Meghan Stabler

It’s all about control: AI-powered solutions create value, a few challenges, for retail

HIGH POINT — In contrast to where new technologies are in terms of current solutions for manufacture and design, AI-enabled tools are having a much more immediate and extensive impact for furniture retail.

One only needs to hop into the online storefront of any major furniture retailer to see an AI-powered chatbot to help the customer make purchasing decisions, follow up on previous purchases and perform basic customer service functions such as initiating a return.

But AI’s impact on the retail experience expands far beyond that little chatbot at the bottom corner of the screen. It is changing the way that product recommendations are curated for each user, altering how feeds of suggested products are organized based on user search terms, and empowering customers with visualization tools that have the potential to increase their confidence in purchases and lower rates of return.

Meghan Stabler

Meghan Stabler, senior vice president of marketing at ecommerce solutions provider BigCommerce, which works with names in the home furnishings space including Burrow and American Leather, explained that her company deploys an AI-powered solution in its product to help retailers optimize the content of product descriptions based on pre-defined inputs.

As retailers must continually reassess “how to describe their product to a (target) demographic so that certain search arguments turn up,” AI solutions can “allow (a retailer) to define tone” and tailor item descriptions to the tendencies of the target buyer, she said.

Once a customer finds a product, new technologies can help retailers increase the likelihood that consumers click that checkout button.

3D visualization tools and augmented reality can come into play here in a big way, and the data is backing up the widely held assumption that customers indeed want these tools.

A study recently published by 3D Cloud by Marxent showed that today’s buyers react well to, and are increasingly coming to expect, 3D visualization technologies, both online and in-store.

The study noted that 3D visualization tools make customers feel empowered and confident in their purchasing decisions, with 76% reporting feeling more knowledgeable from having used them.

Smoother supply chain

AI is also greasing the wheels of the supply chains upon which retailers rely. Gigacloud Technology, a large parcel B2B e-commerce software solutions provider, backs up its supplier-fulfilled retailing model with AI-powered algorithms.

Iman Shrock

Company president Iman Shrock notes that AI solutions drive GigaCloud’s ability to ensure “end-to-end optimization, meaning from the manufacturing facility, all the way to the end consumer.”

“Our algorithm and AI calculate a nationwide flat rate and also tracks and controls the reliability of each transaction, the transacting party’s reputations, past purchase behavior, and more, in real time,” Schrock said.

This AI-powered functionality allows GigaCloud to account for “a mind-bending number of calculations and optimizations” as it “figures out where to store the product so it is closer to the end consumer, how to calculate the nationwide flat rate and how to make sure the entire system” runs more efficiently and profitably.

These new technologies are also making a splash beyond the online store front, with brick-and-mortar retailers integrating AI- and AR-powered solutions into the actual infrastructure of their stores.

One example of this has seen Sam’s Club deploying computer vision cameras at exits, which snaps images of carts and confirms payment for all items in a member’s basket.  The systems then feed that information back into a central database, allowing AI to enhance its ability to confirm purchases for thousands of items at exit transactions at various locations through the process of ML.

Inspiration and creation

Many of the visualization tools that furniture retailers are offering customers are simplified and streamlined versions of the tools being deployed by designers and manufacturers, and most of the major 3D visualization vendors offer retail-facing iterations of their solutions.

But there is one very interesting case of a startup developing an AI-powered visualization and design tool that is geared entirely toward the general public.

Raffi Holzer
Raffi Holzer

Palazzo, which was launched earlier this year with tennis superstar Venus Williams as a co-founder, features an AI-powered virtual assistant that combines artificial intelligence with augmented reality to offer users design ideas that, the company claims, will evolve as it sharpens its understanding of their preferences.

Although still in the beta stage, the company says that its tool aims to “make design accessible to the layperson,” and Raffi Holzer, the company CEO and co-founder along with Williams, said that the implications of these AI-powered solutions have the potential to be massive for furniture retailers.

“AI has the capacity to bridge the gap between inspiration and creation for so many design enthusiasts out there who don’t have the time or patience to learn a 3D rendering tool for themselves,” Holzer noted, adding that giving users these tools can help retailers by giving their customers the means to conduct trial and error before adding an item to their cart.

These tools, which make product customization easier for and accessible to everyone, do come at the cost of increasing the public’s demand for them when making purchasing decisions for the home.

“One of the primary knock-on effects of AI in interior design is likely going to be raising customers’ expectations around personalization in design, Holzer said. “AI can bring different styles into the consumer’s own home. It can also learn a given customer’s unique tastes. Tailored offerings and experiences are going to become table stakes as retailers continue to compete for customer attention.”

The increasing ubiquity of these customization tools is an illustrative point: They are helping retailers increase consumers’ purchase confidence and reduce rates of return, thus boosting bottom lines. However, the use of these tools may also require them to keep up with an entirely new set of expectations on the part of their customers.

AI-powered new technologies don’t just grease the wheels of commerce for the furniture industry; they are changing how the machine operates.

See also:

  • AI in the sky: Sam’s Club deploys in-store computing at exits
  • 2023 People to Watch | Artificial Intelligence
  • Walmart will now sell AI-powered logistics tech to all businesses
  • Interested in adding AI to your operations? FMG speakers shared ideas

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