Artificial Intelligence (AI) is the big thing in tech at the moment. The ability to use computing power to offload tedious or repetitive tasks that take people away from higher-value activities is seen as both a great benefit but also a significant threat to current employment. But cloud-based point-of-sale (POS) provider Vend has embraced AI as it rolls out its new Dott platform. This is a tool that will allow business people to gain better insights into customer behaviour and improved control over stock in their store. I spoke with Vend's founder Vaughan Rowsell about Dott and AI's role in retail.
Rowsell says the last year or so at Vend, while focussing on the "less sexy" aspects of the system such as backend services to support more different types of products and sellers, has seen a move towards helping their customers get more value from the platform. AI is one of the tools the company is adding to the mix.
"One of the things we've been putting a lot of effort into is the big data thing," said Rowsell. "This is something every customer has access to".
With over 20,000 retailers using the platform, each with many customers conducting multiple transactions, there is a rich vein of data to tap into. It means retailers can learn from this data regardless of where they are in their business' journey - from starting out to very experienced. And by using the insights provided by analysis of that data and real-time analysis of what's happening Dott, the company's new AI platform, offers suggestions and tips for retail users based on their current activity.
"Dott is really the embodiment of all that helpfulness - it's where we pick up all the learning in the platform so it can make suggestions to retailers".
Dott uses data from all the retailers on Vend's platform, anonymously and securely, to create suggestions that can help retailers. Rather than just providing a number or chart, Dott gives practical advice that a retailer can action.
This can range from reminders to collect customer data during the execution of a transaction through to ensuring you provide more detail when creating inventory records.
"We focus on things where retailers are burning dozens, if not thousands, of hours".
Rowsell said this has been one of the promises of AI.
"It's not about replacing all of the staff in the store. That's not a vision we believe in and we dont think consumers want that either. That's what we call 'undelightful retail'. This is what could drive a golden era for retail".
The aim, said Rowsell, is to reduce the amount of time spent on repetitive tasks so the retailer can focus on things that make a difference to customers - to create a more pleasant experience in the store.
As Dott looks at data across all the different retailers using the Vend platform, Rowsell says tasks such as product ordering can become more intelligent. Instead of simply replenishing stock based on what one retailer has sold, Dott can look across similar verticals or geographies to see what is selling more broadly and provide advice on whether simply replenishing the same stock is a good idea or adding different product lines might be a better option.
This is focus of Dott - giving the retailer more time to focus on the customer experience, doing what Rowsell calls the "invisible tasks" that are important for effective store operation but don't directly impact the customer while they are in the store.
As Dott is further developed - Rowsell said the platform will continue to evolve beyond this initial release - it will allow retailers to better understand how their customers engage with them and assist them with better targeting their marketing expenditure.
For example, Dott could assist with developing marketing campaigns using social media or email that target customers that used to have a high engagement but have stopped shopping as regularly with a retailer.
With retail undergoing significant disruption as online shopping is usurping in-store experiences as the preferred way of shopping, one of the tools bricks-and-mortar retailers has is the customer experience. In order to deliver a more personalised experience, retailers will need to know more about customers and have more time for them.
Dott is a step in that direction.