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Microsoft Industry Blogs - United Kingdom

If you were present at the recent World Retail Congress – or even if you weren’t able to make it –  there was one message well worth hearing. Retailing today may be tricky, but it also features huge opportunities to create new revenue streams worth billions of dollars.[1]

That’s great news, especially in light of what’s recently happened to household names such as Toys’R’Us, Maplin[2], Joe Bloggs, and East[3]. The only question  is – how can UK retail seize all this opportunity? One way is AI or, as many call it, intelligent technology.

The stakes have got higher

For many years, retail has relied on data management and database analysis to see exactly what’s happened, and what’s going on in the big wide world.

Intelligent technology, on the other hand, ups the ante. It tells you what happened. But it does a whole lot more. It strengthens your ability to work out what’s going to happen, and why, by using parts of apparently unrelated data. Everyone knows, for example, that ice cream sales increase as it gets hotter. But did you know, for example, that they peak at 25°C? – or that fizzy drinks sell more during rainy and snowy winters?[4]

If intelligent tech isn’t just blue-sky thinking and is actually possible, it could prove to be a god-send for retail. For example, Next places much of the blame for its slump in profits on “self-inflicted product ranging errors and omissions”.[5] Researchers at the University of California[6] have come up with some predictive fashion algorithms – so could these help iron out Next’s problems?

It’s amazing what human ingenuity can do with the right tools. Here are a few other ideas for you:

Dynamic pricing – Give customers the best prices, affordable rates and occasional special offers for a range of producrs and services – not just for a few items such as airline fares and hotels. It’s a great way to create loyalty.

Personalisation – Benefit the brand and the customer by offering an experience that is right, timely and tailored to the individual.

Advanced retail planning (ARP) – ARP isn’t just about being smarter with planograms. It also includes making sure you’re not faced with massive physical and financial stock overheads. And it helps keep the competition at bay. It uses analytics to understand what customers want, when they want it, and how much they want to pay.

What’s possible could kickstart the incredible

Wondering how companies are using AI? Here are a few examples.

Fashion
With 32 quarters in a row of double-digit online growth behind it, one international fashion brand used Microsoft Dynamics 365 AI solution for customer service to add a virtual agent to its website. Within a month, the virtual agent was already providing improved customer experiences. Answering more than one quarter of customer queries. Giving the right offer discounts. Suggesting products. Checking local stock. And passing calls over to live agents if necessary. Unsurprisingly, the brand now plans to expand it to additional shopping channels.

Electricals
Cami’s the latest recruit at a popular electricals company. She’s a bot based on the Microsoft Bot Framework and Microsoft Cognitive Services, and she answers questions through the brand’s website and Facebook Messenger. Customers and store colleagues can find products, check stock, and discover important information to make every experience a better one.

Furniture
This online furniture retailer has around 10,000 products on its site. And each has a host of options that allow shoppers to customise their purchases. That’s a lot of choices. So, to stop customers from being scared away, the company looked at Microsoft AI solutions. The website now makes customisation recommendations attached to each product, as well as ones based on a visitor’s browsing history. Conversions have trebled as a result.

Want some more inspiration?

You can find a lot more information about intelligent technology here:

 

 

The Future is Cognitive: Using AI in retail to meet new hurdles

How retailers can improve the customer experience with AI

 

[1] https://www.worldretailcongress.com/session/fireside-chat-survival-guide-new-retail-world?search_id=103656

[2] https://www.independent.co.uk/news/business/analysis-and-features/uk-high-street-store-closures-retail-job-losses-2018-next-toys-r-us-new-look-maplin-a8270506.html

[3] http://www.retailresearch.org/whosegonebust.php

[4] https://www.inma.org/blogs/conference/post.cfm/how-weather-company-uses-consumer-behaviour-data-for-targeted-advertising

[5] https://www.independent.co.uk/news/business/analysis-and-features/uk-high-street-store-closures-retail-job-losses-2018-next-toys-r-us-new-look-maplin-a8270506.html

[6] https://www.technologyreview.com/s/609469/this-ai-learns-your-fashion-sense-and-invents-your-next-outfit/