AI is a 'competitive necessity' in retail, 72% of executives say

Retailers are investing most in chatbots, RPS, and machine learning, according to an Oxford Economics report.

How Walmart is using big data and IoT to boost sales Chris Enslin, vice president of digital enterprise solutions at Walmart, talked to TechRepublic about the retail giant's opportunities from IoT devices both for customer analysis and for predictive analytics.

Between automated pickup stations, shopping via smartphone, cashier-less shopping, and more, artificial intelligence (AI) and the internet of things (IoT) are revolutionizing retail. While there is a lot of hype surrounding tech in e-commerce, retail executives are now relying on AI to lead business initiatives, according to an Oxford Economics report released on Thursday.

The report surveyed more than 300 executives in the US to determine the state of AI adoption in retail. Momentum is continuing to build, with 72% of retailers saying AI will be a "competitive necessity," in the next five years, the report found.

SEE: Special report: Data, AI, IoT: The future of retail (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

Retail executives are realizing the importance of using multiple technologies to achieve business goals, the report found. The AI tools retailers are using most are chatbots or virtual agents (41%), followed by robotic process automation (RPA) (40%), and machine learning or predictive analytics (36%).

The rise of e-commerce has threatened the relevancy and longevity of brick and mortar retailers, forcing many physical stores to invest in new technologies to keep doors open. These stores are using AI to improve customer experiences, personalize marketing campaigns, and automate supply-chain logistics and inventories, the report found.

"Retailers are counting on AI to remake a sector already facing meaningful disruption," Matthew Reynolds, one of the research leads at Oxford Economics, said in a press release. "There are significant challenges—for leading companies, a shortage of relevant skills, for smaller retailers a budget crunch, and for everyone questions about the technology's maturity. But this is happening, and it's happening now."

More than half of respondents (55%) said AI has substantially improved the value on speed of customer complaint resolutions, and more than half reported increased revenue growth from AI initiatives, the report noted.

To learn more about digital transformation in retail, check out TechRepublic's special feature on our sister-site ZDNet.

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By Macy Bayern

Macy Bayern is an Associate Staff Writer for TechRepublic. A recent graduate from the University of Texas at Austin's Liberal Arts Honors Program, Macy covers tech news and trends.