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July 11, 2017

Retailers are marching towards a new world of customer experience, where innovation and technology are the central forces driving business. Omni-channel presence, combined with consistent customer experience, across digital and physical touch points, is becoming an important factor for retail success. Digitized IT, with its enormous data collected across the retail value chain, is enabling retailers to accumulate a wealth of information about customers and products, preferences and buying patterns.

While data and analytics have enabled retailers to draw intelligent insights from historical sales data, take key decisions, and offer superlative customer experience, its time to put the wealth of analytical information to even better use, and take the customer experience use case to an altogether smarter level. As analytics and Big Data continue to drive major changes in the reporting and insights space, another new revolution Artificial Intelligence (AI) with deep learning promises to elevate the customer experience enabling more personalized and fulfilling moments throughout the engagement.

By opening up opportunities for fresh, pleasant, unique and consistent customer experience across touch points, AI is fast becoming a significant part of a whole new era of innovation in retail. Let me share a few industry examples that fascinate me.

Watch out for Amazon Go a retail mobile app that eliminates long check-out and payment queues and offers a just walk out experience. Customers shop at the Amazon Go store, as they would at any other store, while AI-enabled backend systems log the items in the shoppers cart. When customers exit the store, their Amazon accounts are auto-charged and a receipt is sent! But thats not all. Amazon has brought AI-driven customer convenience, to online retail space as well. With robot-assisted warehouses, optimized processes, and automated workflows, Amazon promises same day deliveries more often than ever before.

Another app that is launching shortly is Gaps DressingRoom, and it will allow shoppers to try on clothes without leaving the comfort of their home.

The popular iPhone voice command app Hey Siri when applied to the retail context, too has potential to unlock rich customer experiences imagine personalized, assisted buying recommendations. Rich integration with ecommerce shopping carts could turn Siri into a personalized shopping assistant for buyers mimicking the familiar, shopping with friends experience, if the in-store or even the online context. And then there are personal robots such as Jibo that act as personal assistants, understand customer preferences, read data from customer calendars and other devices and help customers with a range of tasks shopping suggestions could be one of them.

Finally lets talk about Googles new technology called Google Lens. Working in tandem with other Google products, it promises to make the smartphone really smart! By understanding and learning whats captured by the camera, it will be able to offer additional information for an item, and also pull up ratings, reviews, offers and so on. For large retailers, the launch of the Google Lens beckons an era of enthralling experiences for anyone with a smartphone.

AI is clearly opening doors to exciting retail possibilities, and promises to drive big changes. According to the recent Global Trend Study titled Getting Smarter by the Day by Tata Consultancy Services, AI will have a dramatic impact on businesses. Majority of the companies surveyed recognize AI as essential to competitiveness, and consider it a transformative technology. Besides enabling businesses to automate tasks, AI is also helping employees undertake work they couldnt do before. The TCS study shows a clear correlation between AI investments and positive business impact.

The Retail-AI transformational change demands a push not just from CIOs, but the entire CxO fraternity. While these cognitive technologies and use cases can enable the new possibilities, there is also the need to build these systems right. In the digital world, competition is just a click away, the QA function must take center stage as the enabler for success of these forays into new age technology.

Before we take the leap, Quality Assurance (QA) teams must ask questions. How can retail businesses invest in AI initiatives to enthrall the customer, with zero compromise in ensuring security of their systems, together with privacy for their customers? Intelligent systems will have to continually learn to make better decisions. How will this be made possible? Finally these systems have to make reliable decisions! Are IT departments together with QA and the testing function equipped to take on the AI challenge? These and more such critical questions must be answered.

In my next post, we will explore how a strong QA function, by ensuring at every step the AI systems safety, security and trustworthiness, can enable retailers to approach the AI change and transformation with responsibility.

Muthulakshmi Nellaiappan is a solution architect in retail for TCS' Assurance Services Unit (ASU). In this role, she builds strategic assurance solutions for complex digital transformations. She leads the retail and CPG team in TCS ASU, focusing on emerging technologies like AI and IoT. She also has experience in consulting, design and implementation of test centers of excellence for fortune 1000 customers across US and Europe. Her areas of interest include eCommerce, omnichannel retail and use of digital technologies to enhance customer experience.


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