Did you know there’s a bit of artificial intelligence (AI) magic behind the scenes helping to make your holiday dreams come true? Santa’s little helpers have gone high-tech this year. From finding the perfect gift to AI-enabled toys and even composing a holiday song—that truthfully will take a bit more refinement before it becomes a holiday classic—AI has infiltrated our holidays from start to finish.
AI drives online shopping experiences
Those of you who are adept behind the keyboard might be surprised that this hasn’t been true for years, but the scales have tipped in favour of online shopping with 51% of the Deloitte 2017 Holiday Retail Survey respondents saying they would be making the bulk of their purchases online this holiday season. In the past, shoppers would research and compare prices online, but the majority still went to stores to make their purchases.
Artificial intelligence algorithms help make online shopping experiences more personal. AI gets to know your preferences and behaviours to provide personal recommendations and save you the time of culling through thousands of product results to find just what you’re looking for. This AI tech is getting so good that it knows what you want—and can suggest complementary products—even better than you do.
The fashion retailer Stitch Fix is the perfect implementation of this technology. Customers fill out a style profile and personal stylists, heavily guided by algorithms, pick out items the customer will most likely enjoy. The algorithms keep getting smarter based on the ongoing feedback of the customer when they return an item because they don’t like it. These algorithms can help streamline our shopping experience to reduce the amount of choices we have. Increasingly, shoppers are preferring to use voice-search enabled assistants to shop and ComScore predicts that by 2020, 50% of all searches will be voice activated. Yep, you guessed it. AI at work again.
AI enhances customer service for retailers
Another way AI supports our online holiday shopping experience is through the use of chat bots. We likely won’t be able to determine if we are chatting with a human or a chatbot in the future as they step in to guide our purchases and handle questions about orders that have historically required retailers to hire a bunch of seasonal staff for the holidays. The North Face currently offers direct interaction with its IBM’s Watson-supported system and customers to help determine what item is the best for the customers’ needs. Chat bots are also used to answer queries or FAQs that can bog down human customer service personnel and have the capability to funnel customers that require human intervention to a human.
AI is being used by some stores to provide customers with a customised and personal experience in the store similar to what they get when shopping online. The Mall of America launched E.L.F., short for Experiential List Formulator, to help shoppers plan a personalised shopping experience by using the brains of an IBM Watson-enabled platform. The entire system is driven by AI and can understand through voice recognition technology queries and sentiments of customers and can output a personalised plan for each customer based on their answers to a series of questions.
AI impacts retailer’s operations
In addition to the customer-facing impacts of AI to the holiday shopping experience, there’s a tremendous amount of AI tech being utilised behind the scenes as well. From insights to manage inventory and to optimisesupply chains and delivery routes, AI helps make retail more efficient.
A modern “Silent Night”
And perhaps the most entertaining use of AI for the holidays is experiments to have AI compose new holiday songs. Although more fine tuning is needed before these holiday melodies become classics, this early work provides interesting insight into the possibilities for AI and human collaboration for music composition. A team of computer scientists at the University of Toronto first fed the machine hours of pop songs so the algorithm could understand the elements of what makes a good song. Then they had it write a story about a picture of a Christmas tree with presents underneath it. The outcome of this effort is a tune that shows some promise but still needs quite a bit of work, but it also supports the idea that AI might be a “great band member” in the future and that humans and AI will continue to collaborate to make music that we all can enjoy. Thomas Holm, a Norwegian “The Voice” contestant, is the musician that collaborated with Microsoft to refine the lyrics and finalise a song created by artificial intelligence called “Joyful Time in the City,” and this experiment gives us a good look at how music composition might happen in the future with the support of AI.
AI has infiltrated this holiday season like never before. In most cases, the efficiencies and conveniences AI enabled retail provides us are welcome by all.