Friday 1 November 2013

Mobile Shoppers with Smart Assistants

In a future when shoppers have the assistance of artificial intelligence, will you have the Big Data to guide them to your store?

How often do you see someone shopping at a store with a smartphone in hand? Mobile devices will continue to augment customer experiences in ways that retail executives ought to know about. Consider a scenario: A future when the tastes of mobile-empowered customers are satisfied with the help of intelligent personal assistants. As smartphones grow smarter with apps like Siri and Google Now, users will shop more intelligently with greater satisfaction.

A study by Google released earlier this year states that 84 per cent of "smartphone shoppers" use their phones to inform purchasing decisions while in the store. This means that many customers are reaching for their mobile devices before they seek an in-store representative. As this trend converges with the rise of #VoiceInterfaces, mobile shoppers will be able to speak directly with their 'smart assistants' about what they seek.

A bleak scenario

Mobile-empowered customers have already begun to change the retail industry by purchasing online instead of locally. An article in the cites a finding from the Office of National Statistics, that "£1 in every £10 is now spent online rather than in stores". The article notes an imbalance between online and physical retail experiences, thus "one-in-seven shops on the high street is empty". 

Or a bright scenario

A paper from Cisco's IBSG group presents a hopeful perspective that Retailers Can Turn Big Data into Big Profits and that frequent claims concerning the "physical retail store’s death" are exaggerations. They point out that mobile is a "core source" of Big Data, which alongside video and social media, promises "unprecedented sense-and-react capabilities". The paper goes on to suggest that...
"... [f]actors such as gender, age, buying history—even the posture, mood, and common behaviors demonstrating the indecision of a consumer—can all be channeled into real-time, predictive actions, while the shopper is in the store."
From the customer's point-of-view, these factors contribute to what Mark Bonchek calls, "Little Data". In his HBR article, he draws a distinction between the Big Data that organisations use to target customers in personal ways and the Little Data that we as individuals know about ourselves—which he adds can lend us "insight into our own behavior." He then entertains the possibility of "personal shopping assistants" that could provide consumers with shopping lists, useful information for purchasing decisions, and personalised offers from favourite brands. 

Personal assistants are here, but customers seek dialogue

A recent survey by Nuance Communications found that customers would like these intelligent personal assistants to talk back more. A majority of respondents (83 per cent) said they prefer to engage in "conversational dialogue" with their personal mobile assistants more than dictating one-way voice commands.

One can imagine that personal assistants may soon converse with customers about what to buy, or not. #ArtificialIntelligence could become aware of their owner's personal data, particularly through the context-rich #BigData that marketers yield. The #Retail experience may forever be transformed by the likes of Siri, Google Now, or other contenders with up-and-coming #VoiceInterfaces.

Apple's Siri is smart, but falls short

Greg Satell writes at of the difficulty Apple's Siri will face "3-5 years from now when Big Data and artificial intelligence become an important part of the consumer experience." He notes how Siri's position is eroding as their competitors invest more heavily in systems that combine natural language with Big Data.

At, Jemima Kiss wonders if Siri will one day know exactly what its users want and when. The difficulty, she points out, is "a small data problem; unlike Big Data, where patterns and trends easily emerge, individual human beings can be unpredictable and can change behaviour, which is not helpful for pattern-hunting algorithms."

Placing these troubles aside, shoppers who desire the assistance of Siri in seeking the best deals can do so, as this how-to guide suggests: "For example, you might ask Siri, 'What is the average price of a gallon of gasoline in Denver?'" (

Google Now is getting smarter

In another article at, Robert Hof interviews Google Now developer Jeff Dean, whose  expertise in a form of artificial intelligence involving deep learning has ensured the product can recognise speech patterns in noisy environments. Additionally, Dean's 14 years of experience with Google has involved the development of products that process the company's Big Data with its vast computing power.

For shoppers, the Google Offers feature has recently been incorporated into Google Now to provide users with reminders when they are near stores that offer products they have expressed interest in purchasing. (

Other contenders

ZDNet's Mary Jo Foley recently reported that Microsoft has developed a personal assistant technology named Cortana, which will extend across all Microsoft devices. Amazon appears to have acquired a technology named Evi from a British startup that is said be capable of ‘learning’ and 'understanding' what a user means. There is also speculation about Facebook's acquisition of speech-recognition and machine translation software may bring "a major player in the digital assistant arena."

The winner will most likely be the intelligent personal assistant that actually is intelligent, or at least smart enough to help shoppers score the best possible deals while anticipating purchasing needs in advance: birthday gifts, groceries, household goods, etc. Such an assistant could also be a competitive advantage for retailers, too.

Today's Challenges

When it comes to marketing to mobile customers, ignoring Big Data, or more precisely, a customer's Little Data, is a bad idea. Executives who utilise  #BusinessIntelligence today will prove more prepared for tomorrow's #FutureTechnologies; especially as intelligent personal assistants begin to help mobile-empowered customers #SaveMoney. One also hopes that if A.I. becomes truly smart it would provide shoppers with a satisfying dialogue that directs them right through the door of their neighbour's local store.

Image: Gifts from Savile Row

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