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The Year Ahead: AI in the retail realm

2024 year ahead

Retail is one area where artificial intelligence exploration is ongoing.

“Retailers are gaining experience with AI, but they still don’t have a good handle on it,” says Phil Lempert, the Los Angeles, CA-based Supermarket Guru.

Brian Numainville, principal at The Feedback Group in Lake Success, NY, agrees. “Some have been working with AI for years now, with one of the most visible applications being in-store robots like Tally.

“There’s a wide range of activities in which AI can provide assistance to retailers,” he explains, “including data analysis, personalization, inventory management, loss prevention, customer service, warehousing, and supply chain optimization, to name just a few.”

“Many retailers have adopted computer-assisted ordering, which uses AI to create suggested orders for the department manager based on current inventory and expected demand,” notes consultant Ashley Nickle of Ashley Nickle Growth Strategies, LLC in Kansas City, KS.

“The value proposition for this technology is to make ordering easier and faster, which can be particularly helpful for less experienced team members, and you increase the accuracy of orders, which can help reduce out-of-stocks and shrink.”

Production planning is an area in which retailers have been investing in AI-powered tools. “Stores need to know at the beginning of each day—and even throughout the day—how many packs of fresh-cut fruit to make, how many donuts to fry, etc.

Production planning tools use the retailer’s data to answer those questions. Just as with computer-assisted ordering, the idea is to reduce waste and make team members’ jobs easier,” she says.

On the consumer side, Lempert sees sophisticated chatbots involved in meal planning.

“You’ll be able to go to the website and say, ‘I need dinner for four; one person is gluten-free, and one is lactose-intolerant; I want to make the meal in 60 minutes; here are the ingredients I have in my fridge,’ and get a recipe and shopping list.”

Instacart is already ahead of the game with a similar tool, “Ask Instacart,” designed to assist with grocery shopping questions. The tool uses the capabilities of ChatGPT and the company’s own AI models, as well as more than a billion shoppable items across more than 80,000 retail partner locations. Walmart is introducing a similar chat feature on its website.

This is an excerpt from the feature story from the January/February 2024 issue of Produce Blueprints Magazine. Click here to read the whole issue.