers find the products they need.  

“By using AI, we can connect data across multi-channel touch points throughout a customer’s journey and respond to their behaviours with personalised communications and offers in real-time, such as through direct marketing, emails and coupons at till. We retain and engage customers, driving loyalty and more sales through more frequent visits and increased spend.”  

Advert for B&Q app

Elsewhere, AI-powered pricing is a focus for the broader Kingfisher parent company and Beattie notes that AI has been helping “effectively manage markdown clearance pricing” and “forecast demand to inform supply management and manage availability”. This has freed up staff to have more time to interpret and act on data as opposed to working on administrative tasks.   

Retail media is another area of focus with AI being used to develop B&Q’s offers so that its adverts are displayed and personalised to the customer. In fact, B&Q has said that 10% of its sales now come via AI personalised recommendations. 

The group has also developed Athena, an in-house AI orchestration framework, that helps it “integrate multiple AI technologies, allowing [the business] to quickly adopt new AI tools as they are developed”. This includes a Kingfisher Group-developed recommendation engine, implemented in 2023, which Beattie reveals has driven a higher click-through and add-to-basket rate, as well as much faster response times.  

For B&Q, AI is by no means a fad. “We’ll keep learning through trialling AI so that we can enhance the processes we have and implement new ones,” says Beattie. B&Q is part of an Early Access Program with Microsoft enabling the retailer to trial different ways of working to understand where the business can best leverage generative AI for productivity. 

Paula Bobbett

Paula Bobbett, Boots

Boots: ‘AI is the next step along’

“I honestly think AI is going to be completely transformative” says Bobbett. 
“When you think about the advent of the internet, and how that has changed our lives, AI is the next step along. There are so many things I can see where it makes life so much easier for the people who work in the teams,” she says, adding that AI is commonly removing manual tasks from colleagues “to allow them to do more value-added tasks.” 
A prime example is in Boots’ warehousing, which Bobbett has said is one of the most advanced systems in Europe. Small robots buzz around the Burton-on-Trent warehouse, able to avoid humans walking in their path and removing the need for pickers to do so much carrying. As a result of the use of the 150 robots – called ‘co-bots’, although some have human names – accidents at the warehouse have been significantly reduced. 

Knapp robot

Source: Knapp/Niederwieser

Boots is currently testing a robotic arm, designed by Austrian firm Knapp, which can pick products fast and carefully, using AI to learn from its experience. 
Further examples of AI use at Boots abound, demonstrating a mix-and-match trend of adaptive, traditional and generative AI technologies combining to achieve more impressive results. 
Boots’ online search function now uses adaptive AI to personalise the shopping experience. If a customer searches for lipstick, the engine uses up-to-date data to make sure the results are as relevant as possible, that the products are in stock, and recommends shades popular with other customers and therefore more likely to be on-trend. 
In forecasting, up-to-date information about the weather feeds into predicted sales. Data for what then sells well is constantly updated via machine learning. 
Over in generative AI, the retailer is trialling a ChatGPT-based chatbot that can answer customers’ conversational questions. It might, for example, respond to a question like “How do I develop a skincare routine?” by recommending appropriate products. Similar technology is also being trialled for internal communications, such as answering HR or procedural questions that employees would otherwise spend time searching for.

And, in marketing, the company is using AI to optimise ad placements. It even used virtual production and AI to create some of the images for its 2023 Christmas advertising campaign. 

Bobbett says this conversational learning is a particularly useful service at a time when people are seeking verifiable information online, where they might once have relied on frontline health services. 

AI Adopters report cover

Discover the AI investment strategies of more of the UK’s top retailers by accessing your free copy of AI Adopters today. Your download will enable you to:  

  • Take a deep dive into the strategic profiles of 10 of the country’s best machine-powered retailers 
  • Access first-hand commentary from retailers that are winning with adaptive AI 
  • Understand the nuances between adaptive, traditional and generative AI – and how all three can be used as a recipe for success 
  • Get insider opinion from experts and economists on the future of AI