AI goes next level
For retailers, artificial intelligence (AI) offers a fantastic opportunity to understand and improve a customer’s experience. Cyrus Gilbert-Rolfe, chief revenue officer at software company EVRYTHNG, is excited about the potential. He points to the use of life-size holographic people in stores and shopping centres, an example of AI that’s been around for a while but was too expensive to deploy at scale until now. Such holograms can respond to questions or even take payments.
“Can you imagine holding your credit card inside a hologram of R2-D2 at the Disney Store? Shoppers will definitely crowd into a shop just to interact with a hologram, delivering footfall and dwell time.”
AI can also provide retailers with insights into what their customers want, with AI and machine learning (ML) used in tandem for predictive analytics.
“This will allow retailers to identify trends, clusters and patterns in data, which can improve decision-making and even automate certain decision points,” says Thomas Staven, chief product officer at Extenda Retail. “This can contribute towards retaining consumers and staff. These technologies also provide opportunities to streamline processes to make them more efficient, which will also have a positive impact on retailers’ ever-pressing margins.”
Staven anticipates that AI and ML will be used by retailers to monitor in-store behaviour and provide access to real-time insights. He also predicts that computer vision will be widely incorporated, allowing for image and video recognition.
“This will mean, for example, automated recognition of non-barcoded items to provide a seamless checkout experience.”
Smart robotics will recognise on-shelf availability, Staven adds, allowing for automated replenishment. “For grocers, analysis of product freshness will be accessible using the same technology, allowing for dynamic pricing.”
As technology becomes more sophisticated, so too do the threats. In 2022, retailers should be vigilant of ransomware, ensuring they’ve taken appropriate measures to protect themselves from cybercrime.
“Ransomware is now a business,” explains AJ Thompson, chief commercial officer at IT consultancy Northdoor. “It’s a constant threat and businesses have to accept that at some point, they will be breached.”
Criminal tactics include efforts to access staff credentials through social media or convincing spoof emails, with the end goal of accessing a company’s network. The criminal can then either resell company data or hold it to ransom. This could result in a fine from the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) for a GDPR failure, not to mention the damage such a security breach could cause the business itself.
So how can retailers tackle this threat in 2022? Investment and awareness are key.
“Under GDPR legislation, organisations are responsible for the cyber resilience of their supply chain,” says Thompson. This has traditionally meant sending a series of questions to a supplier and asking for feedback, he says, a manual, biannual process that’s “inaccurate, slow and painfully one-sided. It is highly unlikely that your suppliers confess to any IT security issues.”
However, some organisations are now looking to automate this process, he says, allowing them to run their own continual external assessments of their suppliers’ web domains. “This provides a more accurate assessment, which in turn improves their security.”
Thompson also points to immutable back-ups, also known as air gap back-ups, which provide an original copy of data for recovery. These are becoming increasingly essential, he says, allowing for recovery in the event of a breach. Effectively read-only, immutable back-ups can never be edited, overwritten or altered in any way, so they can’t be affected by ransomware code.
Some organisations might already be able to create immutable back-ups as part of their solution, he says. “Most, however, will need to implement a new set of technologies.”
With all eyes recently on COP26, customers will be closely watching how their favourite brands respond to environmental issues. For retailers, it’s time to make your stance clearer than ever.
“Transparency is key,” says Orwin. “Consumers don’t want pledges or targets. They want action. The more brands can show that they’re taking real, tangible steps, the better.”
Customers want to shop with brands that act with integrity and purpose. Increasingly, they feel they can make a difference by carefully choosing where they spend their money. Brands can tap into this by considering how they present their products, whether through informative window displays, detail-rich labels or online copy that makes the origin story and eco-friendly credentials of an item crystal clear.
“Brands that can demonstrate transparency within the store experience will be rewarded with greater affinity and engagement,” predicts Singh. “We’ll see more brands initiate take-back schemes, open repair stores and consider modular store formats to accompany the move towards a more regenerative future.”