Voice and AI were Key Topics on the Final Day of NRF

The role of Chief Digital Officer (CDO) is quickly invading retail. And it's easy to see why as the physical and digital worlds continue to meld together in the retail industry.

In a session on the final day of NRF 2019, three CDOs from Subway, Fullbeauty Brands, and BJ's Wholesale Club discussed what trends they have their eyes on as digital continues to increase in importance.

A common theme for all was voice technology. Subway's Carissa Ganelli even sees a future where voice-only becomes the primary interaction point between brand and consumer, specifically for advertising.

"Voice is going to get much bigger than it already is. I can see a future where the visual screen is obsolete," Ganelli said.

Fullbeauty's Christiane Pendarvis echoed the sentiment that voice will be a key driver for retailers, though she argued that multimodal experiences that add a visual component to the auditory channel of voice will help drive sales and engagement, especially for fashion brands like her own. She also stated that while voice and multimodal experiences aren't all the way there yet, brands can ill afford to wait if they want to keep customers happy.

"I think it will keep evolving. But you can't wait. You have to start now," Pendarvis said.

No doubt multimodal will help many industries sell via voice as consumers can get the "touch and feel" aspect of a retail sale along with the auditory experience.

Another common topic throughout the final day of NRF was artificial intelligence. Stanford University professor Irad Ben-Gal chatted with Kohl's Shweta Bhatia to discuss how AI will impact retail. There were also multiple sessions about how AI could impact the supply chain, making retailers more efficient as a result. Both Ben-Gal and Bhatia see AI helping retailers make real connections with consumers in the near-term.

With new technologies like voice and AI set to make waves in retail, brands will need to find what works best for the users and on what devices and locations. And even before retailers can fully train and prepare their AI experiences for the real world, they will have to figure out the "data dilemma" that comes along with AI systems.

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Dan Haggerty
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