About 45% of retailers plan to use artificial intelligence technology within the next three years to improve customer experiences, according to the Boston Retail Partners 2017 Customer Experience/Unified Commerce Benchmark Survey.
The survey results also found that 55% of retailers are refining mobile shopping and unified commerce experiences with an eye toward increasing customer loyalty and improving the overall customer experience.
Meanwhile. Also on the mobile front, about 59% of retailers said they will use Wi-Fi and 63% said they will use mobile apps to identify customers while they are shopping in their stores.
AI emerged as one of the hottest technologies of 2016, and though there was a lot of activity last year, retail was just getting started. It was used in everything from the AI-based navigation and information apps at the Mall of America and Fashion Island mall to efforts by payments companies to deploy AI to fight fraud.
The best thing about this evolution is that it is not just retailers looking at a new technology and trying to figure out how to use it. AI's ability to automate and learn from customer interactions, and then predict in many cases how those interactions could play out make it a very practical technology tool for retailers to have in their tool chests. If 2016 was some sort of proving ground year for AI in retail, when we saw a few companies trying to take AI for a spin after seeing Amazon succeed with Alexa, than the next few years could see AI become commonplace in the industry.
On the mobile front, the notion that more than half of retailers are planning to optimize their mobile shopping and unified commerce experiences in the next three years is surprising only in that 55% almost seems too small a number. If retailers aren't working to improve mobile shopping experiences during this time frame, what are they doing? Investing in tall enough signs for shoppers to see stores from the interstate?
While the strong desire of pure-play e-commerce players to get into the brick-and-mortar store game suggests physical stores aren't going away anytime soon, customers are purchasing via mobile smartphones in ever greater numbers, and those mobile purchases are accounting for a higher percentage of overall online purchases. It's now or never for retailer mobile strategies.
A final footnote: Elsewhere in this survey, retailers were asked about their plans to invest in virtual reality and augmented reality technology. The same percentage — 34% of respondents — said they planned to deploy each of these technologies within the next three years. We have to wonder if some retailers believe these technologies to be one and the same, which they really are not. As apps from Williams Sonoma, Lowe's and others have shown, augmented reality, which allows virtual items to be viewed and manipulated in a real world setting, is the one that could prove more valuable as a retailer tool.