Thanks in large part to ChatGPT, there’s been a lot of buzz around artificial intelligence (AI) in the last year. But the technology is quickly changing—and new options and updates appear literally every day. It’s enough to make many retailers wonder where to start… and if they’re already behind.
But despite the potential benefits, a good number of consumers are concerned about businesses using AI. Before jumping in head first, retailers using AI should consider where their customers are at—and what they’re looking for. And just as when smart home technology was first being introduced, business owners are well advised to not jump into AI just for the sake of it, but as a way to solve a specific problem or accomplish a specific goal.
Whether it’s concerns over data privacy or backlash over customer service chatbots, many consumers are wary of businesses and retailers using AI.
The Bentley-Gallup Business in Society survey found that:
- 79% of Americans don’t trust companies to use AI in a responsible way.
- 75% of U.S. adults think AI will negatively affect the U.S. job market by eliminating jobs over the next 10 years.
- 40% of U.S. adults think AI does more harm than good; 50% say it does equal harm and good. Just 10% of U.S. adults believe it contributes more good than harm.
Another recent survey from Forbes Advisor found that:
- 76% of Americans are concerned that AI will cause misinformation on a business’s website.
- 77% are concerned AI will cause job loss even in the next 12 months.
What Can Retailers Do
But current customer sentiment doesn’t necessarily mean that AI should be off the table. “To succeed in this evolving landscape, businesses may need to strike a balance between leveraging AI for its potential benefits and addressing consumer concerns,” the Forbes Advisor report concludes.
Noah Giansiracusa, associate professor of mathematics and data science at Bentley University, agrees. “This is a real opportunity for businesses to compete for customers by associating their brand with a more responsible use of AI,” he said.
Where to Start
According to McKinsey & Company, about 75% of the value generative AI could deliver falls across four areas: customer operations, marketing and sales, software engineering and R&D. When it comes to retailing, some specific goals AI can help achieve are increasing sales by generating personalized recommendations, better managing inventory, optimizing price levels and better forecasting future demand. There’s also plenty of ways retilers using AI can help streamline your internal operations or personal workload.
“Any time you have repetitive tasks every day like reading email, taking notes in a meeting or reviewing spreadsheets is when you should start investigating AI,” Jordan Brannon, president and COO of Coalition Technologies, told housewares leaders at IHA’s Chief Housewares Executives SuperSession (CHESS) earlier this month. An avid user and advocate of AI, Brannon uses AI internally at his own agency and in the digital campaigns they create and manage for housewares brands.
Brannon recommended starting with tools connected to software or platforms executives are already using, including Google and Microsoft. He also shared that his company now uses AI for reading job applications, administering skills tests and training new employees. He estimated they’ve been able to reduce expenses in this area by 21% without laying anyone off. They’re just able to get more done.
As you consider using AI on the customer side, keep in mind many people’s reservations about data privacy. According to the Forbes Advisor survey, consumers are most comfortable sharing data involving social media use and engagement (55%), prior purchases and actions (48%) and driving behavior and locations (48%). They’re least comfortable sharing text messages (33%) and phone conversations (21%).