Artificial Intelligence and the Future of Retail

By Courtney Watts

Two weeks ago, I joined over 33,000 others in New York City at NRF’s Big Show, the premier gathering for retail’s leaders and innovators. Hundreds of exhibitors were there to show off their latest and greatest in retail tech. Nearly every conversation I had with a retailer or industry expert was focused on AI and its impact on the future of retail. In this new and present era of digital transformation, businesses that do not adapt will find themselves falling behind very quickly.

How AI will continue to shape the future of retail:


Big data is increasingly being used to gain insight into retail at a faster pace and with more accuracy than human intuition. It allows retailers the ability to bring personalized, feel-good experiences that you might receive in-store, into the digital world. AI can already understand my style and adapt recommendations for me as I shop. Amazon has been doing this for a while now, and other online retailers are starting to follow suit. This ‘in the moment’ personalization makes every online shopping experience more valuable for shoppers and retailers.


Digital assistants and automated customer service bots are becoming more common across the industry. Having a well-made chat service will complement the welcoming sales associate in physical stores. A good chatbot can answer some of the common questions shoppers have, providing product recommendations and explaining deals and offers. The key, however, is to design an experience that feels authentic, and not robotic.

Sephora, H&M and even high-end fashion brands are turning to chatbot tools as their modern concierges. Last April, Facebook opened up its chatbot tool, allowing companies to connect with customers using AI. This scenario will continue to be the norm for retailers, making shopping seem more like a conversation and less like interacting with a search engine.

Visual Search

Lately, brands are obsessed with making images ‘shoppable’. In a move ahead of its time, Pinterest introduced a visual search tool that lets you zoom in on a particular object in an image to discover similar images. As a site with a plethora of rich, visual data, it makes sense to leverage deep learning to optimize this experience, and it’s a major step in transforming how we shop and search online. Similarly, the ShopBot on Facebook Messenger searches eBay for you. You can text a picture of what you’re looking for and the bot will make recommendations based on similar images off its site.

Making operations more efficient behind the scenes

Retailers like Amazon have been forward thinking in embracing AI to optimize not only customer demand, but also supply chain logistics. AI can help make sure products are in the right places and predict which products will sell out faster than others.

At every step of the buyer’s journey, AI is positioned to deliver tangible and important experiences for both retailers and consumers. It is no longer the lore of science fiction, but a reality that is already present in our everyday lives.

Retail and nearly every other industry is shifting because of AI and machine learning. If you’re interested in the AI world and want to learn more sign up for our AI and Machine Learning newsletter!


About the author

Courtney is a Client Partner at TribalScale, helping our clients bring innovative ideas to life. After spending time early in her career in human rights and international education nonprofits, Courtney became passionate about how businesses leverage technology and innovation to make the world a better place. After getting her Master’s in International Business in Boston, she ventured into the tech and digital space (both enterprise and startup) and hasn’t looked back. Originally from the states, her work and study experience spans across the US, Latin America, Spain, India and China… and as of last year, Canada!

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