Artificial Intelligence (AI) provides retailers with tremendous opportunities to find, interact with, sell to, and create lasting relationships with customers. More than just a chatbot-style customer service agent, AI systems provide shoppers and retail employees with immediate access to information, and give consumers assistance with locating products, the checkout process and returns.

By enabling automation to reduce the strain on brick-and-mortar and contact center workers, businesses allow those employees to be more personable, knowledgeable and less rushed at every customer touchpoint. In this post, we break down several areas in which AI can play a major role in revamping both digital and brick-and-mortar retail experiences.

Self-Service

No matter what kinds of products a retailer sells, most retail locations are temporarily understaffed at various points. In those situations, during the holiday season or a popular annual sale, a sudden rush of traffic can put a business at a severe disadvantage. Even a single customer interaction could mean the difference between making a sale and gaining a new customer, or losing a consumer to a competing brand.

With AI enabled either via in-store tablets or consumers’ mobile devices, shoppers can find inventory-based information without relying on a human worker. AI systems connect to a retailer’s backend systems and can retrieve information about products, inventory levels and, if on a personal device, an individual customer’s shopping history. AI scales as demand spikes, so customers never have to wait for service; they simply launch the brand’s mobile app, or walk over to an in-store tablet or kiosk, and speak or type their question.

Think about what this means for how in-store associates do their jobs. They can provide better and more personalized shopper experiences when they’re relieved of the burden of answering the same basic questions over and over such as, “How much does this cost?” or “Do you have this in a medium?” Those inquires can be replaced by more personal and impactful ones such as, “How do I look in this shirt?” or “Do you think these two products go well together?” Customers, in turn, will walk away with memorable and positive impressions of a retailer’s associates, stores and overall brand.

Assisting Customer Service Reps

No matter how much technology you provide, some customers will still prefer to chat with a human associate, even regarding simple questions. If and when this happens, customer service representatives need to be as informed and responsive as possible. Nothing turns customers away from a brand more quickly than a store employee frantically trying to locate information in a dense catalog.

By arming brick-and-mortar employees with AI systems, reps on the shop floor can launch a mobile app on a company device and speak or type a question. The AI system will scan backend systems to determine an answer in seconds. Associates can relay the answer and, from the shopper’s perspective, appear well-informed.

Self-Checkout and Kiosks

AI systems can also be deployed using intelligent kiosks, which are essentially higher-level automated kiosks (think Redbox) armed with human cognition. In these scenarios, shoppers never need to flag down a store employee to answer questions or wait in line to make a purchase. Instead, they can converse with the AI system through a kiosk just as they would with a human employee. For example, a consumer could ask generic questions such as, “Which aisle has the shampoo?” or more personal ones such as, “How many rewards points do I have in my account?” An intelligent kiosk’s versatility makes it the perfect point-of-sale (POS) for specialized experiences, such as picking-up an online order, or scheduling the delivery of a larger item just purchased in a store.

Repeat Purchases and Long-Term Relationships

When a customer interacts with a store employee, the contact is typically forgotten soon thereafter by both the shopper and the worker. Unless a retail encounter is particularly terrible, or a customer frequents a store often, it’s likely no one will remember a specific experience, good or bad.

AI systems never forget. If a customer asks questions about a product, or asks the AI system to set a reminder to purchase that product at a later date, the system can use this information to build and extend the relationship long after the consumer leaves the store.

If a customer returns to the store the next day, week or month, the system remembers the shopper’s inquiries about the product from the previous visit. If the customer purchases a commodity (e.g. groceries, toiletries, etc.), the AI system can ask the customer if he or she wants to create a repeat order, or it can send a notification in a few weeks to inquire about a reorder. If customers purchase a product that is later upgraded into a next-generation model (e.g., smartphones or laptops), the system can notify those consumers and provide additional information.

These are just some of the ways AI systems can broaden the scope with which retailers are able to provide expert customer service, and in turn generate additional revenue and consumer loyalty. The more innovative retailers are looking to remodel the brick-and-mortar experience with AI to build and improve connections between customers, store associates, retail locations and brands.

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