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Bricks and Mortar: 5 Real Applications of AI To Improve Bottom Line

Many applications of Artificial Intelligence (AI) for brick and mortar retail seem far off, or too futuristic. We picked 5 of the more accessible applications of AI that could help improve your bottom line this year.

1. User accounts

Brick and mortar stores have often felt disadvantaged when it comes to AI compared to e-commerce retailers. Stores simply do not have the same depth of customer behavior tracking data that Amazon does, for example. However, many AI applications for e-commerce could transfer to physical stores.

With store user accounts, retail brands better synchronize offline and online retail.

The mingling of brick and mortar with online shopping occurs in many ways – such as relying upon location-based services or the use of a universal cart that can be used whether you are shopping on a mobile, desktop or voice-powered device. Omnichannel commerce covers many forms of customer experience – the many touch points a customer has with a retailer. Brick and mortar retail can rely on online data when shoppers set up a user account at the store, or from using click and collect or delivery services. With store user accounts, retail brands better synchronize offline and online retail. This reduces the “separateness between these channels [that] poses a threat to operational efficiencies and adds friction to customers hoping to shop in a seamless and consistent fashion.”

2.Recurring billing

A shift towards recurring orders and subscription shopping services is taking place. Retailers can immediately think of ways to encourage clients to consider their habitual, recurring purchases (laundry soap for instance) and plan for them. In that way, habitual orders can be delivered “on repeat.”

Smaller companies might consider subscription programs to expand customer reach and deepen relationships.

Smaller companies might consider subscription programs to expand customer reach and deepen relationships. With subscriptions, member incentives increase visitors to physical locations (Special offers). An example of a “masterful combination of a subscription program and a sophisticated store network”, is Sephora. Cosmetics are especially suitable as sampling products. Those interested want to try out new products – plus they are small and easy to ship. “Sephora’s PLAY! program offers subscribers access to new products through home deliveries while also encouraging them to shop at their local stores to build up points they can redeem for exclusive prizes and experiences.”

3. Style assistants

AI Style assistants in stores are not too far off, as well as other forms of augmented reality, like voice-activated assistants. Expect changes in the store environment, such as is already happening at Zara. “At Zara’s new flagship store in London, shoppers can swipe garments along a floor-to-ceiling mirror to see a hologram-style image of what they’d look like as part of a full outfit. Robot arms get garments into shoppers’ hands at online-order collection points. iPad-wielding assistants also help customers in the store order their sizes online, so they can pick them up later.”

4. What’s Old is New Again

What is AI really anyway? Retail AI is simply mimicking the original experience of a country store (when an associate would help you, care about you, and talk with you) (personalization), with empathy (care for the customer) and manners.

The bulk of retail revenue continues to be derived from brick and mortar stores. The tactile nature of shoppers’ needs is one of the most important factors of this and why physical retail remains. AI can improve empathy, or sensitivity and understanding of a customers’ point of view – and needs – to scale. As observed by many, “It’s no longer about segmenting customers based on general characteristics such as gender or age. Knowing a consumer’s attitudes and sentiments towards things, favorite day of the week they like to shop, the associate they like to deal with, the price points that they buy at, etc., will help retailers better target their consumers and deliver a great experience.”

Using AI options can begin today, even in the way we remember the original needs of the customer.

5. Logistics & Inventory Management

AI addresses out of stock product head on. With AI solutions, a notification that an item is out of stock, running low or out of place in the store is sent out right away to an in-store associate. Currently, Home Depot’s website offers “a vast array of local store data, such as stock levels down to the number of SKUs carried in a store. If you need 10 items of a specific SKU, you want to know a store has that many before you go. It’s no good if we only have two,’” explains Dave Abbott, the retailer’s vice president of integrated media.

Also, data-driven insights on the logistics end, such as offered by BlueGrace, increase operational efficiency

Also, data-driven insights on the logistics end, such as offered by BlueGrace, increase operational efficiency. Using BlueGrace proprietary technology connects retailers with AI possibilities. After companies undergo a review with a BlueGrace specialist, they are presented with new opportunities for cost savings, such as opportunities to implement predictive analytic technology with certain partners that will factor in weather and inventory levels. This will help direct trucks to different stores as part of an overall supply chain improvement. BlueGrace’s enhanced shipment visibility and business intelligence pave the way for AI initiatives.

For more information on how BlueGrace can help you create visibility and operational efficiency, feel free to fill out the form below or contact us at 800-MY-SHIPPING.

Accelerating Business Growth And Lowering Cost With Data Analytics

Too many companies are experiencing transportation and freight expenses as one of their top three costs. Smaller companies feel the pinch the most. They typically incur greater logistics costs than medium and large sized companies, as do companies that sell lower product value goods. In a recent survey, 32% of online retailers expected logistics and delivery to be their biggest cost this year. The expense of moving products or assets to different destinations should not be the leading cost in any business, if possible. (See How Does Freight and Transportation Fit into your Budget? 

