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Three Focuses for AI in Retail Design

If you ask AI (Artificial Intelligence) about its potential role with retail design, it will use the term “revolutionize.”

It shouldn’t be a surprise that AI adopts overstatement like a teenager. It’s new to the game. Still, it possesses vast potential. Retailers will want to understand, harness and then guide that youthful enthusiasm.

As noted by Paul Wolski, Miller Zell’s SVP and creative director, “AI output is only as good as the ability of the user to articulate the vision and direct and shape it.”

So, understanding AI as an exciting and useful but not necessarily magical new tool in the design kit, here are three ways AI can contribute to and enhance retail design.

Precise analytics that fuel data-driven design

AI can analyze vast amounts of data and provide actionable insights about customer demographics, sales data, foot traffic, dwell time, purchasing behavior, inventory management, predictive maintenance, etc.

While data analysis is not always infallible — shoppers are fickle and constantly changing — retailers can gain valuable interpretations of customer preferences and behavior, allowing creatives to tailor the design of their stores to better meet customer wants and needs.

For example, AI can help retailers determine the optimal layout for a store based on traffic flow. Or recommend the placement of specific products that are more likely to attract customer attention. This data-driven approach enables retailers to create more effective and engaging retail environments that drive sales, minimize congestion, encourage impulse purchases and enhance the overall customer experience.

… And data informs how designers use space

While inventory management and predictive maintenance don’t sound design related, they can be when you reverse engineer and smooth over these chronic pain points. Systems that prevent both overstocking and understocking of products, while also maintaining exacting maintenance schedules, ensure smooth back-of-the-house operations. That then can significantly influence a designer’s use of space.

Of course, the AI data analysis and findings might not revolutionize your previous store designs. That’s fine. If AI only reinforces or lightly tweaks its contribution, it is still a valuable asset.

Next-level personalization of the customer journey

Another AI chapter in the data analysis handbook is granular personalization with marketing and customer engagement. When customers opt in, AI can analyze demographics, purchasing history and online behavior to predict preferences and tailor the shopping experience, both in-store and out. 

AI can help retailers identify trends and patterns and then support the creation of targeted marketing campaigns and promotions.

As a design prompt, AI would combine its understanding of past purchase history to recommend products that are likely to be of interest to a specific customer or personalize digital in-store displays in real time based on customer preferences. It could aid not only the data collection and analysis but also “where” and “how” the messaging is incorporated into store design.

"...AI can analyze demographics, purchasing history and online behavior to predict preferences and tailor the shopping experience, both in-store and out."

Another step forward? Start with AI-powered chatbots and virtual assistants providing real-time assistance, and then imagine smart mirrors processing that information and suggesting outfits based on your personal style. Or digital displays showcasing products relevant to your browsing habits.

This personalized approach not only enhances the shopping experience for customers but also increases the likelihood of conversion and repeat business.

Optimized immersive and interactive customer experiences

AI-powered virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) applications are already part of many retail experiences. Like that sofa? You can use a QR code or store app to view what it would look like in your actual living room.

But the best AI applications pair these technologies with an ability to continually improve the experience, personalizing the immersive and interactive quality.

By using VR and AR, retailers also can test different design concepts and layouts before implementing them in physical stores, saving time and resources.

Or say Customer A engages one way, while Customers B and C act quite differently. AI can help you mold targeted customer experiences for all three and impact how to incorporate that multi-focused approach into your store design.

And that raises an important point. Customer As might in some cases find an immersive and interactive customer experience fun and engaging. But other times, they just want to move from car to product to checkout and back to car as fast as possible.

AI can be paired with new technology to create impressive customer experiences. It also can help you understand, design and implement customer experiences that are purely practical.

AI will continue to evolve and provide more innovative applications that will influence retail design. But, ultimately, it’s not about revolution or even radical transformation.

By leveraging AI technologies, retailers can create more engaging and effective retail environments that drive sales and enhance the overall customer experience.

Viewed as another resource in the branded environments tool kit, AI will enable retailers to stay creatively nimble and articulate a creative strategy with richer perspective.