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NRF 2018: AI captures the imagination but a personalized customer experience remains key

Trends and Insights

Ipsos Retail Performance returned to NRF 2018 Big Show in New York City for the fourth time, showcasing our range of retail analytics solutions. Here, Kelly Fairchild, our North America business development manager, discusses the major themes of the Big Show.

Before I traveled to my second NRF Big Show, I predicted that the use of AI in retail would continue to capture the imagination of the 36,000 industry leaders attending.

Indeed, artificial intelligence was the overarching theme, with more retailers and suppliers recognizing the massive potential of harnessing machine learning – with computers able to process large amounts of data to recognize and predict patterns in areas such as customer behavior and demographics.

With this huge interest, it was great to demonstrate our consumer insight solutions, which are centered on the need to understand customer behavior in order to improve store performance.

An increased knowledge of your customers’ demographics can provide crucial insights for retailers. Knowing the needs of customers before they step foot inside the door enables the optimization of store and product layout. With this, conversion rates can improve dramatically. As Michelle Bacharach, founder and CEO of FINDMIND, said at the Big Show: “Customers will spend 200 percent more when you show them what to buy”.

Similarly, the other major trend we noticed was the increasing demand for a personalized customer experience. AI can help to enable this but there are additional, overlooked areas where stores can improve engagement and drive revenue. For example, traffic counters can help to improve staffing decisions – store managers accessing the predicted hourly traffic levels means they are able to match their sales teams to optimize conversion.

However, while innovations in retail technology is frequently seen as a threat to jobs, what we saw at the Big Show demonstrated that these advances could free up customer-facing staff to create a more authentic and personalized in-store experience.

Our recent Retail Traffic Index (RTI), derived from the number of individual shoppers entering over 4,000 non-food retail stores across the UK, showed that retail traffic was nearly 10 percent lower in December compared to last year, and this is typical of the challenging environment currently facing retailers across the world.

The Amazon Go store launched just a week after the NRF Big Show and this is a futuristic example of what could become a new normal for retailers. In the meantime, our belief that customer personalization is more important than ever, was confirmed by our peers. It is increasingly clear that reducing prices is not a viable way to compete in a shifting market. Consumer demands are changing and it’s more evident than ever for the need for bricks-and-mortar retailers to embrace accurate data analytics.

Kelly Fairchild, North America business development manager

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