With just a little technology, bricks and mortar retailers can offer next-level customer experience — and give their revenue a serious boost.

I attended a brilliant National Online Retailers Association event this week, and one of the questions the panel addressed was about the impact technology has on business growth. Obviously this is a topic I love – particularly AI.

‘Artificial intelligence’ is bandied about, but unlike the buzzwords ‘synergy’ or ‘appvertising’, it’s a genuine game-changer. AI first popped up in the business arena about five years ago, but analysing data and understanding how your business operates is nothing new.

Those concepts have been around for a long time. AI is simply technology that makes transactional data, first-class customer service and ultimately, increased revenues, more accessible for retailers – especially those with limited resources. Here’s how you can make the most of AI.

What AI means for retailers


There are two components when it comes to using AI for retail. First, it taps into your historical transactional data and finds the strongest relationships between the variables that affect revenue or sales. In AI-speak, we call this ‘correlation’.

Second, AI helps retailers figure out what to do with the data, to drive double-digit top-line revenue. The most successful retailers mine transactional data to refine their upselling and cross-selling patterns. This is where the beauty of the technology comes into play.

Ultimately, this means providing consistent customer experience online and offline – the tech that powers personalised product recommendations online is available instore. And with 75% of consumers expecting consistency in customer experience, whether online, via social or in-person, this is a game-changer.

Retailers have two options. They can hire a data scientist that can crunch the numbers to manually find relationships between the different variables. It’s pretty tedious. AI, on the other hand, automatically analyses the transactional data, finds the key data relationships and gives the end user — the salesperson on the floor — recommendations to pass on to the customer.

How it improves customer experience


AI makes shopping more personal. It gives you insights into each customer – whether they like blue or teal, stripes or solids, jeans or chinos. It can help you offer the buyer what they want, in their size, instantly. And this personalisation – the best customer experience – increases basket sizes and repeat business. In fact, 69% of consumers say that personalised customer care influences their loyalty.

You don’t even need to invest hours in creating detailed profiles of every customer. Retailers are increasingly using beacon technology in their bricks and mortar stores to identify semi-anonymous folk who enter the store. The beacon taps into the customer’s transaction history and provides tailored recommendations to sales assistants in-store – it’s the best online customer experience, translated to offline shopping.

Global men’s clothing retailer, Suitsupply, uses beacon technology really well. Based in Amsterdam, the company boasts 60 stores in 20 countries. Enough said. Australia is catching up; I believe we are two to three years away from getting that level of intelligence on the floor. The arrival of Amazon, and more US and European brands, will accelerate the adoption of AI here. Retail can be a savage road, but technology is key to maintaining a competitive position.

Run targeted marketing campaigns


Away from the shop floor, AI can personalise marketing campaigns. Say you’re a high net worth individual, prepared to spend $500 on a coat without agonising over the price. You’re probably not going to feel understood if a brand keeps sending you generic EDM content spruiking more price-sensitive (OK, cheap) threads.

A customer cluster, a.k.a customer segmentation, is the result of analysing historical transactional data to create groups of like-minded customers. You can then direct specific marketing campaigns to those clusters. By harnessing AI, you can segment and understand your customer base, and send out more personalised marketing assets to get better results – all without a data scientist.

Data is powerful – use it well


Of course, AI should be handled with care – both in terms of onboarding staff and managing the process change well, and managing customer expectations so they are happy with the results.

You could experience pushback from a sales assistant who loves the creativity of their role and doesn’t want to follow the recommendations provided to them. Remind your salespeople of the flip side: knowing some history of that buyer’s purchasing pattern gives them powerful insights that ordinarily would take much longer to glean than a customer is likely to give them — if not many visits to the store. This ultimately drives increased revenues.

On the customer side, keep in mind that they actually want you to use their data to provide better customer experience. Our research says that 61% of millennials and 52% of gen Xers are happy to share data in exchange for personalised shopping experiences, and 58% and 52% of each generation for product recommendations that meet their needs. The key is to be transparent and to use that data well.

It’s vital for organisations to constantly test, gather data, and learn more about consumer behaviour. AI is revolutionising customer experience and the customer journey – it’s truly transforming retail.

Find out more about how to turn shoppers into buyers and advocates. Download our State of the Connected Customer report today.

Andrew Antal is Marketing Director for Salesforce Commerce Cloud, and he’s passionate about helping retailers use new technologies to maintain their competitive edge. He tweets at @andrewantal99Read more from Andrew.