Sean Slater Sean Slater

If for no other reason than survival, retailers need to immediately invest in artificial intelligent algorithms that will enhance the in-store experience. There has been a lot of chatter about the changes in retail and the shift toward creating an experience. Really, retail is becoming more akin to hospitality, and the experience will be fostered by data collection that will allow brands to seamlessly serve customers and create a tailored experience.

“There is going to be no distinction between a retail sales person and hospitality service,” Sean Slater, a principal with Retail Design Collaborative, tells GlobeSt.com. “The front end of every retail store will be more about hospitality and experience. We have been hearing a lot about that, but I think that what is going to happen in combination with advance algorithms is allow retailers to understand their customers in a much deeper way, an almost seamless way.”

In the past, consumers have been hesitant to allow retailers to have intimate information about them. Slater, however, says that those fears are gone. As a result, there will be more rapid usage of technology and shared customer information. “People over the past five to 10 years have been concerned about retailers knowing everything about them,” he says. “I think we are past that, and we are starting to see that customers like the idea of retailers knowing you. Retailers are now going to engage with their customers through very deep knowledge of their needs by using the data that customers have given to them freely. That will become essential to the brick and mortar experience.”

So far, retailers have been hesitant to invest in technology, largely because the cost is significant. However, this year, major brands, like Macy’s, have made the move to invest in these technologies. “The cost is why we haven’t seen this happen yet,” adds Slater. “There is going to be a lot of capital investment in this space in the upcoming year, and the brands that already have are way ahead. In the next couple of years, we are going to see a lot of brands drop out that haven’t invested into that space.”

As retailers incorporate technology into the store experience, brick-and-mortar will become a showroom and data will be used to tailor that experience to individual customers. This will also mean a change in the staff that services customers. “I think it is retraining sales people to be hospitality people,” says Slater. “It is gathering data fairly discretely and then using the information that consumers have willing given up to service a customer. It is going to be the equivalent of a high-end wait person right now. Retailers need to treat you like you are part of the team. Building a connection to your customer is the hardest thing, and retailers are using AI as a tool to get to that touch point.”

This trend will really takeoff in the next two years, meaning that retailers need to invest now. “In the next two years, I think the combination of innovations will start to create synergy within themselves,” says Slater. “The brands that are really embracing that are going to be the winners.”