1,900 retail and consumer products executives weigh in on the coming AI revolution

By Katie Sotheran

Retail and consumer products organizations are entering a new phase of technological innovation with AI and automation at its center. Innovations include automatically rerouting shipments to bypass bad weather and personalizing in-store services based on analysis of customer facial expressions.

With two in five retailers and brands using some form of AI-driven intelligent automation – on track to double within the next three years – IBM surveyed 1,900 consumer products and retail executives who are leaders in the areas of supply chain and operations to understand how they’re using intelligent automation today and what they expect in the future.

Here are some of the key findings from the report The coming AI revolution in retail and consumer products:

1. Retail and brand executives expect intelligent automation to boost their bottom lines. They anticipate reducing operating costs by an average of up to 7 percent, while increasing annual revenue growth by up to 10 percent.

2. Consumer products executives see the highest rate of intelligent automation adoption over the next three years in manufacturing, and product design and development — areas where it could be transformational.

For example, think of fashion designers finding inspiration or guarding against accidental plagiarism using an AI search engine trained on 100,000 print swatches from 10 years of winning entries from Fashion Week.

3. Retail executives see the highest rate of intelligent automation adoption over the next three years in supply chain planning and in-store operation — areas with more complex processes that involve additional system integrations.

Expected areas of highest growth in intelligent automation adoption

4. Executives whose companies are actually using intelligent automation – the early adopters — are experiencing different impacts than their peers planning to use intelligent automation. For example, “planning stage” executives expect intelligent automation to improve on what they’re doing now (such as, improve operational efficiency, reduce costs and increase revenue growth). “Doing stage” executives are fundamentally changing the ways they do business with intelligent automation — from the quality and speed of decision making to competitive customer experiences. 

Early adopters benefits from intelligent automation

To see the transformational growth from intelligent automation, retail and brand executives identify a number of critical success factors, including:

  • Obtaining the right skills and resources
  • Creating a culture open to change
  • Aligning strategy with executive plans
  • Securing the right platforms and devices


At the same time, executives see new categories of risk tied to machine responsibility as the top challenge to adopting intelligent automation, followed by integrating capabilities with existing processes and systems, as a close second.

If you’re not in retail or consumer products, the research lays out a number of recommendations for approaching AI and automation that cross industries. The following three recommendations stood out for me:

1. Assess where you’re investing today, build on that investment. For example, if you need to improve inventory productivity and you’re already using some component of intelligent automation for demand forecasting, consider extending this capability to inventory management.

2. Choose your intelligent automation platform carefully to ensure you can scale, measure operational performance and govern end-to-end processes.

3. Partner with intelligent automation experts with design thinking expertise. Conduct working sessions with executives and employees. And invite customers, too, to co-create new and improved customer experiences.

For more findings, plus real-world examples, download the full report now.

Sign up for the IBM Automation Insider

What automation opportunities are out there? How do you get results?
Every other month our experts share five pieces of strategic content to help you drive growth through automation.