What’s behind the dramatic rise in transportation costs in nearly every sector? There are simply not enough drivers on the road to keep up with demand.  

Truck Capacity Crunch 

The first explanation for the rise in transportation costs is the truck capacity crunch.

The first explanation for the rise in transportation costs is the truck capacity crunch. See “Rising Costs and Lower Capacity in the Domestic Truckload Market.” There are simply not enough drivers on the road to keep up with demand. “Surging transportation demand is spurring trucking companies to charge as much as 30 percent more for long-distance routes compared with prices a year ago, and they’re hard pressed to add capacity because of a long-standing shortage of drivers,” explains Thomas Black, in Bloomberg’s “There Aren’t Enough Truckers, and That’s Pinching U.S. Profits.” Tyson Foods Inc anticipates paying $200 million more for freight in 2018 from the previous year. Kellogg Co’s logistics costs are expected to rise by nearly 10 percent. 

Chief Executive Jim Snee of Hormel Foods, the maker of Skippy peanut butter and SPAM, says, “We don’t believe we’re going to recoup all of our freight cost increases for the balance of the year.” He informed Reuters that the company’s operating margin sank to 13.2 percent, from 15.6 percent due to rising costs – freight among them – in the most recent quarter. 

Stringent Demands of the ELD Mandate 

The second reason is the new ELD (Electronic Logging Devices) Mandate which entered into force on December 18, 2017.  Drivers are now driving less, in keeping with the new regulations. Fewer drivers on the road at any given time due to the ELD Mandate is equivalent to taking 200 to 300,000 or so trucks off the market, according to a podcast episode by Freight Savings Tips.

Truck Driver Wage Increase

With fewer people getting licensed to become truck drivers, and older drivers retiring (see “Attracting the Next Generation of Truckers”), it will be inevitable that wages will need to go up to attract much-needed drivers. To cover the cost of truck driver wage increases, truckload rates will inevitably rise. 

Fuel Price Hikes 

The rise in fuel prices is especially hard-hitting for companies as fuel represents a significant portion of freight spends – often appearing as a surcharge on carrier invoices or embedded in line-haul rates. Fuel, according to the Harvard Business Review, is often the “largest inadequately monitored part of a company’s cost structure.” 

Tom Kloza, global head of energy analysis for Oil Price Information Service calls this season “the most expensive driving season since 2014.”  

Congestion In Cities 

With increased traffic volumes and customer expectations on delivery times, the pressure to perform – quickly, and in congested parts of the city (i.e., tricky navigation) is very real. Consumer changes and complicated last-mile delivery obligations require money which must then be offset elsewhere. 

The main solution – and greatest hope for companies engaged in shipping activity –  is data analytics.

What To Do: It’s All about Data Analytics 

The main solution – and greatest hope for companies engaged in shipping activity–  is data analytics. Data analytics lessen the cost of bringing products to retailers or customers by uncovering new possibilities.  

Transportation spending covers many dimensions. Therefore, there are many opportunities to control the spend. These solutions come in the form of reconsidering warehouse processes, leveraging IT systems, revising package and product designs to alleviate excess weight and increase shipment density, or “nearshoring” (reducing the number of miles shipments travel). 

Bringing in the Experts

Companies who have relied on BlueGrace’s tried-and-true data analytics have recouped losses from mistakes they have made in the past. Consider the consumer packaged good company that underwent BlueGrace data analysis to determine what the “true cost” of its orders were (using information from historical orders) when freight cost was allocated.

The company executives were able to “drill down and allocate a freight cost to not only the customer level but the customer location, customer location type (Direct to Store or Distribution Center) and even down to the SKU level.

The company executives were able to “drill down and allocate a freight cost to not only the customer level but the customer location, customer location type (Direct to Store or Distribution Center) and even down to the SKU level. Since freight cost was not passed through to the client, this would either show a net margin loss on certain orders or opportunities to reduce the freight cost allocation on others to become more competitive. The result highlighted regions that were more costly to ship to, products that did not have enough margin potential to consider shipping unless they met a specific minimum requirement and insight into regions of the country that would benefit from an additional warehouse location.” 

With BlueGrace’ specialized business intelligence, processes become clearer. Transportation costs are curbed relative to sales and overall budget. Ready to find your own clarity today? Feel savings relief by taking the first step. Watch the video on our proprietary game-changing data service here and talk to an expert today. Fill out the form below or call 800.MY.SHIPPING (697-4477) to be connected to a Transportation Management Expert.