TECHNOLOGY

More retailers use AI to improve customer service

BY Deena M. Amato-McCoy

Retailers are increasingly applying artificial intelligence (AI) to better personalize customer service initiatives, and momentum is increasing.

Fifty five percent of retailers plan to leverage AI technology within three years, and applications will vary, according to the “2018 Customer Experience/Unified Commerce Survey,” from Boston Retail Partners (BRP).

AI’s ability to learn from data, identify patterns and make decisions with minimal human intervention makes it a credible option to improve customer service. Some retailers use it to offer purchasing suggestions based on customer responses to a series of questions. Others use it to pinpoint the most convenient time of day to reach out to consumers with product suggestions, which are also based on past clicks and website visit data.

According to data from NPR and Edison Research, (AI) personas such as Siri, Alexa and “Google” are becoming much more mainstream, with 16% of Americans currently owning a smart speaker. It is also the catalyst for customers and retailers increasingly embracing chatbots as a viable replacement for traditional human customer service.

Retailers are increasingly leveraging AI-powered chatbots for conversational commerce services. AI uses customer responses to a series of questions of purchase history to offer merchandise suggestions. For example, Sephora uses a Kik chatbot, to offer a one-on-one mobile chat experience to offer ideas on new makeup looks and identify products in tutorials to offer customers a better shopping experience. In-store, the chatbot is becoming a personal shopping assistant by offering product recommendations, reviews and ratings.

Currently, 7% of retailers are using AI as digital assistants and chatbots. Another 48% plan to implement this capability within three years.

While chatbots can be a useful customer service tool, some consumers may not know if they are talking to a real person or a bot until they’ve already entered the interaction. Without transparency, that lack of clarity may also turn off some consumers.

“Transparency is a big discussion for AI. Do you want the customer to think they’re speaking with a real human being or should you disclose that this is a conversation with Watson or some other AI technology,” said Jeffrey Neville, senior VP and practice lead, BRP. “That’s a decision retailers have to make right now, as AI using voice is probably going to mess up the conversation at some point, and the customer is going to realize that they’re talking to a computer.”

Other technologies that will improve customer service over the next three years include augmented reality (31%) and virtual reality (21%). These, along with AI, are expected to continue changing the shopping experience and the customer journey, according to BRP’s study.

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TECHNOLOGY

Retailers eye a new target in the ‘honor all cards’ battle

BY CSA Staff

Retailers are taking a new angle in the fight against shouldering high swipe fees.

Companies including Target, Amazon and Home Depot are pushing for the right to reject some rewards credit cards, payment options that typically carry higher fees for merchants, according to the Minneapolis/St. Paul Business Journal, which cites the Wall Street Journal.

This is the latest move retailers are making in effort to end the credit-card networks’ “honor all cards” rule, which requires companies that accept Visa or MasterCard to take all of their credit cards. If that rule ends and retailers can dictate which credit cards they will accept, those with the highest merchant fees — and most generous rewards — likely would be rejected, the report explained.

The news comes on the heels of a $6.2 billion settlement with MasterCard and Visa. Retailers across the country had sued the credit card companies, accusing them of fixing prices on card swipe fees to benefit banks. However, some retailers, including Target, may opt out of the settlement to continue their case in court, according to the Minneapolis/St. Paul Business Journal.

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Amazon adds delivery, pickup services to more Whole Foods stores

BY Deena M. Amato-McCoy

Amazon wants more Whole Foods Market customers to take advantage of its time-saving online delivery options.

The online giant on Wednesday said it has launched free two-hour delivery from Whole Foods through Prime Now in 10 more cities across Michigan, Florida, Wisconsin, Nebraska, Florida, Missouri, and Oklahoma. It will also be expanding into more areas across New York City and Seattle.

The program offers Prime members two-hour delivery for free and ultra-fast delivery within one hour for $7.99 on orders of $35 or more. The service is now available in 48 cities, according to Amazon.

In addition, the online retailer now offers its grocery pickup service in Whole Foods Markets stores operating in Fort Worth, Texas; Kennesaw, Georgia; and Richmond, Virginia. The service, which launched last month in Sacramento and Virginia Beach, enables Prime members to pick up their order at a local Whole Foods Market store within an hour — without leaving their car.

Customers can choose free pickup within an hour on orders of $35. A $4.99 fee applies orders ready within 30 minutes. More cities will be added throughout 2018.

Amazon’s curbside service takes a swipe at rivals Walmart and Target, as well as supermarket operators, including Kroger, Publix and H-E-B, which also offer drive-up grocery pickup options.

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