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TECHNOLOGY

Study: Key decision makers look to AI for ongoing success

BY Deena M. Amato-McCoy

Artificial intelligence (AI) is increasingly topping IT wish lists as a means of improving business decisions and providing personalization.

That’s according to a new report from PwC, “Bot.Me: A Revolutionary Partnership.” The study, surveyed consumers and business decision makers on AI’s impact in the business world, the evolution of AI acceptance by consumers and AI’s changing role in addressing socioeconomic issues.

The study found that 63% of consumers agree that AI will help solve complex problems that plague modern societies. One of those issues is cybersecurity. Specifically, 68% of consumers are bullish on AI’s importance in solving cyberthreats and privacy.

AI could also be the competitive edge that companies, including retailers, need for longevity. For example, 72% of business leaders believe AI will give them a competitive advantage in the future. Meanwhile, 55% of executives believe AI’s potential to boost business productivity, inform strategy and generate growth outweighs the potential downside of employment concerns, the study said.

AI could also be the conduit companies need to efficiently reach its most loyal and profitable shoppers. For example, 67% of participants stated that leveraging AI will help humans and machines work together, and combine digital and human intelligences in the best ways possible.

One of the results of this combination will be better delivering a “superior one-to-one experience” — a priority for 63% of business leaders.

And it appears that consumers are caring less and less if that experience comes from a human or a bot. In fact, 64% of respondents stated they would rather have instant access to quality customer service than preserve the jobs of customer service representatives, according to the study.

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TECHNOLOGY

J.C. Penney in big beauty expansion

BY Marianne Wilson

J.C. Penney is expanding its partnership with beauty giant Sephora, online and offline.

The retailer announced it will open 70 new in-store Sephora shops in Penney locations and also expand 32 existing shops by nearly 50% to accommodate more products and services. As part of the expansion, Penney will hire 800 beauty consultants. Sephora shops will be featured in nearly in nearly 650 Penney stores in 2017.

"Creating a best-in-class beauty experience in stores is one of our biggest advantages over the competition,” said Marvin R. Ellison, chairman and CEO of J.C. Penney. “Since establishing the first Sephora inside J.C. Penney over 10 years ago, beauty has become a formidable growth strategy that makes our brick-and-mortar stores a dynamic and inspiring place to shop."

Online, Penney is expanding its Sephora offerings to include a broader assortment of products, tools, shades, colors and fragrances. It’s also planning to introduce a new online feature that will enable customers to book a makeover with a Sephora beauty consultant.

"We are also taking an omnichannel approach to shopping Sephora inside J.C. Penney by strengthening our technology and infrastructure to reach new beauty customers through JCPenney.com,” Ellison said. We've launched the ability for customers to purchase Sephora online and pick up their order at a J.C. Penney store the same day.”

Penney’s in-store Sephora shops feature an open-sell environment encompassing up to 2,600 sq. ft. of cosmetics, skincare, fragrance and beauty accessories.

"We are exceptionally proud of our Sephora inside J.C. Penney partnership. J.C. Penney is a powerhouse retailer, and we are excited to share the Sephora experience with even more J.C. Penney customers this year," said Satish Malhotra, executive VP and COO of Sephora Americas.

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TECHNOLOGY

NRF: Mother’s Day spending to reach record-high

BY Deena M. Amato-McCoy

Whether treating mom to jewelry or a special outing at her favorite restaurant, consumers plan to spend more than ever on Mother’s Day.

Specifically, Mother’s Day shoppers are expected to spend an average of $186.39 for the holiday, up from last year’s $172.22, according to the National Retail Federation’s annual survey, which tapped 7,406 consumers about their Mother’s Day plans. The study was conducted by Prosper Insights & Analytics.

With 85% of consumers planning to celebrate the holiday, total spending is expected to reach $23.6 billion. That’s the highest number in the survey’s 14-year history, topping last year’s previous record of $21.4 billion.

“With spring in full bloom, many Americans are looking forward to splurging on their mothers,” said NRF’s president and CEO Matthew Shay. “Retailers will be ready with a wide range of gift options and a variety of promotions for their customers.”

According to the survey, consumers plan to spend $5 billion on jewelry (purchased by 36% of shoppers), $4.2 billion on special outings, such as dinner or brunch (56%), $2.6 billion on flowers (69%), $2.5 billion on gift cards (45%), $2.1 billion on clothing (37%), $2 billion on consumer electronics (15%), and $1.9 billion on personal services, such as a spa day (24%).

The overall increase is expected to be driven largely by spending on jewelry, which is up 19%, and personal services, up 15%.

When it comes to “gifts of experience,” such as tickets to a concert, 28% want to receive such a gift, compared with 24% last year. Younger consumers in particular may be looking to create a special memory, with nearly half under the age of 35 planning to give such a gift.

“Consumers are opening up their wallets a little bit more to celebrate the women with the most important jobs in the world on Mother’s Day,” said Prosper principal analyst Pam Goodfellow. “We will see older Millennials (25-34) spend the most, and younger consumers will put their online shopping skills to good use to purchase the perfect gift.”

When searching for that perfect gift, 35% of consumers will head to department stores, 3% will shop at specialty stores such as florists, jewelers or electronics stores, and 24% plan to shop at a local small business. Meanwhile, 30% will shop online, up from 27% last year. Among smartphone owners, 34% will research gift ideas on their phones while 19% will use them to make a purchase, the study said.

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