South Africans have well and truly jumped on the Black Friday bandwagon over the past few years, embracing the Americans’ Thanksgiving shopping holiday to take advantage of pre-Festive season deals. Whether big or small, online or mall, retailers across product categories are using the Black Friday hook to lure consumers into parting with their money for ‘never-to-be-repeated’ bargains.
If you’re feeling as though unsolicited Black Friday deals are assaulting your inboxes, and you are getting overwhelmed by the number of ads on TV, radio, and online, then you’re not alone. Worst of all, it’s probably likely that most of the ads you see aren’t relevant to you and don’t pique your interest at all. But that is definitely set to change in the near future, as retailers turn to artificial intelligence to give their customers a better experience.
What artificial intelligence means for retail
At its most basic level, artificial intelligence (AI) refers to a system that is capable of learning from data. As more data is inputted, the system gets smarter and is able to better predict behaviour, in real time, and with increasing accuracy.
In the case of retail, data refers to information about consumers’ shopping habits – for example, what products they search for, or when they make purchases. This kind of information is already being used by online vendors like Takealot. The site will often recommend items it thinks you would like based on previous purchases, or email you when the ‘Out of stock’ product on your Takealot Wishlist becomes available again.
The insights gained from this data are very valuable for retailers, as they enable them to personalise all their interactions with each customer. Even better for these vendors is that the more their customers use their site, the better the customisation, as the AI system learns more about the users and makes more intuitive suggestions.
Getting exactly what you want
To make your shopping experience even more fulfilling, online vendors in the US are now moving on from typed searches to visual searches. Luxury retailer Nieman Marcus, for example, has a feature on their app that enables customers to buy exactly what their heart desires. If you see someone in a restaurant wearing an outfit you really can’t do without, you can simply take a photo of the outfit, upload it onto the app, and wait for the AI bots to find similar clothing items that Nieman Marcus sells.
Another example of a personalised shopping experience is North Face, an outdoor retailer, which is using AI to help its customers find the perfect jacket for their specific needs. Its online shopping assistant, IBM Watson, asks you questions about why you need the jacket, where you will be going, and what activities you will be doing. Taking into account other data, such as weather information, IBM Watson then recommends a jacket from the North Face catalogue that it thinks would be most suitable.
Artificial intelligence in retail isn’t just limited to the online space, however. Macy’s, a popular department store in the US, has an app that you can use in their brick-and-mortar shops. The app acts as a personal shopping assistant, answering your questions about where certain brands are located in the store, whether a certain product is in stock, or where you can find the on-sale items.
Artificial intelligence on your phone
Aside from being a vital element in many phone apps, artificial intelligence is now also available on the actual phone itself. The Huawei Mate 10 Pro is the first, and only, phone in the world to have on-device AI. Like the personalised experiences that consumers can get from online retail, the Huawei Mate 10 learns from its user what their phone habits are, and customises their phone accordingly. The more you interact with the phone, the more personalised the phone becomes.
Getting a more personalised experience is definitely the way of the future, whether it be for online shopping, or just using your phone. With us being overwhelmed by information on a daily basis, customisation has become even more essential to help us weed out what doesn’t interest us, and highlight what we want to engage with. Artificial intelligence is the key to unlocking these experiences.
By Likun Zhao, GM, Huawei Consumer Business Group SA