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AI in the retail industry

AI-pioneer Amer Mohammed shares his thoughts on how AI will change the future for customer-centric industries.

Can AI help deliver a better customer experience?

That’s one of the biggest questions being asked right now. As retailers around the globe look to bounce back from the pandemic, both CX and the use of technology have taken center stage.

According to the Future Stores report - Leveraging Technology For Growth in 2021: A Strategic Restructuring of Retail Post-Covid - 40% of retailers surveyed in Europe said the majority of their budget would be spent on CX innovation.

So what impact can a shift to an AI-driven way of working have on customer-centric industries like retail?

To find out, we spoke to AI-pioneer and change manager Amer Mohammed. Amer is currently the Chief Digital Officer at Coop Sweden (one of the largest supermarket chains in the Nordics!). Before that, he has spent years building a wide range of companies from agile start-ups to traditional corporations.

Here’s how Amer thinks AI will change our future.

AI is not a choice, it’s a matter of survival

What matters most for businesses right now is having the courage to hop aboard and start experimenting with AI. While for many companies there might not be a clear business case for AI yet, senior management teams still need to understand the urgency to act and dare to experiment - and to do so without expecting an immediate ROI.  

“AI is not a choice, It’s a matter of survival. It is as simple as that. If you don’t try out this now you will fail,” Amer says.

He argues that the world is witnessing a similar radical and inevitable shift that we historically have seen with the emergence of electricity or personal computing - this time driven by AI. His main thesis is clear: AI will change everything fundamentally.

However, as the revolution is only starting, it’s impossible for anyone to know exactly how the shift will turn out. 

Let the smartest take the decisions

Amer says it’s important to have enough tech-savvy people at the very top of the organization to build up the courage and competence to experiment with AI. 

He also sees trust as the central aspect of management and hiring. “It’s crucial that the person with the competence is also the person who has the mandate to take the critical decisions,” he says. “I try to hire the smartest people in the world, not so that I can make the decisions, but so that they tell me what they need from me.”

Start from the customer, start testing, and start automating

When implementing AI-driven solutions, Amer’s advice is to start with the customer and figure out how a new solution will enhance their experience.

“In a highly competitive industry the key is to focus on the experience,” he says. “The right experience is found by testing; testing with customers and internally to get the right experience.” 

For a customer-centric company like Coop, the right place to start has been focusing on automation.

Amer says: “To create the best store experience in the world we have to start automating across the board. It’s why we’ve just started to create automated schedules with Quinyx in COOP Norrbotten.” 

By automating many of the daily tasks, Coop can use their limited human resources in more valuable ways. Instead of using the staff for scheduling shifts or at the cashier, the employees can focus on delivering the best possible customer experience.

The future of retail

Although buying behavior is becoming increasingly online-focused, Amer believes people will always seek physical experiences and opportunities to meet. And the data backs up his argument. Research carried out in the UK at the end of 2020 discovered that 80% of retailers say their stores are becoming just as, if not more important, to their business than before the pandemic.  

“I think in the coming two years we will see radical changes in what we call unified commerce, where we mix the digital and the physical,’ Amer says. “In the end, it’s all about creating convenience for the customer.” 

Listen to the full interview of Amer Mohammed!

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