How retailers will use emotion AI — online and in store

Whether customers feel good or bad about their experiences is ultimately underpinned by their emotions. This doesn’t matter what context they are in — every interaction is emotional.

As consumers, our shopping experiences mean quite a lot to us. If we stand in ridiculously big queues or receive terrible customer service, we are most likely to stay far away from or never return to that store. On the other hand, however, if we are delighted with the store’s customer service, the product range or even the floor layout, we are most likely to continuously purchase and build a relationship with the brand. Thus it is how we feel about and interact with a brand that drives our consumer decisions.

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As a business, you might be saying to yourself “we already know this – what’s the point?” but have you ever sat back and thought about whether you actually know how your customers are truly feeling while experiencing your brand in-store and online? The answer is probably no. And that’s why more and more retail experts are interested in the use of emotion AI.

Emotion AI takes artificial intelligence to the next level. The SXSW 2017 festival received lots of talk about the rise of chatbots within retail and how brands like Burberry and Nike are handing their customer services over to an artificial intelligence. But how do consumers feel about this? Would you like your inquiries to be dealt with by a robot?

Reaction has been positive

In fact, the use of AI within retail has received positive reactions. Forbes research shows that 70% of millennials in the US and 62% in the UK claim they would appreciate a brand or retailer using AI technology to show more interesting products. And on top of that, Gartner predicts that, by 2020, 85% of customer interactions in retail will be managed by AI.

While its use is perceived positively for efficient customer interactions, a key point has been made in various discussions; AI needs an emotional human touch if the customer service is to be consumer-friendly.

Adding empathy to AI would not only improve the personalisation of digital communication between customers and retailers, but also the physical interactions. Using emotion AI technology in-store will allow brands to understand and react to the emotional engagement of consumers. Facial recognition technology and GSR sensors could be used to show:

  • What areas of the store are most engaging,
  • Whether and when consumers feel stressed or disengaged within the store,
  • What products & offers are most engaging,
  • The emotional response to store layout and customer service.

The usefulness of emotion detection is enormous but retailers must primarily consider the opinions of their customers. Some may be ok with it, yet some may find it quite “creepy” and intrusive. As a brand, you have the opportunity to be a leader in this space – by being ethically responsible. You must show transparency at all times. Trust is the new currency for engagement and relationships, so demonstrate responsibility to earn it.

Expect use of emotion AI to grow

The use of emotion AI within the fashion industry will only grow. It will become massive in online retail, where you can understand emotions of your customers when you aren’t in front of them. It will help retailers in the physical stores understand the consumers’ emotional journeys. And while there may be concerns as to whether AI will disrupt human engagement there should be focused on the benefits it can bring to human interaction.

There is value in every moment of emotional responses of consumers – whether they are angry, happy, disappointed – and you should be part of sharing that experience as a brand, business owner or staff member to capitalize on it and help them. This space is not about disrupting the high street experience but about complimenting it and enhancing the customers’ emotional engagement. Ultimately, using consumers’ emotional data alongside traditional methods of customer feedback, the retail sector can finally gain a full 360 understanding of consumers and take action to improve business services and success.

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