Visual Commerce in 2018: How AI is Shaping the Future of Retail

Artificial intelligence (AI) is arguably one of the most exciting technologies that our modern society has access to. That’s partly because we’re still getting to know its full potential. Its applications vary from its ability to plan and route traffic in cities to how we’ll be able to process data to sell more products. This applies both online and in-store, too. One of the most obvious AI retail trends is the way it can be used to further optimise customer experience. For example , playing classical music doesn’t make customers buy more wine. It does make them choose more expensive bottles. Retailers often take advantage of that fact to boost their profits. But that’s just one nugget of information. There’s so much more that we could be doing to further optimise our retail stores. The problem is that we don’t know what we don’t know. That highlights one of the most exciting AI use cases in retail. That’s because the real strength of AI in retail is the fact that it can process vast amounts of data. Data that no human being could ever understand. It can also draw conclusions that a human might not have arrived at. This is good news for the retail sector. Anything that gives you an edge over the competition is worth investigating.

AI in Retail

One of the major benefits of AI in visual commerce is its ability to personalise the experience for every shopper. The same holds true when we take it offline and look at AI in retail. For example, AI-powered facial recognition software could help you to build records on individual customers. It could even adapt visual commerce displays around the store based on what you know about the people nearby. AI-powered customer relationship management (CRM) systems are gaining in popularity amongst digital marketers. It stands to reason that an offline equivalent would be popular amongst retailers. This is also true for those with higher value products, such as jewellers or consumer electronics stores. In those circumstances, a variant on visual ecommerce AI is useful because it can help to nurture potential customers. And that until they’re ready to buy instead of simply pushing them to make a sale and driving them away. Then there are in-store recommendations. In the same way that Netflix uses AI to process huge amounts of data to recommend movies, you can use a combination of AI and retail techniques to recommend products. All you need to do is to build AI recommendation engines into electronic displays and self-service checkouts. It can even recognise emotions on people’s faces and tailor the messages accordingly.

The Power of Knowledge

Have you heard of when Target analysed data and figured out that a teenage girl was pregnant before her father did?  The daughter received coupons for baby clothes and cribs in the mail! Consequently, her father went in store and demanded to speak to a manager. A few days after making a complaint, the father came back in to apologise. It turns out that his daughter was pregnant after all, and Target’s software had figured it out before him. This shows how powerful knowledge can be, and it also highlights the danger of relying too heavily on algorithms. AI in visual ecommerce, in retail or AI in general is at its best when it’s coupled with human analysis. For example, one study by Harvard researchers compared the ability of expert doctors and AI software to diagnose cancer. According to Technology Review.  “They found that doctors perform significantly better than the software, but doctors together with software were better still.” Another of the main AI retail trends is its ability to augment research and development. Sentiment analysis techniques and natural language processing allow you to better understand customer needs and the feedback that they provide. Combining AI with human touch will allow you to identify gaps in the market and potential products to fill them.

Other Uses of AI in Retail

It’s important to remember that AI can help retailers far beyond simply helping them to sell more products. AI is making its way into manufacturing, inventory and distribution, as well as for visual commerce, marketing and more. It’s not only lending a hand for R&D anymore. If you’re running a warehouse, for example, then AI can help to predict shortfalls in your inventory. It can also find ways to change the layout to reduce time spent walking from shelf to shelf. As for distribution, you just have to look at Amazon’s partnership with the UK government. This involves the delivery of packages with drones to see that the future is here. AI can power these new systems as and when they’re developed. Not only that but it’s already being put to use under the hoods of self-driving cars. It’s not inconceivable to think that within the next few years, AI will be a common fixture throughout the entire supply chain process. This includes procurement, storage and distribution. But most people are still focusing on AI as a sales tool, and there’s a good reason for that. Businesses are increasingly turning to AI-powered chatbots and customer relationship management (CRM) systems. They’re sticking with them too, because they’re finding that the results speak for themselves. They make the investment in training and software worthwhile.


AI is one of the most powerful and versatile tools that modern marketers have access to. However, it’s still early days for the technology. We can’t make predictions on what the future will look like. Technologies evolve so rapidly that even in five years’ time, the landscape will be almost unrecognisable. Just look at how quickly the internet evolved to become a fundamental part of our lives. It’s now considered to be a basic human right. When it comes to AI in retail, then, all we can know for certain is that it will have a huge impact. As marketers and retailers, it falls to us to keep an eye on the latest technologies and to react appropriately. We’ve already shared some of the key AI use cases in retail. However, that doesn’t mean that we won’t see more as the months and years go by. That means reserving a certain amount of your time to spend it testing and evaluating new technologies. You’d be wise to make researching and testing AI retail trends a priority.

What’s next?

You’ll also want to future-proof your company by gathering data on your customers and their shopping habits. It’s better to have too much than too little. Even if you’re unable to make sense of it all right now, you might be able to in the future. And remember that AI in retail works best when it’s overseen by a human. AI isn’t coming to take our jobs. It’s coming to make them easier and to make the work we do more effective. Just don’t make the mistake of trying to ignore AI altogether. It isn’t going to go away. If you’re slow to adapt to it then you’ll be quick to fall behind your competitors. Data is powerful, and AI is the tool you need to put it to better use. Good luck.