How are AI and robotics impacting the retail industry? Jeremy Wyatt, Professor of Robotics and Artificial Intelligence at the University of Birmingham, will be taking Retail Hive members through technological advances at our Focus on Fulfilment meeting. We caught up with Jeremy to get some initial insight into the relationship between AI, robotics and automation in the retail sector.
How can AI and robotics be applied to the retail industry?
The sort of AI I’ll be talking about could be applied across anything from how you present your website analytics to the products you show your customers. In terms of robotics, there are things that technology can already do well and things it can’t, so on Wednesday I’ll be explaining a bit about where we are with ability, optimisation and manipulation.
Why is it important for retailers to be embracing the latest innovations right now?
It’s important because online retail has really changed supply chains. As supply chains have got shorter, it’s presented a huge opportunity for automation in an industry that wasn’t traditionally heavily automated – look at the growth of Ocado in the supermarket industry as an example of how automation can impact on growth, and the disruption caused by technology that retailers need to keep up with.
What will be the biggest benefit of machine learning?
For retailers, it’s about the tools that are out there to help you better understand your customers from the data you’ve got. What’s their buying or decision making behaviour? It could be things that you haven’t already thought about – lots of companies do studies where they look at the eye movements of people to see what they are looking at on the screen. Now, with AI, we can look further and find out what broader criteria people are using to make decisions.
Are retailers using the technology that’s available to them effectively?
Retail is a very competitive sector, so you do expect a fairly high degree of innovation. I’d be interested to talk to people at The Retail Hive meeting to see how much they are using machine learning in their decision making. I’d be surprised if some haven’t already been using this technology for some time. The real question is, are they using the right version of this technology, to get the maximum out of their data? Amazon started using machine learning in the 1990s: to some people, this ‘innovation’ isn’t new. If there are companies not doing it at all, they’ll have a problem very soon.
What will be the next biggest commercial impact in this field?
It’ll vary across industries. To anyone exposed to online retail, logistics become a massive issue, because it’s a very large portion of cost. It’s a higher margin – a third-party logistics supplier turned over more than a billion in 2016, but only made a profit of less than one million, which is a tiny margin. Saving costs with this technology is important.
It’s difficult to know how it’ll impact each business individually. Are you a high value retailer? Are you at the premium end of the market? Or are you shifting millions of tins of beans each year? It’ll effect you more in the latter case.
What will retailers gain from your presentation?
I won’t be trying to tell retailers what they should or shouldn’t do. I’ll be there to explain the technologies that are available, to clarify what they can and can’t do, and identify some of the companies operating in this field. I look forward to seeing how Retail Hive members react to this and what they have to say.
To register for the last few remaining places for our Focus on Fulfilment meeting please contact Paul Kehoe: firstname.lastname@example.org or call 020 3948 1623.