By Doug Baker, Vice President, Industry Relations, FMI

technology hand

In this time of rapidly unfolding changes, accelerated and amplified during the pandemic, embracing artificial intelligence (AI) allows you to predict customers’ purchases while also empowering employees to use data to truly anticipate shopper needs. Beyond data tied to behaviors and purchases, AI enables food retailers to evaluate their current practices and helps virtually every participant in the supply chain make informed, actionable decisions from start to finish.

Gretchen O’Hara, vice president, AI and sustainability strategy for Microsoft, put it this way in a presentation at the FMI Midwinter Executive Conference, “The role of technology as a hero in the return and recovery long-term strategies is so evident.  Digitization of retail stores to provide safety, better demand forecasting, understanding and addressing supply chain disruption, and better personalized assortment, online ordering, omnichannel delivery – productivity technology for the remote worker has become so widespread overnight.”

Since the future is clearly here, how can you deploy intelligence-based strategies now? Here are five steps to improving your organization through AI:

Step 1: Outline the benefits and challenges for your path to core business transformation.

For AI to be effective in your organization, you need to define – or, more likely redefine – your business strategy and how AI can help it.

Think about what you want to glean and how you will use data-based (and often real-time) shopper insights. AI-powered strategies have the ability to anticipate trends and provide shoppers with what they want – maybe even before they realize they want it.

Of course, your retail business is a two-way street. It is also crucial to outline ways that AI helps employees feel engaged and valued. Associates will be viewed as experts who provide the right information and drive meaningful customer interactions – and transactions.

Simultaneously, identify potential obstacles. Such challenges could be misunderstandings about what AI is, a fear factor in how it can be used responsibly or whether you have the right data scientists on your team.

Step 2: Lead the change.

The hesitancy to adopt AI is usually centered on the fear of the unknown, confusion about the right starting point and concerns about working with vendors. Help your organization overcome these barriers by underscoring the point that artificial intelligence amplifies human ingenuity. Work on creating an AI-ready climate by fostering the right mindset and spirit of collaboration.

Step 3: Partner up. 

To make AI strategies work for your organization, have your leaders and data scientists collaborate with partners who have the expertise and the understanding that responsible AI, meaningful innovation, and the ability to empower people are three things that make organizations successful with an AI enterprise. 

Step 4. Train and empower your employees. 

AI can sound overwhelming. By training and engaging your workforce and giving them the data to better do their job and connect with customers, make AI real at every level, especially on the front line.

Here, too, it is important to note that AI does not replace human intelligence. Retail employees – proven this past year to be among the most essential – provide value through creative and often on-the-spot decisions and connections.

Step 5: Measure the impacts of AI on your core business strategy.

Just as you start the shift to becoming an AI-powered organization, complete it with an assessment. This time, measure the impact on your core business.

Finally, as you take this opportune time to become an AI-powered organization, keep in mind that what sets these technologies apart from software is the ability to learn from data.

Learn more about AI-powered strategies through the Microsoft AI Retail Academy.