What does the future of shopping with artificial intelligence look like?

·4-min read

The retail experience is evolving with artificial intelligence (AI) changing how items can be bought and sold.

Inventory robots can automatically restock shelves and sensors can track customer traffic patterns to identify optimum store layout. Opportunities for cross-selling and digital signage can be edited for specific audiences, providing up-to-the-minute information to motivate consumers, such as alerting them to when stocks are running low.

Augmented reality (AR) is also enhancing the retail experience. In homeware, a consumer can upload an image of their room and redecorate it using AR to view different colour schemes and choose suitable accessories, suggested by computers. Similarly, in apparel, a consumer can upload their image to "try on" clothes and AI can match co-ordinating accessories with the outfit, not only cross-selling but also providing the customer with a styling service.

AI’s pandemic push

The pandemic accelerated the integration of AI into retail as it facilitates contactless shopping. With AI "computer vision" it's possible to accurately "see" items in a customer’s basket and calculate their cost, removing the need for check-out staff to manually handle each item to scan its barcode.

French retail giant Carrefour launched an AI-powered store in Paris in November 2021, called Flash 10/10, because it takes “10 seconds to shop and 10 seconds to pay”, and customers have access to “900 items in a flash”.

Customers are tracked anonymously as a virtual avatar, allocated to them as soon as they enter the store, which is equipped with 2,000 integrated AiFi sensors built into the shelves and 60 AI-powered cameras in the ceiling, all registering item selection.

When the customer picks up a product, it’s automatically added to a virtual shopping cart. When the customer is finished shopping, they validate the purchase by passing a checkout terminal and making a contactless payments.

“The Flash concept checks our customers’ expectations. They want to be able to enter the store easily, know what they are buying, pay quickly and then leave,” said Elodie Perthuisot, Carrefour Group’s Executive Director of E-Commerce, Data and Digital Transformation.

Carrefour
Entry with a QR code allows time-efficient shopping. - Carrefour

How do AI-powered stores work?

In September, the Middle East’s first AI-powered store, Carrefour City+, opened in Mall of the Emirates, Dubai, in the UAE.

Here, the check-out process has been eliminated. Customers use their phones to access the store, which registers them upon entry. Once inside, AI cameras detect and add selected items to the customer’s digital shopping basket, and the purchase is completed simply by exiting the store.

UAE-based retail and leisure giant Majid Al Futtaim is behind this cutting-edge retail experience, designed to “facilitate fast and contactless shopping” using AI technology.

Majid Al Futtaim Retail CEO Hani Weiss said: “The store represents a huge leap forward for retail in the UAE as Carrefour continues to innovate to meet the needs of the present while anticipating future shopping trends."

The risks of data mining

Data is a goldmine for retailers who can accurately convert data into insights that inform the most profitable course of action for the business.

Today’s AI marketers are gathering (aggregating) large amounts of data from shoppers and searching (mining) it for keywords and information to be able to target consumers with suitable products in future.

For most consumers, online targeted marketing can be more useful and less annoying than blanket marketing, but the AI shopper can become a victim of spam or something more serious designed to part them with their money if their data is mishandled by advertisers or cybercriminals.

In Europe, there are laws to protect the public from aggressive marketing and invasion of privacy. Under Article 8, the Protection of Personal Data, everyone has the right to the protection of their personal data. The Article states: “Such data must be processed fairly for specified purposes and on the basis of the consent of the person concerned or some other legitimate basis laid down by law.” However, outside of Europe, laws vary and don’t apply at all within criminal circles.

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