The Machines Are Coming: Cognitive Technology In Retail

Written by Ed Higdon on . Posted in Insight

Man paying with NFC technology on mobile phone, in restaurant

In 2011, a scrappy computer named Watson showed up as a contestant on the game show Jeopardy!, beating renowned champions Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter. The IBM team that developed Watson wanted to set out to prove one thing: machines could be trained to interpret and respond to natural language.

Watson’s handy win on Jeopardy! did just that, and now cognitive computing experts are setting out to use this technology to solve problems that humans struggle to solve at scale. Watson’s cognitive technology and advanced machine-learning capabilities were impressive on this global stage, and since then, the technology has been adopted for multiple applications, including retail.

How Big Data Is Driving Artificial Intelligence

Big data is driving the improvement of cognitive computing and artificial intelligence (AI). As companies find new ways of collecting and analyzing information, machines can become “smarter,” moving beyond simple and often limited question-and-answer applications like Siri. Big data allows machines to make accurate future predictions based on large data sets of images, text, speech and numbers. As more data is collected, models continue to improve and the technology becomes more available to industries like retail.

Beyond Automated Menus: Cognitive Technology and Customer Service

Cognitive technology can be used to enhance customer service far better than automated telephone menus or self-service helpdesks do today. For example, if a customer has an issue with a product, they can chat directly with a friendly-sounding and never-sour AI interface through a customer support portal. The machine can determine immediately whether or not a person needs to handle the issue. If not, the AI interface can walk the customer through the solution directly, having a significant impact on customer service resolutions and overall customer satisfaction. Imagine connecting customers to a solution instantly, rather than forcing them to wait on hold or navigate a complicated series of menus.

Personalizing Customer Interactions Through AI

Retailers can also use cognitive technology to improve messaging for cross-selling and upselling products. The machine can instantly process a shoppers entire buying history and customer profile to make highly relevant suggestions during the shopping process and at checkout.

While AI and cognitive computing may require no human interaction in cases of online shopping or telephone ordering, it can be incorporated into physical stores, as well. Today’s customers are more knowledgeable about the products they are shopping for than ever before, and they expect a high-level of personalized experience from store associates. Cognitive computing technology can give floor employees access to crucial data to help them guide shoppers to the right products at the right time, personalizing the in-store experience.

Cognitive technology and AI are stepping out of the “novelty” and “science fiction” categories and into the mainstream. Intelligent computing can help retailers enhance the customer experience like never before, for shoppers both online and offline.