How retailers can get the most out of AI

Technology is constantly changing the way we live our lives, the way we do business, and the way we interact with one another. It will continue to play a pivotal role in the success of companies across all sectors, including retail, and this places certain responsibilities on the shoulders of retail leaders. has developed a report in partnership with WBR Insights which explores the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead for the retail industry. After interviewing 200 senior executives at major multichannel retailers, we found over a quarter (27%) are concerned about hiring those with the correct expertise and knowledge to be able to successfully implement new technologies like artificial intelligence (AI).

The very nature of technology means that it is constantly evolving, so the demand for the number of experts will always outstrip supply. The challenge that needs to be addressed is not only recruitment of the right experts, but also how retail leaders can invest in and train existing staff members to work with new tech.

The fact is, technology is the elephant in the room in the retail sector. There is a common misconception that technology could render the high street redundant but the reality is, when properly embraced, technology can benefit the high street immeasurably. There will always be competition for the best talent, but retailers can help to mitigate any problems by training their existing staff to be able to capitalise on new tech. In turn, this can have a positive effect on customer experience, employee engagement, sales figures and profit levels.

The findings from our report with WBR Insights line-up with Microsoft’s latest report, “Maximising the AI Opportunity”, which also looked at how organisations across different sectors are unlocking the potential of AI. Microsoft’s research showed that over half of retail leaders (54%) believe being able to use AI will be a key skill for their staff in the next five years. With AI already starting to play an important role in retail across a variety of applications, there needs to be greater desire from companies on maximising its benefits.

Despite being a relatively new technology, AI is already starting to play a very important role in retail – from delivering an increasingly personalised omnichannel experience for shoppers through to the use of ever more intelligent customer service chatbots, AI presents a range of benefits to retailers that for many companies are untapped. And while the retail sector understands that new tech, particularly AI, has the potential to transform the industry, there is less understanding of how to install a framework that will enable the technology to flourish.

It is therefore vital for retailers to adopt the technology wholeheartedly and fully commit to ensuring staff are able to utilise it. The industry has experienced its most cut-throat period in recent memory over the past six months. A recent PwC report that found that 14 high-street stores are closing across Britain every day and well-known retailers like Next, House of Fraser and Marks & Spencer have all either announced store closures or declining results. The onus is on the retail sector to start doing things differently. It is now imperative for businesses – both established household names and start-ups – to adapt and maximise tech that can support the high street. The message is simple: either invest in the technology and your staff, or get left behind as consumers go elsewhere.