AI made headlines this year byoutsmarting GO champions, creating secret languages and putting the fear of god into Elon Musk… again.

A turning point came when Google’s CEO suggested that the world of business had shifted from being “mobile first”, towards a brave new “AI first world”.

You just have to look at the rise of Amazon, a former online bookstore that now boasts one of the largest AI platforms in the world and recently opened its first cashier free store.

Is this what the future of retail looks like?

AI is no longer an afterthought for the industry or reserved to science fiction novels, but just how might it change retail businesses in 2018?

1. AI for the small man

Retailers that sell their wares through monoliths like Amazon, may feel like they’re falling into bed with the devil.

Their unique customer experience that’s tied up in their own buyer journey is sacrificed to fly under the banner of the online giant. Often with a hefty cost attached.

Amazon has an exceptional marketing machine behind them that attracts, converts and recycles shoppers better than anything smaller retailers can compete with.

They’ve had 20 odd years researching AI to perfect it, so that’s understandable. A rise in new platforms and services could level the playing field in 2018 by offering the end-to-end marketing automation that Amazon does so well.

2. Chatbots that understand sarcasm

They were all the rage in recent years and were tipped to revolutionise customer service. That was until Twitter’s Tay brought us crashing back to reality with a series of abusive outbursts.

Customer service is about people and relationships, so can bots actually improve on something that you might identify as uniquely human?

They have the immediate advantage of managing peak demand, having around the clock availability and the potential to target consumers directly in their messaging apps.

Gartner suggests that AI will account for 85% of customer relationships by 2020. If you consider that Facebook’s use of chatbots only succeeded in helping 30% of customers without human intervention, then there’s a long way to go to achieve this.

That means a lot of demand for developers and programmers to improve this functionality in the coming years.

3. Personalised shopping

AI is allowing us to collect and pool more data than previously thought imaginable. It’s believed that more data will be collected in 2017 than all the years that came before collectively.

Mobilising this data has unlocked the personalised shopping experience.

According to Accenture, personalising the customer journey will boost profitability rates by 59% in the wholesale and retail industries by 2035.

The challenge businesses face, is to replicating the personal experience found in the physical store in their virtual engagements.

A blend of personalised websites, tailored recommendations, anticipated searches and constantly on-hand, helpful, customer service is the answer.

However, the biggest barrier to this lies in change. Legacy retailers or those that are unprepared to overhaul their current systems or implement the changes needed to leverage AI and data.

4. Connecting the shopping experience

This comes back to the rise of omni-channel shopping and a seamless customer journey across devices and channels.

It’s the automated merging of your online shopping habits with your physical location. Clothes and products that fly off the shelves to light up your phone with exclusive deals anchored to your location.

The modern consumer might begin their journey in the physical store but finish on their smartphone, tablet or desktop. Retail outlets need to cater to this journey in 2018.

5. Specialist hiring

The retail industry is changing and specialists that can skillfully manage that business transformation are going to be in high demand.

It’s an industry upskilling as AI automation moves throughout it. Demand is falling for front of house and clerical staff, but developers to build these changes, project managers to orchestrate them and business analysts to measure them are surging.

How do you think AI will change the retail industry in 2018?