The National Retail Federation convention, currently taking place at the Javits Convention Center in Manhattan, showcases the future of retail by introducing AI-powered virtual assistants.
Developed by bitHuman, an interactive AI platform, these virtual assistants aim to revolutionize the retail experience by providing information and assistance to customers, potentially altering the landscape of retail employment.
AI-powered virtual assistants: Shaping the retail landscape
BitHuman’s virtual assistants, powered by advanced language models and generative AI, are set to demonstrate their capabilities during this year’s National Retail Federation convention. These lifelike digital helpers can answer questions, guide attendees to event locations, and offer insights into retail’s future applications.
According to Steven Gu, CEO and co-founder of bitHuman, AI-generated sales associates could soon be commonplace in physical stores, assisting shoppers in finding products and placing online orders for out-of-stock items.
The recent holiday season demonstrated the effectiveness of AI in driving online sales through personalized recommendations, targeted marketing, and content generation. Now, retailers are exploring ways to integrate these AI tools into the in-store shopping experience.
Despite initial concerns of a spending slowdown or recession, U.S. retailers witnessed a successful holiday season in 2023, with total retail sales, excluding automobiles and gas, increasing by 3.07% year-over-year in December. This unexpected resilience in the face of inflation and global uncertainty has instilled a sense of guarded optimism among retailers as they enter 2024.
Brett Banner, Senior Vice President of Strategy at PriceSpider, emphasizes the importance of creative and personalized shopping experiences. Retailers increasingly focus on using AI to understand consumer behavior in real-time, enabling them to tailor product recommendations and marketing strategies accordingly.
AI investments on the rise
According to Nvidia’s State of AI in Retail and CPG survey, retailers are betting on AI to drive growth, with 64% planning to expand their AI infrastructure investments over the next 18 months. Of those, 34% intend to increase their investments by more than 15%. The survey also reveals that 69% of retailers credit AI with increasing their annual revenue, while 72% report a decrease in operating costs thanks to AI.
As identified by the survey, the top five current uses of AI in retail include personalized customer recommendations, store analytics, loss prevention, augmented reality experiences, and automated marketing content generation. The adoption of AI in the retail sector is further along than expected, with 76% of surveyed retailers already using AI or planning to pilot it.
AI’s role in physical stores
AI is not limited to online retail; it also makes its mark in physical stores. Cynthia Countouris, Nvidia’s Director of Product Marketing for Retail, CPG, and QSR, predicts AI will provide insights into shopper behavior in physical stores like online sales. Computer vision and AI analytics enable retailers to optimize store operations, merchandising, layout, and inventory management based on real-time consumer data.
Generative AI is poised to enhance in-store shopping experiences by offering on-the-spot product recommendations and information through screens in the aisles. These screens can also serve as platforms for retail media networks and consumer goods advertising.
AI-generated product descriptions
AI’s impact extends to crafting product descriptions. Kristin Naragon, Chief Strategy and Marketing Officer at Akeneo, highlights generative AI’s use in creating detailed and accurate product descriptions that drive sales.
AI can significantly accelerate the product enrichment process when employed effectively, reducing manual labor and improving conversion rates. For example, one retailer experienced a 300% increase in conversion and an 80% reduction in manual catalog production using AI-powered solutions.
BitHuman, based in San Francisco, is taking center stage at the NRF show with its virtual assistants on 65-inch vertical screens. These lifelike virtual greeters can assist customers by providing information, locating products, and facilitating online purchases for out-of-stock items. Such virtual assistants aim to enhance the customer experience by reducing the need to seek assistance from human employees.
Steven Gu, CEO of bitHuman, envisions a “phygital” experience that combines the physical and digital realms. Virtual assistants can bridge the gap between online and in-store shopping, offering seamless solutions for customers. They can provide QR codes and online links for out-of-stock products, making the shopping experience more convenient.