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Artificial Intelligence takes centre stage at NRF 2018

By Retail Technology | Tuesday January 16 2018

Artificial Intelligence is almost becoming the ubiquitous technology as it seems in some way or other to find its way into pretty much every IT solution in the marketplace - even if it is far from clear whether it is actually required, writes Glynn Davis of

At Retail’s Big Show, organised by the NRF, this year AI is unavoidable. It has been included in many of the presentations on the stages and on the show floor at the vendors’ booths. 

Chris Palmer, cognitive offering lead at IBM, says there is much hype around AI. He said: “We’ve had our successes with Watson but I tell the teams to talk about it realistically. Everyone else seems to say they are using AI even if it’s not real. Some companies are over-promising. I think we [at IBM] are turning a corner where we know where it works and where it does not.”

It has certainly been successful in the area of chatbots where IBM has worked with the likes of Staples, North Face and 1-800 Flowers to bring in conversational commerce and the ability to answer queries. He reveals that the latter has helped push up revenue over the previous year by 6.3% and that 80% of customers would use it again as a way to order goods. 


The next big growth area for AI he believes is with the supply chain, buying and merchandising  - that could include bringing AI in to assist fashion designers by identifying trends through visual recognition. “We could look at all the runway photos over years and see the frequency of colours at different shows. We can look at all this unstructured data and use it to inform the designers,” says Palmer.

Using AI for visual recognition is also evident in the solution from Slyce that is working with many retailers including Macy’s, Tommy Hilfiger and Home Depot to provide them with visual product searches. By taking a photo of a product and searching on it there is typically a 60% higher conversion rate. AI is a fundamental element of the solution’s ability to recognise products and become increasingly more accurate over time.

Intel is also involved with AI through retailers who are using its chips to power such capabilities. One such example is with Lolli & Pops that will shortly roll out a solution that uses facial recognition to identify customers as they come into the store and then use AI to make product recommendations based on things like their previous purchases.

Although it is clear that AI is being linked to far too many solutions - including some where it might not be relevant - there is little doubt that it will play an increasingly important role in enabling retailers to enhance the experience for their customers 

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