How embracing artificial intelligence can elevate the shopper experience

Mintel’s Joel Gregoire on seizing the AI opportunity

The pandemic amplified the growth of online grocery shopping as shown by the nearly one-third of shoppers who make at least some purchases in this manner. This shift has enabled a deeper integration between tech and shopping behaviours, leading to profound implications for interactions both online and in the store with consumers.

Saving time is the main reason consumers shop online and this seemingly obvious, yet important, rationale can also apply to in-store experiences, with self-checkout aisles being a clear example. However, this is just the beginning, as advancements in generative artificial intelligence (AI) open up the potential to supply more tailored experiences to meet individual needs at lightning-fast speeds. 

Our research shows that half of shoppers are interested in using AI to find discounts. There is no reason for its impact on shopping to end there. Generative AI enables a level of customization that was, until recently, unfathomable. For example, instantly creating shopping lists that cater to a near-unlimited range of specific needs, including addressing different dietary considerations. In this respect, retailers that invest in AI can elevate their banners beyond being a place to buy products and also position themselves as an advisor to consumers, helping meet their needs.

AI also holds the potential to introduce shoppers to ideas they might not have otherwise considered. For instance, an often-referenced use case is to query generative AI about meal suggestions across a range of criteria. This includes meeting specific dietary needs, providing suggestions for special occasions or just asking for ideas on what to make for dinner on any given night.

With many open to the idea of using AI for guidance when it comes to what they buy, the opportunity for grocery stores is to further integrate this into the shopping experiences they provide. For instance, can the foods and ingredient recommendations be easier to find in the store? Can retailers provide an optimal pathway for consumers when shopping for recommended foods to make their trips quicker? Can stores use AI to predict future areas of demand based on inquiries in both the near and long-term?

Another consideration is how AI might affect impulse purchases. Will instantly available customized shopping lists based on specific needs take some of the exploration out of grocery shopping? It’s hard to say, but it doesn’t have to. Clever and considered merchandising will always be important when it comes to in-store shopping. As the saying goes, “eye appeal is buy appeal” and no matter how far technology advances, this axiom will likely hold.

Furthermore, it’s important to consider the role generative AI can have in providing shoppers with ideas they might not have otherwise considered, potentially revealing new areas of opportunity. If anything, the events of this decade thus far have clarified the importance of embracing new ways of operating. Generative AI has the potential to be the next iteration in how technology interacts with shopping habits, and the retailers that embrace it can reap the rewards.

This article first appeared in Canadian Grocer’s December 2023/January 2024 issue.

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