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Do we need Artificial Intelligence for shopping?

Spotted a girl with a nice purse? AI can help you in finding the store, on line or brick-and-mortar, where you can get it… Credit: GadgetSay

Looking at my wife I would most definitely say there is no need for getting “shopping help”. Yet, there seems to be many companies working on providing a variety of shopping help, researchers working on improving the effectiveness of these helps and observers betting on a growing role of Artificial Intelligence in the future of shopping.

Surely, artificial intelligence is becoming pervasive:

  • it can help identifying a product (such as in the photo opening this post, where AI is used to single out the different objects in the image and identifying them with objects in several on-line catalogues);
  • it can help the in-store experience by pointing you to the right shelves after having recognised your face as the one of a returning customer (and having access to your shopping history);
  • It can detect your emotions and select a slate of products fitting them (robots are starting to be equipped with “emotion engines” making them socially “intelligent”);
  • It can play the role of a sale assistant, both locally taking the shape of a humanoid robot and on-line as a chat-box (take a look at the video and the GWYN experience -Gift When You Need- supported by IBM Watson and its cognitive engine).

There is actually much more.

Pepper says hello and helps you select the perfect aroma in a Nescafe store in Tokyo. Credit: Nestlé

Sales and CRM applications are already benefitting from AI and its use is increasing in all retail sectors, clearly with the big retail companies on the front edge of deployment. By using robots sale assistants Ave, a hip apparel store, has increased its revenues by 300% and Nescafe has started using Pepper, a sales assistant robot, in some of its stores in Japan.

AI is now powering automated call centers, providing a natural human voice and, most important, giving the perception of engaging in a conversation with a human rep. Companies like Conversica are making money by helping stores to make more money through effective interaction with their customers.

Ai is being used in automating the supply chain interactions among the different players. Software like Brilliant Manufacturing by GE mimics the human relations in the selling-buying through the value chain, supporting the transition towards Industry 4.0.

AI is also supporting the delivery chain, from smart logistics to the yet experimental use of robots, including drones, to cover the last mile to the end customer.

AI is now being used in the payment process by PayPal and other companies to detect frauds protecting both the seller and the buyer.

Retail with its huge 20+Trillion $ market is obviously attracting more and more attention to make it more effective, since any tiny improvement means huge gains. Artificial Intelligence is proving a valuable tool to this end.

Whether we will enter into a symbiotic relationship with an AI brain in shopping remains to be seen. Probably having us relieved from the chores of everyday grocery shopping by a robotic assistant may be perceived as useful but having a robot choosing our fashion garment is probably far away and not something that we are interested in, since it will rob us from the pleasure of shopping.

Anyhow, before getting the shopping efficiency of my wife … well I do not see it happening in my life time 😉

About Roberto Saracco

Roberto Saracco fell in love with technology and its implications long time ago. His background is in math and computer science. Until April 2017 he led the EIT Digital Italian Node and then was head of the Industrial Doctoral School of EIT Digital up to September 2018. Previously, up to December 2011 he was the Director of the Telecom Italia Future Centre in Venice, looking at the interplay of technology evolution, economics and society. At the turn of the century he led a World Bank-Infodev project to stimulate entrepreneurship in Latin America. He is a senior member of IEEE where he leads the Industry Advisory Board within the Future Directions Committee and co-chairs the Digital Reality Initiative. He teaches a Master course on Technology Forecasting and Market impact at the University of Trento. He has published over 100 papers in journals and magazines and 14 books.