On Thursday August 6th 2020, CrowdANALYTIX’ Global Accounts Manager Alex Ramirez gathered a small group of experts for a chat about how AI and automation technologies can help the retail industry survive and even achieve growth, particularly in the face of the current pandemic. On the call were CrowdANALYTIX’ CEO Divyabh Mishra, CEO of SDI Systems Krish Nathan, and GM of Artificial Intelligence for Retail and CPG at NVIDIA Azita Martin.
Divyabh, Krish, and Azita all work in AI and automation technologies and provide solutions to retailers across industries, many of whom are finding that the proper adoption of these technologies means the difference between success and failure as shopping moves massively online. eCommerce grew by 76% in the past year, and this rapid change has pushed retailers to turn to automation solutions to keep up with demand by scaling their online product catalogs, optimizing their online customer experience, and adjusting their distribution centers to fulfill customer needs.
The conversation was structured around three core concerns for the retail industry:
- How the recent surge in eCommerce is impacting retail distribution operations
- How digital transformation and AI-driven technology can help retail companies quickly adjust their sourcing and distribution strategy, cut costs, and maximize profits
- How the latest technological advancements in AI and DC automation are bringing about a new generation of solutions that were not possible a few years ago
Divyabh began by outlining how AI can address retail concerns in this crucial moment as eCommerce becomes many business’ primary means of sale. He focused on the top three challenges that retail needs to address with AI and automation right away:
- Making products discoverable
- Having the right product assortment
- Scaling fulfillment operations
Azita followed up by explaining how consumer behavior is rapidly and drastically changing, agreeing that discoverability and product assortment have become crucial. She also highlighted how recommendation systems are becoming more important as sales move online.
Krish then discussed why retailers should consider their eCommerce distribution plans in the very long-term, not as temporary fixes for a problem that will soon be resolved*. Like the other panelists, Krish believes that customer behavior is changing permanently and that traditional retail sales will not make much of a resurgence. This is why retailers must consider this total disruption a permanent change, from both a supply chain and an assortment perspective.
Azita was invited to describe how some of the largest retailers NVIDIA works with are leveraging AI solutions to maintain and grow their sales. She identified five key areas in which AI has made these retailers highly competitive:
- Health & Safety (of particular importance during and after the current pandemic)
- Intelligent Stores
- DC Automation
Because fulfillment is probably the biggest bottleneck faced by retailers as they are forced to scale their operations, Krish was asked to share some recent examples of how his business and other DC automation solution suppliers are assisting. He highlighted two key areas where automating fulfillment centers can make retailers competitive:
- Enhancing speed, because companies like Amazon have accustomed buyers to receiving their items rapidly. This is also how online retailers can compete with brick-and-mortar stores where customers are able to get their items same-day.
- Improving accuracy, because whereas a retail storefront might be able to absorb an inaccurate shipment fairly easily, a customer receiving an incorrect order means an immediate complaint and lowered customer satisfaction.
Azita then discussed how NVIDIA is helping AI companies optimize their solutions to offer retailers the best in artificial intelligence and automation. Although NVIDIA has traditionally focused on graphics and gaming, they are able to optimize training algorithms through their software libraries, a process which provides companies like CrowdANALYTIX with more accurate solutions and saves the end-users money by providing much better value for their investment.
Alex wrapped up the discussion by asking each panelist what they would most recommend that retail companies do right away; in other words, what should a retailer’s first priority be when it comes to implementing AI and automation technologies right now? Krish’s recommendation was to make a plan for dealing with constant increase in demand through online channels, which is unlikely to recede. In his opinion, the key pieces of this plan should be item-level fulfillment solutions, in-house software platforms, and 24/7 after-sales support, all of which can be achieved through strategic implementation of AI and automation.
Azita agreed with Krish and added that retailers should look at four to five AI use cases that most drive customer satisfaction and efficiency, because agility is and will remain the most important retail skill for success. Divyabh concluded by adding a technical roadblock that he thinks retailers must address: they often want to leverage AI solutions, but they have not prepared their businesses for implementation. This is usually a problem with their data, which is often unstructured or low-quality. Divyabh’s suggestion is that any retailer’s first step should be to structure their data using an AI solution that auto-classifies and auto-tags every type of information.
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