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Time for retailers to swap DIY for AI?

By Retail Technology | Friday January 10 2020

Have you made a New Year resolution? If you’re a retailer it should be to embrace AI, argues Blue Yonder founder Michael Feindt

I can’t be the only one to have lined up a spot of DIY for the Christmas and New Year break. It can be good to get those projects in the house finally completed, but there’s always the risk that if you rush into the project without reading the instructions, you will end up with a lopsided wardrobe or a chair with one leg fitted the wrong way around. We are all human!

While these kinds of DIY blunders are usually salvageable, the same can’t always be said in a business environment.

You could argue that, in recent years, insights from Artificial Intelligence (AI) have become like instructions that businesses need to follow. Failing to take advantage of the insights AI can provide, instead assuming that humans know better, could be a recipe for disaster in the long term. But if you have Machine Learning (ML) in the mix when a computer makes a mistake, it won’t make it again – which is much better than humans, many of whom can repeat the same mistake countless times.

In a retail environment, one error can have huge implications. Larger organisations may need to make tens of millions of decisions each day regarding stock, price points, product placements and even marketing activities. The probability of any person – no matter how skilled – making these decisions accurately, all the time, it’s fair to say, is fairly unlikely.

Breaking barriers

As we stride into 2020, more retailers are beginning to figure out how to apply AI and ML, treating it as the instruction manual that can allow them to leave a DIY approach in the past. However, before they can be provided with instructions by AI and ML, there are challenges to overcome. Those who are stuck in a rut of traditional methods are likely to face resistance to new technologies that have the potential to help them reduce waste or prevent stock shortages.

If human impulse is allowed to override logic, businesses will put themselves in danger. Retailers have to leave behind the “we have always done things this way” attitude, as it creates an immediate resistance towards new technologies that have been designed to help them reduce waste and prevent stock shortage. Those who find it impossible to break the impasse might find creating a dedicated tech or data science team is a way forward, but this solution is always prone to error, especially if the right data points are not made available, or are not reliable enough.

During peak times such as Christmas, where retail is sent into a frenzy by new trends and different purchasing patterns, this could cause chaos. That’s why adopting AI and ML is so crucial – it can help retailers tread the line perfectly between the two, ensuring there is enough on the shelves to keep customers happy, and items don’t have to be left in stock rooms deteriorating and losing value.

A plan for success

The new decade must be a new dawn for retailers, who need to transition from making all the decisions themselves to trusting algorithms and data-based probabilities. It’s the most strategic decision a retailer can make, and it’s a mindset by shift that alleviates human insecurity while making business operations more accurate and financially stable than ever before.

However, achieving this goal requires careful thought and strategy, which is where an external help could prove useful in terms of overseeing the transition to AI/ML adoption, and advising on approaches to help decision-makers understand that they are still driving the overall strategy of the company, but they need to leave their new system unhindered as it calculates the best way to reach the business goals it has been given. For this to happen, you need a culture shift to take place across the entire company. Relinquishing control will naturally be a daunting prospect for C-Level executives, so it’s vital to carefully and comprehensively detail the reasons why you’re shedding DIY, and embracing AI.

Making AI your new year’s resolution

Humans are wary of change, especially in this case, when it can appear that jobs or responsibilities are being put at risk. However, it’s ‘smoke and mirrors’ that AI and ML adoption will cause conflict and backlash – maintaining and spreading positivity is absolutely vital. After all, these new technologies will make people perform better, rather than replace them.

There’s clear, tangible, evidence showing retailers that they can make significantly better decisions than they are currently. In 2020, companies who are making worse decisions than the majority of their competitors will quite abruptly, and perhaps disastrously, realise the mistake they made in continuing to do things themselves. The ones who have taken the time to adopt AI and ML will, on the other hand, be able to stride into the new year with their best foot forward, confident of getting the new decade off to the best possible start.


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