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Here’s why retailers won’t buy AI from you

Here’s why retailers won’t buy AI from you

As the saying goes, you wait ages for a bus to come along and then three come all at once. And that is where we are with AI right now – suddenly there are a rash of tech vendors whose unique sales proposition is that they are using AI to help retailers drive big decisions around forecasting, pricing, promotions, customer relationship management, churn management, security monitoring and so on.

And that’s all to the good; retail needs some hard science in its decision-making, in the face of a consumer that no longer fits within even the most up to date demographic definitions – boomers, generation X, Y, Z and now Alpha. Worse, they morph between definitions so that age is no longer the prime indicator of what a shopper might do next.

The data around this unpredictable behaviour is so enormous and therefore so hard for humans to analyse quickly or even at all, that AI is really the only tool that will enable retailers to make profitable sense of it.

However, this creates a major challenge for the vendors that are selling data analytics and recommendations engines powered by AI. Only two years ago, AI was news to most of us, and we were happy to talk science and theory almost endlessly. Remember the debate over what was the difference between AI and Machine Learning? Doesn’t matter anymore really; any systems powered by AI will learn as it goes, that’s a given now.

But spare a thought for the poor retailer who has to make bets on who to work with, and how.

So here are my five recommendations to any vendor selling AI-powered solutions.

  • Focus on the value you bring to the retailer, not the AI. No one cares that you have more data scientists than your closest competitor, particularly if they don’t know much about retail. And by value I mean more than just hard figures on stock out reductions which, while they may be achievable, are generally not believed by retailers who have heard it all before.
  • Employ a seasoned retail expert to sell, because the retailer will expect you to know as much as they do about retail management. There are less of these around than you think. Some are already well positioned in role, while some are languishing forgotten inside some of the traditional ERP vendors.
  • Do your homework on the retailers you are trying to sell to. Some are not ready for AI because their data is all over the place and cannot easily be brought together. Or their internal politics means you cannot get them to make a decision soon or ever.
  • Get your messaging right, make it simple, compelling and repeatable and don’t stray from it. So many vendors lose confidence because they think their messaging is not ‘resonating’ so they are permanently reinventing it.
  • Collaborate with retailers, don’t sell at them. I think black box AI may well be perfect for some retailers, but for most it is not, and many have already realised this. They need something that you can build together. The arrogance with which many vendors go to market may impress their investors and fire up the Series C funding round, but retailers see straight through it.


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