When it comes to AI’s emerging role in shaping and defining the retail space and experience, most of the discussion focuses — and for many valid reasons — on back-end strategic applications like supply chain planning, or customer touchpoint applications like personalized product recommendations. However, there is another stakeholder in the mix that is also poised to benefit from the rise of AI: employees.
According to Jeff Yapp, the CEO of Portland, Oregon-based consulting agency Wutznxt, here are three key ways that AI is empowering retail employees:
1. Driving Employee Engagement and Job Satisfaction
While employee disengagement is a problem in all sectors, it is chronic in the retail space. Through applications like virtual agents built on the Microsoft Dynamics 365 AI platform, AI liberates retail from repetitive (read: tedious and mind-numbing) tasks, so they can engage customers and deliver meaningful value — which, more than compensation or perks, is the core building block of lasting engagement and job satisfaction.
According to Jeff Yapp, contrary to what some commentators have suggested, AI in the retail space will not make employees obsolete. Rather, it will liberate employees to use their communication skills and creativity. Employees, regardless of the products in their portfolio — it could be sporting goods, home appliances, or anything else — will go from order takers to facilitators.
2. Helping Achieve Quotas and Targets
It doesn’t matter whether a retail employee is compensated through commission, salary or a combination of both: the fact remains that all employees need to meet quotas and target, both individually and team based. This is another area where AI is clearly an ally and not an enemy.
For example, AI helps employees provide personalized service and in-context answers to every customer, which goes a long way towards advancing them along the buyer’s journey. It also ensures that employees proactively provide alternative recommendations for out-of-stock items and take advantage of upselling opportunities that can be combined with special offers and promotions. The end result is that customers are positioned to buy more in a shorter period of time, and employees are positioned to achieve quotas and targets.
According to Jeff Yapp, this is also another area where AI helps retail employees shine and provide a level of value that cannot be replicated entirely through e-commerce. We are already reaching a point where more customers are heading to brick-and-mortar stores because they want to, not because they can’t get what they need online. In fact, studies reveal that 70% of U.S. millennials appreciate a retailer using AI technology to show more interesting products.
of U.S. millennials appreciate a retailer using AI tech to show more interesting products
3. Ensuring Sufficient Staff Coverage
The bane of career existence for many retail employees is knowing long before they arrive to work, that there are not going to be enough staff members to handle the crush — which means frustrated and at times irate customers, impatient supervisors and managers, and flustered colleagues who can’t lend a hand because they’re already up to their eyeballs in work. That’s where AI enters the picture and makes a transformative difference.
Through tools like Microsoft Azure IoT Suite, Cortana Intelligence Suite, and Power BI technology, retailers can use predictive analytics and remote sensors to better understand and account for shifts in demand — and consequently, shifts in worker coverage — in light of weather, holidays, time of year, and other variables.
Jeff Yapp concludes that using data to anticipate staffing needs does more than make life categorically better for employees. It also boosts customer experience and overall sales, which makes profits categorically better for retailers. Simply put, everyone wins.