This article was originally published in the Summer 2019 issue of The Record. Subscribe for FREE here to get the next issue delivered directly to your inbox.
A recent study from Capgemini titled Building The Retail Superstar: How unleashing AI across functions offers a multi-billion dollar opportunity found that retailers are expected to spend around US$7.3 billion on artificial intelligence (AI) each year. The industry is lucrative and rewards those who capitalise on the technology, enabling savings of up to US$340 billion.
One business who is making particular efforts to use AI is Marks and Spencer (M&S). The British clothing, homeware and food retailer is implementing Microsoft technology such as machine learning and computer vision across all touchpoints – in store and behind the scenes.
“M&S is transforming into a digital-first retailer at a time when the sector is undergoing a customer-led revolution,” said Steve Rowe, chief executive of M&S. “We want to be at the forefront of driving value into the customer experience using the power of technology.
“Working with Microsoft to understand the full potential of how technology and AI can improve the in-store experience for our customers and the efficiencies of our wider operations could be a game changer for M&S – and for retail.”
Through its collaboration with Microsoft, every surface, screen and scanner will create data. AI will then gain insights from it and enable employees to make decisions. M&S aims to combine intelligent edge devices with Microsoft Azure-based to improve the customer experience and enhance operations for optimal productivity.
One way the retailer aims to do this is through computer vision. Cameras can spot when an item is dropped, resulting in an unexpected stock reduction. The computer can then log an entry in the stock system and communicate alerts to appropriate staff, enabling M&S to track, manage and replenish stock levels and deal with unexpected events.
Another way Microsoft can optimise the customer experience is through the physical location of products in store. One aisle may be congested due to the popularity of its products. Microsoft’s cognitive services can assess this and create a solution, such as moving products to a different section of the store. In this instance, technology can help M&S satisfy demand by having the right products in the right places and improve the store design and product promotion.
“We firmly believe that AI has the power to amplify human ingenuity,” said Cindy Rose, chief executive of Microsoft UK. “The retail sector is one of the most challenging landscapes in the UK right now and we are thrilled to be working with M&S to explore how AI can help such an iconic brand transform the customer experience and improve wider operations.”
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