AI for the Holidays: How Shopping in Stores has Changed


Illustration that reads "AI for the Holidays." Artificial intelligence is fundamentally changing the practice of shopping in stores.

Cyber Monday may be a creation of the last decade, but you could argue that “artificial intelligence” has supported the Holiday season for a long time.

For more than 50 years, to the delight of children worldwide, the North American Aerospace Defense Command has been tracking Santa’s progress across the globe on December 24. The characters from Miracle on 34th Street would surely be pleased.

Things have gotten a bit more sophisticated in the world of retail. Today, machine learning powers artificial intelligence applications that support consumers in making purchase choices, marketers in reaching those consumers effectively, and professionals responsible for producing and delivering the goods.

Earlier this year, Forbes published an article by futurist Blake Morgan titled “The 20 Best Examples of Using Artificial Intelligence for Retail Experiences.” Let’s take a look at a few of these.

Five Ways AI is Influencing Shopping in Stores

Visit a Lowe’s store in San Francisco and get directions to the paint aisle from LoweBot, a robot roving the store floor ready to answer a range of basic questions you might ask—in several languages. While LoweBot is helping customers, it is also keeping track of inventory and sending messages to staff when restocking is needed.

Your teenage daughter wants to stop at Sephora for some makeup. What is that perfect shade? Sephora’s Color IQ will scan her face and provide personalized recommendations before she tries any samples.

Next, it’s on to Macy’s to pick up a few gifts. You see the perfect item but not in the size you want. Is it in stock? Macy’s On Call app has answers for you that are tailored to the specific store you are visiting. Getting frustrated? The app will automatically alert a human to come to your aid.

You have one more item on your list, which you find at Zara. You place your order and a robot gets busy in the warehouse, automatically finding your item and depositing it in a dropbox for you to pick up. There’s no need to wait for the robot to return from lunch!

On the way home, you are ready for some coffee. You have a chat with your My Starbucks Barista app, telling it just what you want without having to work through any menus. Your drink is ready when you arrive.

Master the Concepts of AI

In these five short examples, we’ve seen some of the best of modern AI, such as natural language processing and image recognition.

Some of the math under the hoods of these algorithms is deceptively simple, beginning with counts of items that are associated with each other. Creating powerful capabilities like these, however, is anything but simple.

While the algorithms may dazzle the experts, real value is attained by focusing in a laser-like way on the experiences you are looking to create. This is the approach we take in our Master’s in Data Science program at Elmhurst University.

We wish you a happy holiday season.

Learn more about earning a graduate degree in data science. Request information today!

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About the Author

Jim KulichJim Kulich is a professor in the Department of Computer Science and Information Systems at Elmhurst University. Jim directs Elmhurst’s master’s program in data science and teaches courses to graduate students who come to the program from a wide range of professional backgrounds.

Illustration by Adam Hayes
Posted Dec. 17, 2019

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