Can AI Be a North Star in the New Era of Distanced Retail?

Machine learning can help companies understand if their strategies to keep customers and employees safe are working — while also continuing to foster growth.
Hillary Ashton headshot
Hillary Ashton
Expert Contributor
November 12, 2020
Updated: November 13, 2020
Hillary Ashton headshot
Hillary Ashton
Expert Contributor
November 12, 2020
Updated: November 13, 2020

While many companies are navigating reopening safely in the recovery period, it’s a delicate tap dance as COVID-19 rates continue to rise again in several states across the country. With some local governments beginning to roll back phased reopening plans, we have to rely on every tool in our arsenal to be one step ahead of the virus as we think about recovery.

As businesses look to reopen and recoup sufficient revenue streams, they’ll need to leverage smart technologies to gather key insights in real-time that allow them to do so. Adopting artificial intelligence technologies can help companies understand if their strategies to keep customers and employees safe are working, while also continuing to foster growth.

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Ensuring Safety

By leveraging video streams from existing CCTV deployments, companies can measure adherence to social distancing, help with contact tracing and detect the prevalence of facial coverings. We’re working with our customers to deploy new sensors — utilizing cameras, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth — and analytics across a range of use cases to help with the safety of their employees and customers. This typically involves the fusion of IoT sensor data and several back-office systems like badge readers, wireless access points, video management systems, DVR/NVRs, alarm systems, HR systems and computing platforms.

There are also broad reputational risks to keep in mind with reopening. Going forward, throughout the duration of the pandemic and in the future, it will become essential for companies to make investments that allow them to expertly blend their physical and digital experiences in order to protect employees and customers alike.

 

Corporate Policy Management and Compliance

AI provides key insights, like a real-time understanding of how employees and third-party vendors are (or aren’t) adhering to corporate policies. It also offers valuable knowledge about the efficacy of company measures on health and safety.

Thanks to the power of sensor deployment and analytics, AI-driven algorithms can scour meeting invites, business travel and GPS data from employer-issued computers and cell phones to give businesses advance warnings about danger zones or to quickly halt a potential outbreak in a particular location. These technology-supported measures ensure that, once employees return to the office, they are working in the safest possible environment.

 

Evolving Customer Experience

Maintaining a positive customer relationship is more important than ever. AI can shed light on how customers are embracing efforts to reopen — and how best to re-engage them. For example, in the age of curbside shopping, it’s becoming increasingly necessary for companies to create seamless hybrid digital-physical shopping to engage and serve customers from a distance.

Stores are now capacity-managed retail settings: You walk into a Nike or Disney store and head to a kiosk that enables you to scan your mobile or RFID code to provide apparel locations, recommendations by preference or staff assistance. This is happening at a rapid pace. By leaning on your mobile device, you can minimize unnecessary contact while still enjoying a concierge-like shopping experience. In fact, hyper-personalization becomes an even more important tool to ensure that hybrid-curbside experience still carries the same hospitable experience as shopping in-store.

 

Key Considerations

As companies enforce new policies to ensure the safety of employees and patrons, they need to make certain investments in order to obtain the capabilities they need. This requires the right infrastructure to be in place such as AI, edge computing, analytics — and hardware such as cameras, sensors, GPS and more. Companies must then demonstrate the return on investment — as well as any potential lost productivity or disruption when channeling energy toward reopening while trying to balance customer experience and minimizing disruption.

While the desire is to get back up and running to assure a steady revenue stream, leveraging the right technologies will be key in order to deploy these types of capabilities broadly. Thats the paradox many companies are facing right now. Although they aim to spend less and save on labor while simultaneously trying to generate revenue again, they must also commit more spend on tech investments that will enable more robust experiences for customers.

The companies that emerge strongest (and most able to meet the needs of their employees and customers) will be the ones that invest now in strategic technologies like AI to enable safer, hybrid environments.

 

Looking Ahead

As companies try to enforce policies to help protect employees and customers alike, there are investment costs related to AI infrastructure to consider in a difficult economic climate, as well as the need to retrain data to reflect the post-pandemic world we hope to enter. Beyond employee and customer safety, AI is an important tool that can be leveraged to carefully monitor fluctuations in business revenues, consumer buying behavior, supply chain and real-time inventory. AI is giving businesses the intelligence to determine whether they should recalibrate the customer experience — or if they need to quickly pivot.

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