The retail industry employs millions of people, and next-generation retail employees will be significantly impacted by the rise of generative AI. 

I’m a firm believer that exceptional brick-and-mortar retail, no matter the product category, stands on three essential pillars for success:

  • Proud, well-trained, engaged team members with clear career paths
  • A brand deeply rooted in strong cultural values
  • A backbone of superior technology

Missing any of these elements? The magic just doesn’t happen.

Enter IBM. Their approach to leveraging technology to boost both employee and consumer experiences varies by brand, yet some industry-wide themes are becoming apparent—especially with shifts in consumer habits and generational behaviors.

Take the just released 2024 IBM Institute for Business Value Consumer Study, which gathered insights from 20,000 consumers across 26 countries. When quizzed on enhancing in-store experiences, top responses included desires for a wider product range, more product information and quicker checkouts.

This study also highlighted a crucial insight: two-thirds of consumers still prefer shopping in person, with 73% considering physical stores a primary shopping method. Here lies the challenge and opportunity: ensuring accurate inventory information in real-time and equipping frontline teams with the right tools is the ticket to transformative change.

IBM’s study suggests, “AI can aid in stocking a more diverse array of relevant products by analyzing local customer preferences. With generative AI, retailers can fine-tune inventory and adapt store layouts in real-time, improving navigation, product visibility and stock management.”

This circles back to my belief that the core of successful retail is a proud, well-trained and engaged frontline team. These individuals are eager to craft memorable customer experiences, provide instant answers and swiftly tackle any issues. But when obstacles arise, it not only diminishes their pride in their work and the brand, it also breeds frustration.

According to Supply and Demand Chain Executive, “The solution lies in equipping every employee with the knowledge of your most seasoned associate, ensuring a consistent, unified experience across all channels. Implementing a generative AI model for your products and services empowers team members to excel in their roles and offer precise, relevant product advice.”

This brings us to the essence of brands built on solid cultural values. It’s not just about the soft skills or employee resource groups; it’s about their commitment to embracing cutting-edge technology and tools. Ignoring shifts in customer behavior, new ideas and, most importantly, feedback from frontline teams is a gamble that risks high employee turnover, customer loss and more.

The retail industry is experiencing rapid transformation, where data-driven decision-making plays a pivotal role in achieving success. And companies like IBM are working with retailers to help them stay ahead in this competitive landscape.

Retail brands that wholeheartedly adopt AI and new technologies, supported by leadership committed to creating an excellent workplace with top-notch products, will invariably deliver unforgettable customer experiences. They will consistently win in 2024 and beyond!

Enhance your operations to deliver an unforgettable retail customer experience
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