Artificial Intelligence: Saint Or Sinner?


Once Artificial Intelligence really takes off, retail will never be the same again Getty

Here’s a question for the digital age: in a car crash involving an autonomous vehicle and a pedestrian, who dies? The pedestrian or the passengers?

Well, let’s hope neither because I for one wouldn’t wish to be faced with that conundrum but it needs answering before we witness widespread adoption of autonomous vehicles.

Neither are we about to see our skies filled with drones, frantically crisscrossing the skies making deliveries up and down the country. Since July this year, in the U.K. it has been illegal to fly a drone above 120 meters, pilots require a license from the Civil Aviation Authority and there are strict guidelines for usage.

A little closer to home, although not life-threatening, many businesses are faced with the dilemma of whether to declare their call center chatbots as being just that or whether to let the caller make assumptions as to the provenance of the ‘person’ on the other end of the phone.

Online grocer Ocado plans to use digital assistants in the next 12 months but this will be to supplement call center chat, “Artificial Intelligence (AI) can’t resolve complex issues, that needs human interaction” according to Head of Operations Ian Pattle when speaking at a recent event in London.

You might, therefore, be forgiven for thinking that the future’s a bit bleak for AI, after all, we don’t want artificial, we want artisan and authentic. Don’t we?

Artificial Intelligence: Saint Or Sinner?


Assisted Intelligence, Augmented Intelligence – we all have our favorites and they don’t usually include ‘artificial’.

IBM is perhaps most well known for Watson and it was once put to me to think of Watson as like having ‘hundreds of little Einstein’s running around at your every beck and call’.

And whilst AI is becoming more and more ubiquitous – Spotify and Netflix being two examples of personalization being driven on virtually a one to one basis meanwhile Huawei claim that AI resides in my new P20 Pro smartphone to ensure crystal clear pictures even in very low light (it works) – I have a feeling that we are yet to experience the great AI epiphany.

Hyper-personalization is an area ripe for massive development and AI provides the means to achieve this.

Retailers are notoriously reluctant to disclose details of their use of AI (which in most cases is still in its relative infancy) and perhaps this is the clearest sign we have that they also realize the huge potential of AI.

One who has bucked this trend, however, is U.K. streetwear and sportswear retailer, Footasylum PLC which claims to have seen a 28 percent increase in email revenue from hyper-personalized marketing communications using AI as the engine to drive this.

“Customers now expect high levels of personalization at every single touchpoint.”

Tom Makin, e-commerce and marketing director at Footasylum

Delivering a highly relevant experience to each and every one of their customers is clearly paying dividends and this is why AI is so critical to the success of retail brands, whether online or in-store.

More than ever we expect a personalized experience and when we don’t get it, we simply move on to the next brand who are able to deliver against our expectations.

And for those who do, the rewards in terms of greater customer loyalty and growth are bearing fruit.

We may not have experienced the AI epiphany in retail just yet, however, we soon will; and when we do, retail will be changed forever.


I am a retail analyst, writer, and keynote speaker on retail challenges and trends with a focus on consumer behavior, customer experience, and technology disruption. Prior to founding Retail Reflections, during my 20-year retail career, I held senior positions at Kingfisher …


I am Founder of Retail Reflections, the go-to retail analyst consultancy, a global top 20 retail influencer, IBM Futurist, keynote speaker & writer focusing on consumer & tech trends in retail