The brick-and-mortar world of retailers has experienced a shake up, and cognitive technology is the catalyst for many of the changes. Today, thanks to the internet and smartphones, retailers have lost much of the control they had over consumers who are now in charge of the conversation—and their expectations of retailers have never been higher.
In 2017, consumers are comparing prices, taking pictures and posting them online, writing reviews and doing a dozen other things on their smartphones while out and about. How is it possible for retailers to get the attention of these moving targets with custom messages to visit their stores and buy their products and services? The answer may be cognitive technology.
Cognitive Technology's Retail Reach
Cognitive technology means speech-recognizing, machine-learning tools designed to analyze massive amounts of data to help businesses better serve their customers regardless of where they are in the buying process.
In a 2015 IBM study of more than 800 executives from around the world, they found that among retailers familiar with cognitive technology, 91 percent believed it will play a disruptive role in their organization and 94 percent were likely to invest in cognitive capability. The majority—83 percent—"believe it will have a critical impact on the future of their organization," according to the study.
Retailers can utilize cognitive technology to automate certain tasks, which can help them focus on the bigger picture. For example, frequently asked questions can now be answered by a computer that will then follow up with the customer to find out where they are in the buying process. Based on previous responses, the computer will provide additional information to help move customers closer to making a purchase. The computer continues to learn with each new response. The data also helps retailers better understand customers' likes and dislikes when visiting their websites.
Another example of cognitive technology is a new mobile app a popular national retailer designed to help shoppers locate items in their stores. Instead of someone asking a store employee "Where is the men's department?" they can download the app and ask their smartphone where a certain brand's dress shirts are located. As more shoppers use the app, it will further develop its cognitive capabilities making the shopping experience more pleasant for customers.
Retailers may want to combine brick-and-mortar visits from shoppers with a mobile-friendly website that provides an easy, comfortable e-commerce experience. Customers want to know things like, “Can I order something on my smartphone at a discounted price and have it delivered to my house or pick it up in the store if I'm in the neighborhood?"
The change in how technology is used at the retail level begs the question “Is loyalty dead?" I believe that it has definitely taken a hit, especially for small-business owners. Customers who have shopped stores for years may quietly end relationships that can't meet their demands. The onus is on business owners to keep up with the pace of change to help them survive in the new world of retail.
Read more articles on industry trends.