The retail industry has come a long way in the last two decades from the traditional bricks-and-mortar only to the emergence of pure play ecommerce and the rise of omnichannel. Artificial intelligence (AI) has been bubbling away in the background for sometime, particularly with marketing to customers – this is only the tip of the iceberg though.

The explosion of ChatGPT and generative AI this year has paved the way for a wealth of possibilities in how the technology can be deployed. And one thing is certain, AI is only going to help businesses make smarter decisions, cultivating a seamless experience for both retailers and shoppers.

Work smarter, not harder

Whether you’re a solo-preneur or running a larger ecommerce store, AI is going to impact your business. These impacts can equate to lower overheads, improved operational efficiency and more time to focus on the human elements of the business. Think of AI as like the left side of your brain, crunching all the data, while you can focus on that right-brain creativity and innovation for the business.

Retailers are already leveraging AI to do laborious and time-consuming tasks like managing inventory which once took hours to do manually or triggering personalised marketing emails.

Automating these tasks not only minimises the risk of human error but also gives more time for analysing the data and making strategic decisions. If an item isn’t selling, what could be the reason? Or, if products keep selling out, how can the business minimise the time to restock?

AI can help inform more of these decisions without you having to give them so much as a second thought.

Build a loyal customer base

Beyond automating some of these more traditional manual tasks though, the emergence of generative AI can do wonders to help improve the customer experience.

While you might be naturally inclined to question AI’s ability to help with something that seems innately human, there are ways that the technology can help strengthen customer experience and build a loyal customer base.

Generative AI is not only advancing how chatbots engage and help to answer customer queries both on the website and through a brand’s social channels. It can also assist with more sophisticated things like building online stores – and not just creating one interface for them either.

The technology can create personalised experiences for each customer based on their preferences and how they interact with the business. From showcasing the latest items from their favourite brands to creating different customer journeys based on spending patterns or loyalty tiers, there is no shortage of possibilities.

Powered by data and insights, AI is helping to optimise the customer experience across each touchpoint. The more personalised, seamless experience, the more likely customers will continue to return and become a brand’s biggest ambassador.

Scale for success

Ultimately, AI is going to help create more opportunities for success among small-to-medium sized retailers. The technology enables these businesses to do more with less, both efficiently and effectively.

Aside from the previously mentioned examples like inventory management, building websites and personalising the customer experience, AI can also help scale the business by driving traffic and new customer acquisition.

As generative AI continues to advance, retailers can leverage it to help with creating SEO-optimised content to boost traffic to the website. Use cases like this are particularly valuable for small teams that may be busy with other parts of the business.

How to prepare for what’s next?

Before you can even consider how you will use AI to bolster your business, it’s imperative you get your house in order – your data house that is. AI is only as good as the data that’s plugged into it.

Data points from across the customer and product journeys must be unified in one place. This includes across all of your channels and customer touchpoints – both online and offline, and including its own website, customer browsing history, emails and social channels – as well as across its entire operation.

Once you have looked at where your is stored, what’s missing and how it’s updated, you’ll have a better foundation for using AI both now and in the future.

The possibilities AI offers will only multiply with further advancements in the technology and as your data becomes completely unified. New shopping experiences will be created, businesses will have better oversight on how to improve their sustainability footprints and further optimisations will be possible thanks to AI.

If there is one thing for you to take away from this, it’s that the future of retail is going to be brain-powered by AI and all retailers – big, mid-sized and small – will be able to reap the benefits as long as they are willing to lay the foundations with their data.

Jon Levy is country manager for Australia at Shopline.