Artificial intelligence will be important this holiday shopping season even if shoppers don’t know it


Customers with questions about their online orders this holiday shopping season may think they're asking a seasonal worker for help, but artificial intelligence (AI) is likely giving them the information they need.

Technology of all kinds is being used on the back end of retail, to organize inventory and manage other operational functions. Whether it's chatting with a bot or with Alexa, AI is also increasingly becoming a part of the consumer-facing shopping process in ways that, at least for now, are about improving customer service.

According to the latest Accenture data, a majority of consumers are already using or would like to use a number of technologies that are powered by AI when shopping, including chatbots ("automated intelligent customer assistance," 65%), virtually trying on clothing (65%), and voice commerce systems like Google home (68%) and Amazon Alexa (71%).

Personalization, ease and convenience are key to better customer service in retail, whether that's through supply chain management and making sure items are in stock and can be sent to customers in a timely fashion, or through services designed to cater to the preferences of the individual shopper.

"Customers are running into it every day and probably don't know it," said Pano Anthos, managing director of XRC Labs, an accelerator program that's focused on innovation in retail and consumer goods. "You're on a site and a chat window opens and says 'hi,' it's probably natural language processing and that's AI."

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Nancy Geduldxrc