In six short years, the retail AI market size is expected to cross $17 million. Both retail employees and retail consumers are no stranger to the ceaseless increase of AI in their day-to-day shopping experiences, but still, many brands find themselves struggling to fully adopt this technology or to pivot towards more advanced forms of AI. Why? Ongoing fear of what AI means on the storefront level—both customers and employees wonder what human touch they may lose or if even their job is at risk. AI holds huge benefits for those that embrace it, but it can break an organization when only half-heartedly adopted and hastily pushed on the storefront with no prior knowledge.
To get your organization on board with AI, from the HQ decision-makers to the entry-level store associates, it’s critical that you provide transparent background information and guide the pilot of AI. In this article, we’ll review three foundational tips to accelerate the use of AI as a storefront retailer:
Lay out the business case for storefront workers
One of the biggest roadblocks slowing down the adoption of AI in physical retail settings is a lack of understanding on the storefront level about how AI will help not only the business but also the employees’ day-to-day jobs. For many, a fear of AI reigns front and center, deterred by the perceived threat of their job being taken over.
However, retail leaders that are transparent about the business case for retail at all levels of the organization reap the benefits of freshly empowered and informed employees. Explain some of the major challenges in the industry—labor shortages and the demand for improved operational efficiency—and how retail AI will help create sustainable solutions for these problems without placing current storefront jobs in jeopardy. AI can reduce repetitive work and streamline daily operations so storefront workers have more time to provide personalized experiences for customers.
It’s also a great idea to provide examples of what this human-machine hybrid will look like before implementing any new programs so that your storefront associates can slowly begin to imagine their future differently: smart robots to conduct inventory, AI-based scheduling portals, or AI-supported insights for storefront workflows and next best actions.
A prime example of AI use on the storefront is Gap. Gap’s AI initiatives are focused on empowering associates with stronger customer insights and forecasting, such as dynamic data-driven forecasting for what products will sell best where and AI-based inventory management to better connect fulfillment centers with stores. These solutions don’t eliminate storefront workers, but rather elevate their jobs by removing tedious tasks in favor of higher-value actions.
Address the “what’s in it for me” for retail associates
After empowering your storefront staff with an understanding of the AI business case, they may still need some more convincing to readily adopt the changes. That’s why following up the business case with a strong “what’s in it for me” approach is critical in the industry. Key benefits AI provides storefront retail workers include the following:
—Better work-life balance as AI takes on the tasks previously taking too much associate time
—Less fatigue and repetitive work, making work more engaging and creating more time for professional development with associates
—Improved safety and less time behind a screen
What retail AI can never replace is the human interaction that many customers value. Especially as retail customers return in-person, they’re more eager for a return to “normal” interactions and connecting with people during their shopping experiences. As AI takes on the physical work behind the scenes (inventory, scheduling, demand forecasting), human associates can do more interpersonal work—a skill set that drew many retail workers to their positions to begin with. With AI providing more precise and efficient customer data, retail workers can better serve customers and focus on relationship-building rather than repetitive operational work behind the shop floor.
Promoting this approach early on not only will help retailers keep their current staff but also recruit more talented workers looking for meaningful jobs that still provide a chance for human interaction. As Katia Walsh, the AI officer for Levi Strauss and Co., sees it, retail is still all about connecting with the five C’s: consumers, commerce, creation, careers, and culture. To truly make those connections, you’ll need both AI and empowered storefront workers. So make sure your associates know how much you value the work they do and how AI will only serve to make their jobs more rewarding.
Identify change champions and stay engaged through piloting
Finally, after priming your employees with information and preparing all levels for AI, it’s critical you don’t neglect this next step for successful retail AI adoption: engage with the pilot and support especially helpful associates as “change champions.”
Many initial retail AI pilots begin with a select few stores, primed and ready to test the new program and provide valuable feedback. Decision-makers then use this feedback to evaluate where to expand the AI pilot next or how to improve the existing program for more valuable ROI. Throughout the gradual pilot expansion, it’s crucial that store associates understand the system, its intent, and what makes a new piece of technology worthwhile so they can provide the most accurate feedback possible. Involving associates from day one benefits the company not only by providing more reliable pilot evaluation data, but also encouraging early pilot adopters on the shop floor to become AI leaders and potentially mentor other locations to adopt as well.
Successful pilots lead to successful AI programs that eventually become mission-critical parts of driving sales for retailers. Brands like The Home Depot and Kroger now leverage AI-powered recommendation systems to both personalize and streamline the shopper’s experience without abandoning human connection altogether.
To prepare for AI adoption in storefront retail takes cooperation from all levels—and a clear digital transformation roadmap gives you a more holistic view of what’s at stake. Simplus can help roadmap the future for your brand as well as implement the AI-powered technology you’re looking for to advance your business. Reach out today.