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The Future of Retail with Mixed Reality and AI Technology

By Tracy Issel, General Manager, Worldwide Retail & Consumer Goods, Microsoft on September 14, 2017

Filed under Retail & Consumer Goods

Designing a store layout with mixed reality technology

The advancements and speed of technology innovation are catapulting the retail industry forward into an exciting new future. Inside this new retail world, retailers and brands are limited only by their imaginations. Using the latest innovations as the undercurrent—things like mixed reality, machine learning and AI technology—you can now truly put your customers at the center of your business.

The ability to deliver seamless, personalized and differentiated customer experiences across the shopping journey is now possible. A new way of working and collaborating is now possible. New capabilities to transform your business and product offerings are now possible.

With mixed reality and AI technology, the future of retail is here. Let’s explore what retailers and brands can do with these technology innovations.

Transforming retail through AI technology

When someone mentions artificial intelligence, our first thought might still be of robots and science fiction. But AI now goes far beyond that. In today’s world, AI is both a very real field of study and a collection of different technology. It’s modeled after the human brain—which senses, processes, and acts on information—learning and adapting over time, largely through the identification of patterns in data.

The power of AI in retail comes in the ability to use this intelligent technology throughout the customer’s shopping journey and your organization, helping tap into even greater potential and transform what’s possible.

As we look at the types of customer experiences shoppers want, innovations like chatbots, cognitive and machine learning, advanced analytics, and blockchain—combined with connected devices like beacons, machines and headsets—can infuse data and insights wherever they’re needed. The result? Digital engagements that are personal, contextual and relevant based on purchase history, demographic information, location, time of day, and other data sources.

As your customers’ lives change on a weekly, hourly or even minute-by-minute basis, AI technology has the means to not just respond to, but predict and anticipate, their needs, to deliver just the right experience, and even that “Wow, I wasn’t expecting that” experience.

See for yourself the power of these innovations working together throughout a connected shopping journey.

AI technology: Learning from the leaders

One retailer tapping into the power of AI to deliver personalized shopping experiences across channels is UK-based Dixons Carphone. A major European electronics and telecommunication retailer and service provider, it’s using the capabilities of the Microsoft Bot Framework and Microsoft Cognitive Services to build AI into its customer interactions, boosting engagement and empowering its employees. I talk more about their success story here.

JJ Food Service is another great example, using advanced technologies like machine learning and predictive ordering, combined with sensors and mobile apps, to improve operational efficiencies and make it as easy as possible for its foodservice customers and suppliers to work with them. Pier I Imports is also using the benefits of machine learning to empower its employees with actionable reports and visualizations for more effective marketing campaigns and stronger customer relationships.

Transforming retail through mixed reality

As we look ahead at the future of shopping, mixed reality is another technology innovation I’m incredibly excited about for retailers and consumer brands.

By mixed reality, we mean providing devices with the ability to perceive the world—breaking down the barriers between virtual and physical reality. Imagine wearing a virtual reality device and seeing your physical hands as you manipulate an object, working on the scanned 3D image of a real object, or bringing in a holographic representation of another person into your virtual world so you can collaborate.

For retailers and brands, its transformative capabilities are endless. Mixed reality has the power to bring an image, product label or even shop windows to life. Customers can see brands and their stock in a new way and engage with them on a completely new level.

Imagine if consumers could see, hear, and feel the presence of the experiences and goods you are selling—without leaving the comfort of their couch. Or, in a brick-and-mortar environment, shoppers can go beyond the physical inventory, sampling different product features from virtual catalogs, or designing their new kitchen as it comes to life around them.

With mixed reality technologies, employees can also experience and work with digital content in relation to the real world, unlocking new insights, capabilities and levels of customer service.

Retail marketers can visualize data in a 3D world to help adjust promotions based on customer demand. New hires can practice performing job duties in real-world situations. Retail planners and merchandisers can visualize designs, share plans with others, and walk through their floorplans together before they build, whether they’re physically there or not.

See for yourself how mixed reality can bring together a virtual team to plan a product unveil at a brand’s flagship store.

Mixed reality: Learning from the leaders

The interest in mixed reality is high, and there are notable examples of retailers, brands and technology companies tapping into its potential.  

Volvo Cars is using HoloLens, Microsoft’s mixed reality technology, to reimagine how people experience car buying. Lowe’s is also using mixed reality and cognitive AI to reinvent kitchen visualization and design.

Trimble Dimensions is pioneering new, immersive mixed reality design processes. And Adobe is developing new, more powerful methods for marketing data visualization. See for yourself.

Enabling a new retail reality

Microsoft’s mission is to help every person and organization on this planet achieve more. Mixed reality and AI technology are helping make this possible. Which is why we are also focused on democratizing AI—making it more accessible to everyone—and infusing its capabilities across Microsoft’s portfolio of products.

For retailers and brands, these goals and outcomes translate to a unique combination of AI and a proven enterprise platform, helping you derive and use intelligence from a wide range of relevant data in more powerful ways to reinvent the customer journey and drive better business outcomes. We look forward to helping you take advantage of mixed reality and AI technology and transforming the future of retail with you!

LinkedIn: Tracy Issel

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