Artificial intelligence and the retail revolution

2018 has been widely touted as the year that practical applications of artificial intelligence reach maturity and begin to impact our day-to-day lives. However, it's not AI creating sentient robots that will be changing our lives in 2018, but instead it will be how AI is applied within sectors like retail or financial services.

Today, AI powered retail technologies provide a variety of benefits to retailers and consumers alike. It can improve customer service and experience; help protect customers from fraud and thieves; and enhance productivity. In the future, new applications of AI powered technologies could see retailers delivering goods via drone, targeting consumers with items based on their mood, or transforming the way we pay for items.

Improving the in-store customer experience

The online uses and benefits of AI have been well documented and utilised, but now in-store retail is starting to unlock the possibilities of AI. The maturity of smartphone technology is helping to drive this, with real time data being harnessed to make targeted suggestions based on an individual’s location, personal preferences, and past behaviour. However, the use of AI enabled self-service checkouts is one area where AI is really starting to impact a consumer’s daily life.

Better service, faster checkouts, and anti-fraud

Self-checkouts have been transforming the shopping experience for over two decades, reducing queue times, and helping retailers use floor space more effectively due to the smaller space required for their operation. However, self-checkout manufacturers are now working to take advantage of the latest technology innovations to improve the experience for all customers and retailers.

Using AI enabled visual recognition technology, self-checkouts can now be equipped with smart recognition technology that enables the checkout to “see” the item, recognise it, and promptly provide the customer with the item for selection on the screen. Furthermore, the system then checks again to ensure that the item selected by the customer is still the same item that goes into the bagging area – helping to protect retailers from item-swap theft. The technology can protect retailers from other theft types too, such as detecting when a customer feigns scanning an item, or leaves an item in their shopping basket. To reduce friction even more, instead of halting the transaction entirely when errors or potential theft occurs, the system alerts the supervising shop assistant to check on the transaction, rather than making the customer wait for them to authorise the continuation of the self-scan process.

The recognition systems are powered by vast data sets that enable the checkouts to analyse an item by sight alone. This evolution of self-checkout technology is just one of the ways that AI is changing and enhancing the in-store retail experience today.

Artificial Intelligence and the Retail Revolution

The developments and deployments of AI enabled retail, be it online or instore, have come about in a relatively short period time. The growth in mobile shopping is already showing how traditional self-checkouts can be complemented with an in-aisle digital engagement experience via a smartphone app (or handset that is picked up when entering the store). Plus, we are seeing more and more online retailers deploying smart chat assistants to help customers with their online experience no matter the time of day or night. It may not be sentient robots, but the AI enabled retail technology space is certainly at an exciting and practical point in its development.

Author: Dusty Lutz, Vice President and General Manager Store Transformation Solutions at NCR, the company that introduced its first self-checkout in 1998 and is the #1 global provider of self-checkout solutions today.