How to choose the right AI for big-box retail stores

AI platforms enable retailers to monetize every in-store moment like they do on e-commerce. Unlike existing sensors and data services, AI can gather e-commerce-like data easily without having to spend a lot on custom equipment or dedicated teams of people. No wonder it’s a must-buy in the industry shopping list for grocery and retailers.

However, researching and buying an AI platform for the first time can be daunting. In this guide, you will learn how the AI buying process works, and what you should be doing in each stage to find the best AI solution for your organization.

From initial consideration to buying the perfect solution, here are the 4 stages of buying an AI platform for your retail stores.

Stage 1: Identify how spatial intelligence platform can benefit your teams

Start the process by talking with internal stakeholders to understand the impact and value of an AI platform.

Ask your data science team

  • How would you compare our e-comm data to our brick-and-mortar data?
  • Do we have a clear picture of what our in-store customer experience is really like?
  • Is end of day Point-of-Sale (POS) data really enough to make important business decisions?

Ask your IT leadership

  • Have you ever thought about finding a tool to help quantify what’s happening in stores?
  • How does IT feel about cloud-hybrid solutions and what are their biggest concerns?

Ask your retail media team

  • How many eyeballs are our media ads getting on a daily or weekly basis?
  • What is the average dwell time in front of our retail media ads?
  • How are we monetizing our retail media ads?

Ask your visual merchandising team

  • How does lack of data impact your work and testing?
  • How do you justify experimental layouts and marketing?

Move forward with a clear thesis on the impact

After asking and gathering answers to these questions, you will have a better understanding on how in-store data that AI platforms collect can impact your retail’s performance. You can take a step forward by creating a clear thesis on the impact. For example:

"The perfect AI platform makes retail media team more impactful because it will save $XXX from pricing our in-store media inventory based on precise traffic, dwell time, and conversion data because they can justify a higher price with data."

"The perfect AI platform makes visual merchandising team better in their roles because they can justify experimental layouts and marketing that comes with huge investment as they can prove ROI and keep iterating it with intention and data instead of guessing and scrapping the entire strategy if it doesn’t work."

Stage 2: Determine evaluation criteria and shortlist the vendors that can provide the must-have items

Once you know that an AI platform could help your organization, it’s time to start looking at your options. Based on your internal conversation, setup evaluation criteria and start listing vendors and evaluate them based on the criteria you’ve setup.

sample competitive analysis table
Sample vendor vetting table

Here are a few things you can do during the initial research and vendor evaluation.

Decide what’s important to you

What are your goals for better understanding and improving the shopper experience? What do you need the most help with? Prioritizing different use cases and functions will help you choose the most impactful solution.

Solidify your timeline

Is there a specific deadline that you need the solution by? Check which technology provider can launch on existing hardware versus those that need to wire & install their custom hardware, taking time and a large CAPEX investment.

Check out cloud marketplace sites

Cloud service providers like Microsoft Azure and AWS have a vetted and certified list of softwares that suits your needs.

Review technology providers’ websites

Read through each product page, help documents, and customer stories.

Talk to peers and meet technology vendors

Network with your peers and technology vendors at events like ShopTalk, NRF and other conferences throughout the year to hear about their success stories with AI.

Stage 3: Explore the top options further through direct-contact

After reviewing the top AI companies, choose two or three options to learn more about and schedule a demo with them.

Now that you have a list of top vendors, reach out to the company to get more information about their services. Share the problem you are trying to solve and see how their technology can be applied to your business and satisfy your needs.

Book a demo

  • Is the platform intuitive?
  • Do they provide real-time and historical reporting?
  • Are there clear use cases that would impact your business?
  • Can you have unlimited users or are you charged for each person that is granted access?

IT/Security overview

  • Is the platform easy enough to setup?
  • Is it secure?
  • Do they deliver on-premise or cloud options?

Involve Key Stakeholders

  • Do you have buy-ins from the business leaders?
  • Have the end-users of the data weighed in?

Discuss POV

  • What are the POV success criteria?
  • Did you choose multiple stores to have a baseline? Choose sites with engaged teams so you can bring end-users to test the use case from beginning to end.

Move forward by choosing an AI platform with a 30 to 60 days Proof of Value (POV) process

Remember, the aim is to ensure that the AI platform is not only capable but also compatible with your unique operational environment and able to deliver value over the long term. POV is a crucial step in determining this.

Pro tip: Always ask vendors for a Proof of Value (PoV)

AI platform for retailers answers data questions for brick-and-mortar stores that were previously impossible with AI. Like any trend that gains attention, some companies can simply use the word “AI” in their copies to hype technologies they offer.‍

Thus, you should always ask vendors for a Proof of Value (POV) to 1) validate the solution’s value and to 2) prove the AI is working with accuracy. Both can be done in 30-60 days so it’s a red flag if the vendor says it’s not possible. We’ll examine how you can tell if the solution is actually powered by AI later here.

Stage 4: Connecting your stores to the AI platform you’ve bought

Additionally, a POV simplifies the buying process. Once you finish a successful POV with 2-3 stores, you can scale it across your stores without additional onboarding work. Below is a typical buying and POV process for an AI platform.

Connecting your stores to AI platform

Choose a partner that fits your business needs

AI platforms should be able to support your needs today and in the future. Have agreed upon business outcome(s) in mind; ensure you and your technology vendor of choice are working towards the same goal.

Pick and expert partner and let them do the heavy lifting

Your soon-to-be partner should make the onboarding and implementation process easy for you. See how your success advocate runs the project alongside you to ensure fast implementation process.

Instead of back-and-forth email communication, it’s better to use an onboarding portal to have an organized view of all action items so nothing gets lost in between.

Review the Statement of Work

Make sure there is a clear onboarding timeline and success criteria. Onboarding timeline should only take a few weeks, not months. Define what mutual success looks like as quantifiable goals so when the POV concludes everyone is well aware whether or not it will scale to the rest of the business.

What vendors will do

Your main point of contact will gather information to share with their broader team to ensure the POV is set up for success. This typically includes maps and images of the areas of interest.

Move forward to a successful AI implementation with an onboarding portal

A successful AI implementation takes a little planning and forethought, but we’ve mapped out the process to make it easier for you. At this point you should have an onboarding portal to view the next steps and an overview of action items to get started.

Common things to watch out for

With many solutions on the market, here are 3 things that you should look for when finding the best AI platform for your retail business: Rapid, limitless, and privacy-aware.

If it's not rapid, you can't scale the solution across your stores easily. Even if you find the solution satisfying your needs, it's not worth your time nor effort. Why bother to spend years of time and millions of CAPEX to scale it across locations when you can do it in weeks without CAPEX?  

If it's not limitless, you have to go through the complicated buying process every time you need another solution or datapoint. Considering the pace of how your store layout can change, it's better to buy an AI platform that can learn to support your changing needs. Solutions like Zensors continuously updates its use cases, so you can simply browse and click to activate new datapoints.

If it’s not privacy aware, you might have to deal with customer data breach nightmares and damaged brand reputation that you don’t want to risk. Make sure the solution you are buying doesn't do facial identification nor PII.

Monetize every in-store moment today

As customers return to in-store shopping, they expect the same frictionless and personalized experience as online. Unlock full store visibility to identify exactly when and where friction happens with an AI platform. Never miss another sales opportunity and customer interaction. Schedule a demo today.

July 11, 2023
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