Just a few years ago, having a conversation with a smartphone, TV, car or other household gadget seemed futuristic and to many people, strange. But just a couple of years down the line, thanks to major advances in technology, artificial intelligence (AI) and voice technology could become the next big thing for grocery shopping.


Often when we think about AI and its potential to transform the retail industry, it is easy to overlook how it could affect one of the most fundamental retail experiences – grocery shopping. Using customer loyalty programs and in-store promotions, retailers already have a good understanding of their key shopper demographics and brand preferences but greater opportunities lie in AI to bring all the data together. One of AI’s promises is a deeper understanding of context and intent, providing the ability to leverage consumer data further by automating individual customer targeted offers, building on existing loyalty with the retailer and brand.


AI is also a potential game changer when it comes to inventory. With heavy reliance on the movement of perishable goods, supermarkets tend to live and die on their ability to plan, promote and sell products within a short amount of time. While some waste occurs in the consumers’ home, a significant amount is lost in the supply chain. Paired with point-of-sale (POS) information and inventory visibility that extends beyond the retail store, AI can help keep shelves lined with the right mix of products and ensure the supply chain is aligned to avoid unnecessary costs. With the implementation of AI, retailers can also build on rich consumer data and combine with contextual data such as weather, holidays and events to provide a more accurate forecast than traditional methods. However, this level of automation is expected to take some time and investment as retailers will first need to connect disparate systems to bridge the gap between POS, warehouse management and logistics.  


“Retailers implementing AI may only think of AI as a product choice assistant to their customers, but it can be so much more. AI may help retailers determine the right items to be stocked within stores at any point in time and help to identify food trends before they’re mainstream. This can ultimately lead to less food waste, cost savings, and a satisfied shopper.” – Robert Foltz, Lead Software Developer, Foodmaestro.


Despite the opportunities for AI being clear to the industry and investment being high, adoption isn’t quite there yet. Currently, there is a significant contrast between those who are rolling out applied AI solutions at scale and reaping tangible business benefits versus those who are simply trialing the technology. However, as further investment and adoption is made, AI has the capability to revolutionise the grocery shopping experience across all markets; it’s potential is broad and unlimited.


While AI is in it’s early stages of being introduced to the grocery industry, voice control already represents the next phase in the evolution of human-machine interaction. The majority of today’s “smart” voice-controlled devices are powered by digital voice assistants, using speech recognition, AI-driven natural language processing and cloud computing technologies, making it easier for the software to convert speech into text and extract meaning.


As technology progresses, the self learning capabilities of voice assistants enable them to become more useful. Over time voice assistants can refine voice searches, learn patterns, preferences and behaviours of their users and provide relevant and personalised responses. Research predicts that by 2020, 50% of all searches will be voice searches. Despite the initial novelty, digital voice assistants and smart speakers are already having a significant impact on consumer behaviour. With voice control supporting customers search for information, consume content and shop in a more frictionless way, voice will revolutionise the grocery shopping experience for all.


Voice’s potential as the future of online communication has already drawn tech and retail giants, including Amazon and Google to join the ‘voice race’ to own the market. With more than two thirds of current owners of the Amazon Echo and Google Home smart speakers, consumers are planning to buy another smart speakers within the next six months. Not only are businesses heavily investing in voice, there is an aggressive push into a variety of environments using different devices. Businesses now see voice control as a way to engage in continuous conversation with consumer, protecting and expanding its products and services. Right now it’s impossible to say what the market will look like in the next 5 to 10 years but the industry has predicted a competitive landscape as consumers look to seek a seamless shopping experience.


Abbi Claxton, Product Manager at Nielsen Brandbank stated that “early adopters of voice will likely see the benefit of capturing this market however, with consumers wanting convenience it will be more important for retailers to be able to serve customers quickly and effortlessly. There are still many challenges to overcome to truly integrate and create a personalised shopping journey for each consumer, such as being able to suggest relevant products based on the likes, dietary and lifestyle requirements of each household at the right time.”


While some could say that AI and voice is relatively new within the industry, it is definitely the driving force in future of shopping. Forecasts for AI and voice market size, revenues and spending on hardware, software and services predict very healthy growth over the next few years. It has opened up a number of opportunities for retailers and brands across the world, enabling them to delve into areas that they have not been able to reach before. As more businesses invest heavily into the future, it’s time for consumers to prepare themselves for a frictionless online shopping experience using AI and voice.


With technology constantly changing, Nielsen Brandbank and Foodmaestro are hosting their first hackathon at Food Matters Live 2018! We are calling for creative minds to join us in creating the next big revolution to grocery shopping. Health-e-Hack invites you to explore innovative ideas that enable us to better serve The Conscious Consumer. To register or for more information visit http://www.foodmaestro.me/HEALTHeHACK.html.