AI becoming mainstream in retail

Expert systems to aid human and plant maintenance and clever OR (Operations Research) computer models (aka apps) to find optimum solutions to complex business problems have been around for over 50 years now

AI (Artificial Intelligence) is just the latest moniker for much the same, albeit more powerful

Retail Week recently published an article about ‘helpful robots’ – in it, IBM’s retail industry director, Danny Bagge, claims really exciting opportunities lie in areas like merchandising where Watson, IBM’s supercomputer, is “opening up new horizons by allowing retailers to have a hyper-local view of what they should be stocking – we can now get down to the level of a store in, let’s say, Reading, and say this is exactly your profile of consumer, what’s going to happen with the weather and the footfall from your CCTV camera last week”

The aim, according to Bagge, is “not to replace the role of humans but to augment the intelligence of a human merchandiser or buyer – humans could do it, but it takes a long time – Watson can do it in the blink of an eye”

Bagge says “currently, we are only scratching the surface of the potential for AI to transform the way retailers work”

James Donkin, General Manager at Ocado Technology, is looking to use AI to solve their vehicle routing problems – “we have hundreds of delivery vehicles and tens of thousands of drop locations, so we need the optimal solution to deliver the most groceries in the shortest time using the least vans”

In the old days, we used OR and mathematical programming to do the same for  Bejam (now Iceland) – however, ‘AI driverless’ vans will achieve even further gains

Overall, Donkin says: “AI is about enhancing the productivity of the individual and freeing him up to do more of the interesting work and less of the grind work”

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