The retail industry has been rocked by Covid-19. Brick and mortar stores struggle to implement sanitation protocols, shoppers bicker about wearing masks and social distancing, and business owners are wary to reopen without a clear path forward.
Perhaps AI is the voice we need to guide the way back to prosperity.
Artificial intelligence can usher in a new age of responsible retail, taking billions of data points into consideration as it reshapes the way we interact with the economy. Our demand for quality and convenience only grows, but our access to goods and services has been disrupted by the novel coronavirus. By engineering a new era of consumer/technology/retailer interfaces, AI may be able to restore our appetite for safe, satisfying spending.
Recouping our losses
2020 is on track to be a disastrous year for in-person shopping. Foot traffic dropped over 50% in France, Italy, and the United States. That number reaches a staggering 78% and 80% in the United Kingdom and Mexico, respectively.
While we yearn to enjoy face time with actual humans yet again, AI can bridge the gap by offering humanlike characteristics. Emotion AI is revolutionizing the retail industry by pioneering such techniques as facial recognition and vocal analytics. Your digital assistant can measure the pitch of your voice when you inquire about a new video game, for example. The AI can gauge how excited you are about the release and direct your search accordingly. It is like having a dedicated shopkeeper assigned to your spending spree. AI hangs on your every word and focuses its technological prowess on finding the exact match for your passionate interests.
Voice recognition can translate your mood into a sales strategy. If you sound hungry, your AI can serve up a smorgasbord of snack options to satiate your appetite. But, let’s face it: the predominant mood during the current pandemic is fear. To bring confidence back into the retail experience, AI is pioneering the art of touchless shopping. There is no need to share screens or sanitize smart devices thousands of times per day when your voice can trigger a transaction.
Now shifting from the micro to the macro, AI is compiling a new landscape of retail awareness. The vocal recognition your smart assistant utilized in the previous example (a video game release) can contribute to the game design company’s market research. If a majority of users who asked about a new title did so with measurable excitement in their voice, then the anticipation for the game release is palpable. This shapes the way the manufacturer will advertise the game to reach their core demographic directly and thoughtfully.
Emotion is the subtle vernacular of any consumer base, but it is inevitably clouded by uncertainty in the face of Covid-19. AI must adapt to our “new normal” and address the insecurities we all have when leaving the house to embark on a retail adventure. In addition to providing tangible information for a prospective shopper (where to find an item and at what price), emotion AI can also hold their hand through the process.
For example, if you ask your smartphone which local grocery stores are honoring social distancing protocols, your AI can detect the trepidation in your voice. The technology can answer in a reassuring tone and direct you to the most conscientious market in the area. AI has effectively bolstered consumer confidence and influenced your spending behavior in a respectful, responsible way.
AI can multitask on an epic scale. While your device is assisting you in your quest to stay happy and healthy, AI can also inform business owners of the general attitudes expressed by their consumer base. If an overwhelming deluge of search terms include “sanitized + shopping + near me,” then stores should put this data to good use. They can advertise their safety measures to put consumers’ minds at ease and beckon them to a stress-free browsing environment.
But people are not monolithic. We do not merely search for one item to buy and then log off. Our smart devices are extensions of ourselves, and they engender the complexities of the human condition in all of its confounding eccentricities. How often do you find yourself researching a political topic, only to get distracted by a sale at your favorite retailer?
AI can compile all of our disparate online activities to create a matrix through which to view the post-pandemic world. By observing alarming trends in Covid-19 hotspots, AI was able to map the burgeoning virus in its early stages. If and when we learn to integrate this valuable medical data with our corresponding cravings for retail activity, we could create an alert system that warns us about the potential risks inherent in our consumer activity. Our smartphones can detect the presence of coronavirus flare-ups in the vicinity and contour our shopping excursion accordingly.
Since the discovery and spread of Covid-19 has gripped the world, the collective debate has vacillated between economics and public health. How do you quarantine large swaths of society without crippling the economy? It is a vitally important question and one that AI is striving to answer in real-time.
Civilization is at the mercy of inconsistent guidelines when it comes to shutting down the public sector. State by state, different governors decree that bars must close while barbershops can reopen, for instance. The rules seem random, and they do not adhere closely enough to the scientific data emerging from outbreaks around the country and globe. AI can help quantify the potential risks of a certain retail industry and rank that risk by age, preexisting health conditions, and the viral outbreak of a given geographical area.
For example, if you want to enjoy a meal at a restaurant, you would invariably ask your AI assistant about local eateries. Your device can process this request in a number of ways: type of food desired, hours of operation as cross-referenced with your personal calendar, and the hunger in your voice when you make the query. But since the advent of the novel coronavirus, AI should also be weighing your wellbeing. If you are in a high-risk category (diabetic, over the age of 65, etc.), then your digital assistant should evaluate the danger to your health if you were to dine at an indoor restaurant vs. an outdoor patio. Also, AI can map the infection rates of your surrounding neighborhoods, steering you away from hotspots that pose the greatest risk to your wellness.
In other words, even when intelligence is artificial, it can still be empathetic. Innovations in AI can shine a light through the dark abyss of Covid-19, illuminating the best ways to stay safe. And you might just find some great retail deals along the way.
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