At the recently concluded Gitex Technology Week, there was a lot of focus on artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics. These are considered to be the “next big thing” that will revolutionise sectors such as transportation, healthcare, public services, hospitality, etc.

Various applications of robotics were demonstrated, ranging from Robo-Cops to Robo-Docs — making one believe that the days of Bumble Bee and Optimus Prime are not too far off.

This raises the question of whether there is a role for Bots in marketing and retail? Application of robots in the retail industry for warehousing is not new — Amazon has been using robots to package and ship products for some time now. However, a new generation of Bots is emerging from the back room and making a transition to the shop floor.

In the retail environment of the not-so-distant future, Bots will be used, not only in operational applications, but also in customer facing roles.

Here are some potential applications of AI and Bots in retail, which could result in not just improved efficiencies, but also enhanced customer experience:


Inventory management

With modern trade emerging as the predominant channel in GCC markets and with most products having digital bar codes, it would be quite possible for inventory management to be done by robots.

A San Francisco based company is developing a bot called Tally, that can roam aisles and check on inventory levels — what Tally does in 30 minutes is equivalent to 25 man hours.


Locating products in store


How many times have we gone into a hypermarket/big box store like Carrefour or Ace and got lost while looking for a particular product? Well, not any more — in shops of the future, Bots with interactive touchscreens would be stationed at strategic locations, just type in the product you need and the Bot will escort you to the correct aisle.

Ordering and delivery

With application from shops to restaurants, Bots could be used to take orders and deliver products to customers. In the US, Best Buy is piloting a robot called Chloe that works in conjunction with multiple touchscreens within the store. Customers place their orders on a touchscreen, and Chloe picks up products from shelves and delivers them to the customer.


Customer experience feedback

Bots can also be used to collect real-time feedback from customers, as they are exiting the establishment. In fact, this type of application will shortly be piloted at the Dubai Airport to collect feedback from travellers on the immigration clearance process.

People will be asked to smile to indicate their happiness with the immigration process and facial recognition technology will be used to measure extent of happiness (in line with Dubai’s vision to become the happiest city in the world, the happiest person every day will get a prize!).


Creating brand engagement and loyalty


While the above were example of Bots being used on the shop floor, the potential applications go far beyond that. Chatbots, or conversational agents, provide brands with a digital tool to engage meaningfully with customers.

Imagine chatting to a Bot on Facebook Messenger about recipes that a particular brand of bouillon can be used for — the bot could provide intelligent suggestions and at the same time send across an e-voucher for a 10 per cent discount for the next purchase of that brand. How cool would that be?

Many brands are working on creating these Virtual Concierges that will enable real time, in-the-moment connect with customers.

In 2012, Amazon paid $770 million (Dh2.83 billion) for Kiva Solutions, a company that specialises in warehouse automation. But this is just the beginning of the AI revolution; within a few years, we will witness increasing levels of robotics applications within marketing and retai.

So the next time you visit the nearby hypermarket, you might want to check out if you are being assisted by an Autobot or a Decepticon!




The writer is a Director at Kantar MENA.