GUEST BLOG: Connecting with the modern shopper

In this guest blog Gavin Mee, senior area vice president of enterprise UKI for Salesforce, discusses how artificial intelligence may be the next step in connecting with the modern shopper.

Ever since a computer first beat a human opponent in a chess game, artificial intelligence (AI) has proven its potential to interpret and act on provided data. Deep Blue cemented its place in history in the 1990s when it beat chess champion Garry Kasparov in a tense, televised finale. And earlier this year, computer scientists went a step further and developed an artificial brain, “AlphaGo,” to beat a human at ‘Go’ – one of the hardest games of logic and intuition on the planet today. The reason that Go is so difficult is that it requires continual learning of new techniques and accurately forecasting how your opponent will play.

It’s an interesting game – and one that has implications for the retailer today, because AI is no longer just for gaming. As today’s brands seek to personalise the customer journey to a greater degree, it’s time for the smart retailer to think one step ahead and embrace AI.

For instance, AI-enabled e-commerce platforms can provide product recommendations to personalise offers to customers, predict which goods and services they are likely to want, and provide insights as to how smarter merchandising and product purchase correlations can enhance overall sales. According the recent Salesforce State of Connected Customer report, 45% of consumers and 57% of business buyers say that by 2020 they will switch brands if a company doesn’t actively anticipate – and act on – their individual needs.

What’s more, modern AI is easy to use – by everyone.  Previous iterations of AI required data specialists and back-office IT teams to manage the technology and understand the insights. But no longer. New technologies offer solutions that a whole host of employees, from marketers and sales strategists to finance teams and customer experience experts, can use. For example, Salesforce AI technology, called Einstein, is fully embedded across all of our technologies so that anyone in an organisation using Salesforce can now benefit from having their own ‘data scientist’ in their pocket  ̶  right on their phone.

In recent months, AI has moved into the mainstream to the extent that customers may not even know they’re interacting with AI:  Amazon’s Dash services are just one example. AI is anticipating the needs of customers and this is vital in delivering the VIP experience they want.

Millennials, in particular want to walk into a store and get the red carpet treatment. A personal, 1-to-1, seamless experience is important to them and makes them feel valued. It’s essential to remember however, that while personalisation is important to everyone, millennial expectations are markedly different to those of their parents.

For example, this younger generation is almost three times more likely to expect the stores they visit to know all about their online shopping and research on that retailer’s website (42% of millennials feel this way vs. 18% of baby boomers). Once again, it’s all about retailers’ ability to blend both online and offline interactions into a seamless, customer-centred experience to deliver a personalised journey – the “star treatment” younger customers increasingly expect.

Don’t forget, this demographic is demonstrating increasing spend and because of their age, offer retailers a unique opportunity to put a stake in a customer relationship which could ultimately span decades. It stands to reason, then, that a clear understanding of what millennials expect from their shopping experience should be front of mind for retailers

Expect to see more AI innovations in the coming year, because it’s set to be big business, next year and in the years ahead. And remember, as a retailer today, it’s never been more important to have insight into our customers – insight that gives you an incredible advantage to win the hearts, minds, and purses of customers.