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AI assisting with Research and Education within the Retail Customer Journey

Full report: The impact of AI on the UK retail industry

AI assisting with Research and Education within the Retail Customer Journey

The role of Artificial Intelligence for helping consumers research within the customer journey.

Most consumers, when purchasing anything from a can opener to a car, conduct research online and in-store before committing to a purchase. Here we delve into the issue of how AI is helping to advance matters at this critical stage for both consumers and retailers.

From our research, we identify five key stages within the retail customer journey. Stage two is ‘Research and Consideration’ from the consumer perspective, and ‘Educate and Channel’ from a retailer’s perspective (as shown in the diagram). Factors such as price and product reviews heavily influence thinking, and companies can leverage AI to enhance how they educate consumers concerning their propositions. We are already witnessing human advice being replaced by intelligent virtual assistants and augmented and virtual reality to inform customers.



Chatbots, virtual assistants, self-service kiosks and in-store robots

Chatbots simulating human conversations (in text or speech) are more commonplace in handling customer service enquiries, FAQs, delivery updates and product recommendations. However, our survey showed that 43% of consumers might be put off if helped by a non-human assistant, suggesting human interaction is still important, or that the AI is not advanced enough yet. Age is a factor in perception though, with nearly 40% of 18 to 24-year olds expressing higher levels of comfort with chatbots than only 24% of those over 65.

“43% of consumers might be put off if helped by a non-human assistant”

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This work forms part of a wider piece of research and is a downloadable in pdf format


Companies are confident that consumers are willing to engage with AI technologies

Survey question to retailers: Thinking about in-store and online customer service; I feel that consumers would accept being served by AI-related technology (e.g. touch screen assistants, AI natural language use, chatbots).

Source: Retail Economics/CMS, 2019


Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR)

VR and AR are great tools for enhancing an experience, and are already used by furniture retailers to allow shoppers to see what a product may look like in their home before purchasing it (e.g. Ikea). While the development of these technologies is exciting, our survey showed that businesses believe virtual assistants and chatbots will have a bigger impact on the industry in the future.


How retailers can educate and channel

AI can take data analytics to the next level and assist retailers in optimising the omnichannel approach by identifying patterns of shopper behaviour, making it easier to determine which marketing strategies are most effective within various channels. Using machine learning techniques applied to big data amassed from in-store technology, sophisticated algorithms can extract insights that would otherwise lay dormant.


Shopping environment analytics

With footfall to shops declining, shopping environments are more important than ever. AI systems can collate a host of different data sources to: monitor store traffic, suggest optimised store layouts, enhance display advert placements, or provide more targeted promotions to make shops more attractive destinations.


Remote stock checking

The use of robots to remotely check stock levels can also improve the shopping environment and help to increase footfall. Increasingly, retailers are integrating stores into their online offering, using them as micro warehouses for click and collect or local delivery.

Our survey showed that more than 50% of retailers and consumer brands believe that AI-driven, real-time inventory management systems would have a significant impact on demand planning, automatic stock replenishment and stock rotation. Similarly, two-thirds of shoppers polled said they would also be more likely to visit a store if they knew they could check real-time product availability online first.

Things to do now

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Found this short article interesting?

​​This insight article forms part of a thought leadership report entitled “Disruption 2.0 – Here we go again: AI in Consumer and Retail”. It was produced by Retail Economics in partnership with CMS and looks at consumers across all age groups in the UK and explores their attitudes regarding AI technologies they currently interact with, and the cutting-edge applications emerging. To contrast this, the research also includes a business survey of senior leaders from Consumer and Retail organisations, FMCG manufacturers and fashion and luxury brands, to gauge their sentiments towards disruptive technologies and the opportunities and challenges they currently face.

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