In the retail sector, there's an ongoing debate of man versus machine. Who's best suited to engineer the innovative new ideas that will move the industry forward - is it data-driven software systems, armed with banks of information about customer behavior, or is it retail executives who have a wealth of experience in the industry?
The latest line of thinking is that no one should have to choose - instead, man and machine can coexist and accomplish a great deal together. If companies collect a good volume of consumer information and also work to maintain data quality, they can combine their technology expertise and analytical thinking abilities to achieve a lot.
According to The Record, there's a growing sentiment that artificial intelligence can be used to anticipate and react to customers' demands in a retail setting.
Ginni Rometty, chairman and chief executive of IBM, told the news source at a recent industry event that information-gathering and analysis technologies are transforming the world now, the same way electricity did in the 19th century. She cited the company's Watson computer, which beat two human champions on Jeopardy, as one piece of evidence that computing power is reaching its apex.
"This is a new era of man-machine collaboration," Rometty said.
If a computer can win at a game show, there's no reason it can't also serve customers in a store. If artificial intelligence can be used to study general knowledge and answer questions, why can't it also be used to help shoppers find the goods they demand?
Meeting changing consumer needs
Of course, these challenges are compounded by the fact that retail customers' demands are constantly changing.
People today love to shop online, for the price savings and the convenience it offers to their daily lives. They also sometimes prefer to look at products in stores, then use their mobile devices to continue shopping around, looking at discounts and deals they could find elsewhere.
It's imperative that retail companies today adjust to these changing habits. Across the industry, there's a sentiment that people are energetic and ready to embrace a new way of doing things.
"There is a growing realization by retailers that the customer is changing, and they need to change with the customer," said Steven Skinner, senior vice president of New Jersey IT firm Cognizant Technology Solutions, according to The Record.