retail news in context, analysis with attitude

by Kevin Coupe

AdWeek has a story about how artificial intelligence-empowered systems are invading the retail space.

For example, "Last December, The North Face started piloting a website that greets coat-seeking shoppers with a series of questions - like where and when they plan to use the coat - to create contextual product recommendations. Shoppers who use the AI tool convert more often than those who do not ... What's more, The North Face's shoppers are queried after they use the AI tool to learn if they would use it again. Three out of four customers say yes, they would. After a year's worth of testing, Bouchard says she's now looking for ways to build content - like say, a travel guide about the location where someone is going - into the site."

At the same time, the story says, "The next time you want a triple venti soy no-foam latte, don't be surprised if you place your order by talking to your smartphone. Indeed, typing is so 2014 for digital-savvy Starbucks, and AI-powered, voice-activated apps are the new red-hot piece of technology."

In 2017, AdWeek writes, Starbucks "will up the ante on ordering by building a Siri-like virtual assistant into its (mobile) app. The feature - dubbed My Starbucks Barista - allows users to place their order by tapping a button and talking to the virtual barista. The bot then pings the order to a nearby store where an employee makes the drink. Users can then pick it up within minutes, bypassing stores' long lines to the cash register." It isn't that different from the mobile app as it currently exists, except with no typing - which seems to be the secret sauce that many companies are pursuing.

I find this stuff fascinating, though I'm not suggesting that everybody has to adopt AI technology to the same degree. What I am saying is this technology is changing the face of competition and consumer perception ... and if companies don't have it, they damned well better have a compelling alternative.

Because that's what consumers increasingly will want. And businesses better have their Eyes Open.
KC's View: