If you were to judge the health of a sector on headlines alone, 2018 has not been a great year for retailers.
House of Fraser, Homebase and Debenhams are among the big brands to fall on bad times.
The Centre for Retail Research reports that 23 UK retailers have failed during the first half of the year, with more than 1,800 stores and nearly 21,000 workers affected.
High rents, lower consumer spending and a weak currency have all been blamed for the downfall of brands which have stood proudly on the nation’s high streets and retail parks for many years.
But as we all know, it’s the rise of online retailers and e-commerce which has perhaps had the biggest impact.
The success of Amazon is well documented, its growth seemingly unstoppable.
Alongside its stunning financial success – this week it became only the second company to be valued by Wall Street at $1tn – Amazon has maintained a good reputation among British shoppers, and recently won the accolade of the UK’s most reputable retailer. According to research from The Reputation Institute, Amazon was voted top retailer for products and services, innovation, leadership and performance.
It is the continual innovation of Amazon and its use of technology which has made it the envy of the retail world.
Artificial Intelligence (AI) has played a key role at Amazon for many years – it was one of the first companies to use the technology to drive its product recommendations. AI is at the heart of more recent product innovation at Amazon – the popular Echo device is now a feature in millions of UK homes and features AI bot Alexa.
But it’s not just the big online retailers which are using the power of AI to drive innovation.
Many of our clients at Whiteoaks are helping retailers use the technology to drive efficiencies and enhance customer experience.
One such client is global reviews and customer insights company Feefo, which offers retailers an AI-powered online reviews platform, to gain unrivalled customer insight and make smarter business decisions.
The Feefo Smart Themes plug-in helps the customers of its clients instantly find the most relevant and useful information they’re looking for from all the reviews, in real-time.
AI also drives the smart reporting tool, Performance Profiling, which provides unrivalled insights into product and service performance throughout the customer journey, including detailed understanding of strengths and weaknesses along with valuable business intelligence.
While the subject of AI may seem alien to many smaller, independent retailers, innovative companies such as Feefo are demonstrating how their solutions can help retailers of any size stay ahead of the competition and improve their business prospects.
AI has a remarkable ability to spot patterns and shifts in data – retailers which fail to invest in such technology risk missing changes in consumer behaviour, and ultimately, risk losing their customers for good.