No AI Strategy? You’re Dead

By Grant Arnott | 22 Mar 2017

That’s the prevailing theme at Shoptalk, a conference happening in March in Las Vegas, featuring a plethora of big name retail brands and technology players. Power Retail has the news on what the world’s major game changers are focusing on next.

When Lionel Richie opens a retail conference, you should expect big things. Shoptalk, the disruptive new retail conference everyone is talking about in the US, has not disappointed. An incredible line-up of speakers have featured on stage relentlessly during the event this week in Las Vegas, from Amazon, WalmartGoogle, eBayAlibaba, Target, Houzz, Rebecca Minkoff and loads more, not to mention the great Lionel Richie himself talking about his journey to establishing Lionel Richie Home. The conference is attended by 5600 retailers, mainly from the US, with Australia the number two most-represented country at the event this year. There are 330 speakers in total across four days.

Amazon featured twice on the keynote stage, though both efforts were little more than a bragging session about how great the Amazon products are, preaching benefits to the thousands of retailers in the room. Stephenie Landry, VP of Amazon PrimeNow, spoke about the rapidly diminishing patience customers have for delivery timeframes, saying that ten years ago Amazon customers were content to wait two weeks for books, today they’re okay with two days, but the future will be a two hour delivery time, and Amazon is betting big on this.

A fireside chat between eBay CEO Devin Wenig and Recode editor Jason Del Rey has been, for mine, the most compelling session of the show thus far. eBay is launching a three-day guaranteed delivery time product later this year, in an effort to raise standards across its seller base and improve the broader customer experience to be more competitive and in line with consumer expectations.

Devin Wenig, eBay CEO at Shoptalk 2017

The Next Big Thing

Artificial intelligence has been rammed down attendees’ throats hard the last few days as the most important transformation coming to the retail environment. eBay’s Wenig told the audience that if you don’t have an artificial intelligence strategy, you are going to die. The benefits of artificial intelligence (AI) have been on display during presentations and across the showroom floor all week. Rebecca Minkoff co-founder Uri Minkoff showed how, using Amazon’s Alexa AI product, he was able to get business insights immediately by asking a few questions, showing AI’s application as a management tool. Google demonstrated the abilities of Google Assistant, using voice to find a specific type of shoes in the local area and get directions to the store sent to the Google Home app on the user’s phone.

“Distributed commerce” is the buzzword du jour at Shoptalk 2017, referring to retail’s transformation from store-based transactions and interactions to the transact anywhere, interact anywhere, pick up and deliver anywhere retail model of today. Retailers, marketplaces and suppliers consistently used the term “distributed commerce” to describe their model. Magazine Luiza, a Brazilian-based retail chain, talked about its transformation to being a platform-based business with stores and distribution centres, while Mindy Grossman, CEO of HSN Inc (the Home Shopping Network), said the new world is distributed commerce – audience centric and platform agnostic. For HSN, this means moving from a model of one broadcast on 96 million screens, to 96 million individualised broadcasts across 96 million screens, a many to many model using ‘transmedia’ to tell stories across multiple audiences.

The other hot term doing the rounds of every conference room and lunch chat at Shoptalk is “conversational commerce”. Winner or wank? The coupling of AI with the opportunities created by uptake in messenger applications and virtual assistants suggests “winner”, but we are a long way from conversaitonal commerce becoming mainstream. Nonetheless, just as retailers who lagged in going online, then lagged in going mobile suffered, those looking to stay ahead of the curve need to explore the gamut of opportunities available and enabled by artificial intelligence and conversational commerce applications. More on that later.

China is colossal, but India is the supermover

For cross-border trade from the US, uncertainty prevails about how the Trump factor will play in US trade with China and the rest of the planet. However, there was no shortage of qualified speakers talking up the opportunities afforded in China and, more exciting, India. Despite the enormity of China’s current e-commerce economy, growth has slowed somewhat, but Hans Tung, Managing Partner, GGV Capital, said that to listen to warnings that China’s e-commerce is running out of steam would be foolish. Only half the population of 1.3 billion in China are online, indicating enormous growth left to come, growth that is being stimulated by government initiatives to encourage more mobile usage, the tool of choice for accessing internet in China.

But the big story for the next 10 years will be India. E-commerce is growing at a phenomenal rate, and Tung sees India today as similar to China 10 years ago, with massive potential, albeit slower growth due to the poorer infrastructure in India. Flipkart is the dominant e-commerce player in India, relegating Amazon to number two according to Kalyan Krishnamurthy, CEO of Flipkart. Flipkart has virtually built the infrastructure required to move the needle on e-commerce in India, from logistics through to platform, and is fully invested in stimulating the Indian e-commerce machine. Flipkart delivers to 5,500 out of 9000 postcodes in India, an enormous feat for a country with notoriously poor infrastructure, and also indicative that there is still an enormous amount of growth ahead for both Flipkart and the Indian e-commerce economy.

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