A Whole New Customer Experience: AI-Powered Retail

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is no new concept in the retail world, but retailers are still learning how to harness this tool and bring it to life in the ‘real world’. Today we will be discussing the recent collaboration between Alibaba and Guess as an example of how AI could be applied to retail stores in the future, particularly for fashion retail in this specific case.

What was this collaboration all about?

Alibaba and Guess launched a new concept store in Hong Kong to demonstrate how AI can improve the in-store shopping experience. How? By using FashionAI technology to create a ‘smart shopping experience’ that merges the online and offline shopping journey.

The store set out to demonstrate how AI can create a seamless experience by eliminating customer pain points, such as not being able to find an item that matches, having to carry around multiple items, or lack of adequate fitting room service. The list goes on.

How does the store work?

First, the customer checks in with their mobile Taobao ID code, and has the option to consent to a face scan if they would like the optimal personalised experience. The customer is then free to shop till they drop.

All items are equipped with gyro sensors and radio-frequency identification (RFID) chips, meaning that as a customer browses items, the item they hold will automatically appear on a nearby smart mirror.

At this point, the customer can proceed to purchase these items, or continue to the fitting room. The difference here is that rather than having to carry items, the customer can add the items to their virtual shopping cart and make their way over hands free while the staff prepare their fitting room for them.

If the customer likes, they can scan their Taobao ID code to connect their account to the mirror. From here, the mirror can make colour changes, or alert staff if a different size or style is required to be brought to the fitting room.

If the customer is indecisive, they can choose to view the virtual wardrobe on Mobile Taobao to not only see what they have previously tried on instore, but also mix-and-match other options from multiple other brands on Alibaba’s sites. The AI technology can also recommend items based on the customer’s personal style and suggests new ideas for them. Not bad, hey?

What does all this mean?

Alibaba and Guess have created what they envision to be the future of fashion retail- an integration of modern technology and the physical retail store. They have also recognised that a customer is after more than a product- they are after an experience, and are suggesting that AI could be the answer to enhancing this experience for the better.

Whilst this concept store may be an exciting pop-up project, the true test will be if stores like this can move beyond the concept stage. AI presents multiple opportunities to make customer experience a personalised and seamless one BUT it cannot do it all on its own.

AI is dependent- it still needs humans for crucial parts of the shopping process, such as retrieving stock and serving customers. When a customer goes into a store, they expect to have contact with a real person. If a customer does not want this contact, they have the option to shop online. Although it’s clear that AI technology will continue to be an enabler of improved customer experience, it must be remembered that it is not the entire solution.

You might be excited about the future of AI in retail stores, or you may still be skeptical. Either way, we are anticipating that only more brands will be coming forward with their latest AI experimentations as this technology continues to develop.