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How are retail tech businesses utilising AI?

At the end of last month, our Associate Director, Lucy, and Senior Account Manager, Lottie, hosted a roundtable with BusinessCloud, bringing together experts from its Retail Tech 50. Set in the extraordinary landscape of the Sky Lounge at City Tower, the group of eight retail tech leaders discussed the insightful and interesting ways they are using AI in their businesses, and how it’s impacting the sector more broadly.

With so much covered in the discussion, it’s difficult to know where to start, but here are some of our top takeaways:

The retail tech landscape is varied, exciting and rapidly growing

The number of retail tech businesses that have already adopted AI into their everyday processes is vast. It was particularly fascinating hearing in detail where and how AI has been implemented in the businesses of our roundtable participants. Shopblocks’ Stewart Reynolds explained how the development team use AI regularly to give merchants the ability to generate meta descriptions, titles and blog posts for their website, although all participants were in agreement that generative AI isn’t yet sophisticated enough to produce quality long-form content. Meanwhile Airtime Rewards’ Adam Ward has AI powering its rewards platform, to integrate purchase data with incentives that are personal to individuals’ shopping behaviours. Already we’re seeing creative and innovative uses for AI, just a glimpse at what the future holds for retail tech and AI.

How AI is being used for customer personalisation

One of the main focuses in retail tech is how AI can optimise customer personalisation online. André Brown of Advanced Commerce put emphasis on the importance of product sequence for customers and showing the right products to the right people at the right time. AI can help monitor people’s behaviour quickly and easily to predict their journey online and recommend products accordingly.

Applying AI to customer experience

Customer personalisation and experience really go hand in hand. Customer personalisation is undoubtedly going to positively impact the experience while shopping, but how can AI be used to delve deeper into the data behind the customer experience? Ben Hookway of Relative Insight discussed how AI can be used in analytics to transform ‘hazy data’ like review text and customer interactions into actionable metrics that can be applied at scale, opening up a new area of business intelligence to decision makers.

It’s important to ask ‘why?’ when adopting AI into your business structure

As Dropit’s Stuart Ford said, “You can’t use AI to make what you’re doing better, without looking at what you’re doing.” The possibility of AI is exciting and it’s easy to get caught up in, but retailers should be first identifying why they want to use AI and what benefits AI will bring to their business. Fassion’s Billy Butt mentioned how there’s still a way to go before large language models can be used for things like merchandising and product descriptions as at the moment is still feels very impersonal. AI is still in its early days, so it’s better to do the leg work now of figuring out how AI is going to help achieve your end goal before jumping in head first.

The human touch is still important

AI can be vital tool in your business structure and can help optimise a consumer’s experience while shopping. But we’ve learnt that nothing can replace the human touch. Dream Agility’s Glyn Powditch explained how AI requires a large data pool. In any cases where you’re dealing with ‘outliers’ or you don’t have a statistically significant data pool, people are a necessity. All of our participants agreed there will always be space in their business for people, as Michael Ashworth of CTI Digital said, “AI is great, but I think it still needs someone to guide it and tell it what to do and how to do it. AI will never replace people in our business but we’re going to use it as a tool to make their jobs easier.”

A huge thank you to BusinessCloud and all of the participants of the roundtable:

André Brown, CEO at Advanced Commerce

Adam Ward, CEO at Airtime Rewards

Ben Hookway, CEO at Relative Insight

Billy Butt, co-founder/CEO of Fassion

Glyn Powditch, CTO/co-founder at Dream Agility

Michael Ashworth, eCommerce Sales Director at CTI Digital

Stuart Ford, COO at Dropitshopping

Stewart Reynolds, COO/co-founder at Shopblocks

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