Primed and ready: how to embrace AI in retail marketing

By Mike Harris, International Vice President and General Manager at Bluecore

Artificially intelligent (AI) retail solutions are quickly gathering pace around the world. Whether it’s facial recognition scans to find the perfect make up or robots scanning supermarket shelves, many brands are changing the in-store shopping experience to benefit customers and improve efficiencies. But what is happening in online marketing? In an era where technology is getting smarter, retailers are in the eye of a perfect storm but are they embracing AI to help their marketers communicate with consumers?

The explosion in customer data over the last decade has left us at a stage where AI is no longer a choice. Modern email service providers (ESPs), for example, incorporate machine learning to address this growth in customer information and help marketers deliver effective campaigns that meet consumer expectations for personalised messaging.

A shift in artificial expectations

AI technology can sift through the vast amounts of data associated with retail much more efficiently than humans can. AI analyses data exceptionally quickly, makes smart decisions on how to use it and takes action without the manual work that currently takes place behind the scenes. This enables retailers to see the forest through the trees and understand the complex tapestry that is consumer data overlaid with a variety of product and behavioural attributes.

Retail will see more potential from marketing and sales AI applications because the frequent digital interactions between business and customers generate large data sets for AI techniques to tap into. Given this potential, marketing is moving from the era of customer lists to the era of AI. Having previously worked in siloed channel execution teams which were using separate lists created from a single source (that do not offer context about customer behaviours), marketers can now operate in an integrated environment where they can observe all data in one place and decide and act accordingly at the drop of a hat.

Seizing opportunities

The era of AI offers retailers an abundance of opportunities. Now, it’s possible to make data more accessible and actionable to all business users – gone are the days of endless back and forth between IT, CRM, and marketing teams in order to communicate with customers. With AI, the manual work of observing, deciding, acting is taken care of and frees digital teams up to be more strategic. Marketers can focus on campaign goals – such as increasing email revenue and pushing individual products – rather than tactical, time-consuming tasks like pulling customer lists. AI and machine learning (ML) technology also delivers feedback insights, making the data more useful because it can be used to optimise campaigns in real time. For instance, if a customer clicks on a certain product within an email or does not open the email at all, that data is automatically fed back into the system to make the next message more relevant.

Seizing such opportunities means overcoming a few hurdles – which is natural with new technology. For instance, introducing any new technology requires approval from multiple stakeholders, so finding a tool that is proven to deliver results quickly is an important factor to secure buy-in. And for AI-driven tools in particular, it’s important to debunk misconceptions about the technology making autonomous decisions that may damage the integrity of the established relationships with consumers or be misaligned with brand standards. Whether it’s responding to shopper behaviour (subscribing to email marketing) or meeting customer demands (only wanting to receive two emails a week), AI relies on existing data to function properly and will not distort live campaigns.

Instead of worrying about potentially being overwhelmed by the capabilities of their AI-enabled campaigns, the appropriate tool ensures marketers remain in the driver’s seat and can ease into the level of control they give to the technology. The proper AI tool empowers marketers to manage and optimise campaigns effectively, deliver on achieving targets and be more efficient.

Simplifying tasks, conquering complexities

The era of AI has come but marketers are more ready than they may think they are. New technologies are both exciting and carry new challenges but adopting AI in retail marketing is progressive, not disruptive. AI will help solve internal complexities – both technological and organisational – and ensure digital retail growth happens faster.

To successfully move into the era of AI, retailers need a system that provides data analysts and marketers alike with visibility into customer data and the ability to act on those insights quickly. Marketers are only just beginning to unlock new opportunities that will help them improve their own performance and as well as reap the business benefits of AI in retail.

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