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Artificial Intelligence Customer Engagement Retail Media

How brands & retailers are putting the AI in retail


By Jenni Baker, Senior Editor

October 13, 2023 | 6 min read

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Leaders from Sony, Diaego, Salesforce and VMLY&R Commerce explore the potential of gen AI for customer engagement in retail to create an end-to-end, connected commerce experience. Watch the full discussion here.

How brands & retailers are putting the AI in retail

How brands & retailers are putting the AI in retail

AI and machine learning are not ‘new’ for retailers - but the acceleration of generative AI is unlocking potential to drive customer engagement in the shopper journey online and in-store. From streamlining insights and data processes to speeding up content production at scale and making the in-store experience more personal, it has the potential to power a retail revolution - but connectivity between systems is key for an end-to-end commerce experience, experts say.

A Salesforce study shows that 93% of UK retailers are investing more than ever in AI-driven experiences. Consumers too have been quick to start experimenting with generative AI as part of their shopping process. Unerpinning all of this is data - and there’s a responsibility on brands and retailers to ensure that they understand how that technology is being used.

“What underpins all of this is trust - ethics, data security, data privacy,” says Jonathan Beeston, product marketing director, EMEA, Marketing Cloud, Salesforce. “The question now is how to fold that into a process so that you can take advantage of generative AI but do that in a way where you’re protecting customer and company data, and that your large language model of choice is not retaining everything you’ve put into it. Language models are not logic engines, they are statistical engines and therefore are open to the bias that they see in the learning process.”

The data integrity and quality side is key to being customer centric, adds Faisal Kamran, principal technology analyst, Sony. “Think about your own customer profiles because then you will be able to set your AI objectives. Don’t just blindly do it, do it in a way which can be scaled and invest in a way that is going to be protected in the future. What we’re trying to build in is unknown, tangible assets transforming into a tangible asset, then making sure that value and experience you’re providing for your consumer in your platform is sufficiently good enough.”

Think big, start small

Will Harvey, senior breakthrough innovation lead - digital at Diageo, sees the potential of AI in the retail space as a great opportunity for innovation but notes that it should be considered as part of a longer-term transformation plan that will benefit the customer.

“At the moment we see lots of AI projects being used by different brands thinking about experimenting, but we need to look at what that connective tissue can be and look at that longer term platform to go beyond it being just a flash in the pan,” he says. “We need to be thinking about how we can start small by doing lots of interesting innovations or tests in different spaces with our brands, and testing and learning in those spaces to be able to really think about new consumer propositions and new ways that consumers want to engage with brands. The accessibility of this technology is dramatically available to everything and that’s going to be a transformational way to think about the relationship between brand and consumer trust.”

It’s a balancing act between ensuring that brands have confidence in using the technology, while being consumer friendly in the front end, with Harvey noting that “it’s a whole new opportunity for us to understand profiles, preferences, different spaces and environments to solve customer problems and curate personalized experiences.”

Connected commerce experiences

Debbie Ellison, global chief digital officer at VMLY&R Commerce says that “as we start to become collectively more intelligent in this space, we need to create content that is safe and secure but that also is compliant with the brand world and its tone of voice across all the different commerce channels. We cannot be lazy and think that AI can solve all our production problems, we’ve got to make sure that what comes out of that engine is inclusive, while still representing everything that the brand or retailer stands for. That’s exactly where we’ve been investing to enable clients to be able to do that at speed. The landscape of commerce is moving quickly and we must keep up. AI is a way in which we can do that.”

The business transformation and disruption opportunity, according to Ellison, is how to take output from one product or service and use that as input to another, so you’re getting end-to-end AI expertise from strategy right through to production. “There’s a huge opportunity for retailers and brands, not just looking at the end customer experience. Yes, we have access to all of this data, but how is it helping us make better, more efficient decisions? When you connect products and services together, you’re able to really transform your commerce business.”

All of this and more, including practical examples of how retailers are embracing AI, data considerations, lessons and learnings to bring AI into workflows, is discussed in ‘Where AI meets retail’. Click here to access the full panel.

Artificial Intelligence Customer Engagement Retail Media

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