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As we prepare to say goodbye to 2017, let’s time travel 20 years into the future. How will Christmas and holiday shopping look in 2037? Will it be similar to today, where people scour a store trying to find the best sale items, or scramble to Web sites to get online deals before they’re gone, or spend countless hours figuring out what to buy for that relative who has everything? Or will it be a less stressful, more enjoyable experience for shoppers?

From a holiday travel perspective, how much more convenient will airports be in the future? People will continue to travel in droves and every year travelling by air for many is a confusing, time-consuming and frustrating experience. Will it ever get any easier?

Artificial Intelligence will transform the holiday shopping and travel experience, and there’s no shortage of potential uses cases where AI can have a positive impact.  Let’s take a look at AI’s potential influence on future holiday seasons.

AI for the Holiday Traveler

Modern airports, despite efforts to improve the traveler experience, create an environment where everyone from first-time travelers to frequent flyers often are overwhelmed with information. In addition, the nature of catching a flight is devoid of surplus time—in other words, passengers often feel like they’re in a race to make it through airport security checkpoints and finally their departure gate. In turn, the sensation of being pressed for time increases a flyer’s anxiety and stress levels significantly, and it’s even worse during the holidays.

In the future, AI will bring quicker ticketing and onboarding, faster security screenings, and provide a general resource for passengers seeking quick answers to their questions and solutions to their travel issues.

For example, through an AI-powered kiosk embedded with a conversationally-intelligent, emotionally-aware virtual assistant, a holiday flyer of the future will receive a personalized check-in with suggested places to eat within the airport that serve their favorite meals close to their boarding gate. In the event of a gate change or a flight delay, a virtual assistant will immediately inform a passenger and alter those dining recommendations accordingly, saving flyers time, effort and aggravation. These small yet meaningful suggestions and alerts delivered through AI will elevate a future flyer’s traveling experience, and decrease their stress levels.

In addition, AI will do more than provide contextually-aware information and suggestions. For example, no one wants to have a missed flight or cancellation during the holidays. If a passenger misses their flight, an AI-powered cognitive assistant, with its emotional intelligence, would reassure the passenger they will make it home for the holidays and automatically rebook a flight. For flight cancellations, an AI agent will find alternatives and automatically find a traveler a hotel room, if necessary, removing the time and hassle it would take for a passenger to do so on their own.

AI technology will be a real game-changer for improving current airport security methods which are notorious for aggravating flyers. For instance, during a screening an AI-driven virtual assistant could capture a future traveler’s picture, and look up and analyze the person’s recent social media activity and other data sources as part of a security review – taking a matter of seconds through AI versus human screeners. Moreover, AI technology can allow for the immediate discovery of banned luggage items by integrating its data analysis and facial recognition capabilities with other advanced security devices such as thermal imaging cameras. In essence, a future holiday flyer may one day be instantly screened without even having to take their shoes off.

A Holiday Shopping Concierge

Research from Sonar (J. Walter Thompson’s proprietary research unit), reveals that consumers are interested in how AI will be used in retail: 70% of US millennials and 62% of UK millennials  say they would appreciate a brand or retailer using AI technology to show more interesting products. Furthermore, 72% and 64%, respectively, believe that as the technology develops, brands using AI will be able to accurately predict what they want. The second statistic is especially telling of one thing: consumers want their shopping experience simplified and expedited.

As AI technology progresses, placing AI within a “shopping concierge” role in strategic locations throughout a store will offer future shoppers the kind of consumer resource that could make once-hectic holiday shopping much more pleasant. A digital employee like IPsoft’s Amelia would be able to one day guide store shoppers (either through in-store kiosks or mobile apps) to the appropriate aisles while ensuring they are taking advantage of the best deals so their shopping experience is fast, cost-effective and efficient.

Additionally, AI could serve similar roles during a customer’s online shopping experience. While it’s true today’s online shoppers receive recommendations and special offers based on their previous online shopping, many times those suggestions are static and lack context. For example, if you bought a shovel online, you might be prompted to buy a snowblower during your next online visit even though you have no need for one.

AI will provide more useful recommendations for future holiday shoppers. For example, an online shopper will able to provide an AI assistant with some basic information on whom they’re shopping for (“My grandmother, she’s an avid reader and loves to travel.”) and receive holiday gift suggestions (“Here are some great offers on travel books.”). An AI agent will prompt the shopper for additional details (“Where is your grandmother travelling next?”) to receive even more specific recommendations (“Here’s the best-selling travel book about London.”). Given how quickly the retail industry is changing, we’re bound to see AI’s impact on holiday shopping faster than other areas.

AI will fundamentally reshape the holiday season, and more than likely it will not take 20 years for this impact to become apparent as AI technology continues to rapidly advance. By using AI to deliver a humanlike conversational experience to consumers, retailers and airports will possess a technology capable of making the hectic holidays more merry and bright.

See you in the future, and Happy Holidays.

For continued reading on AI’s potential impact in other areas: