AI is making category management fun again

11.07.2023 | Mike Troy, Sr Director of Content and Thought Leadership at SymphonyAI

Generative AI-powered copilots improve business results and the lives of category managers

The hype around generative AI has been overwhelming since Open AI released Chat GPT in November 2022.  Amid countless bold claims about how generative AI would change the world, it has been challenging for retailers and consumer goods companies to separate fact from fiction and identify real world opportunity areas where generative AI can have a meaningful and immediate impact.

The reality for the retail industry is there are many areas where generative AI will have a major impact as data volumes grow along with the need to create value through fast and effective analysis. One of the ripest areas of opportunity is category management. Generative AI is poised to bring disruption innovation to legacy processes and data analysis that will lead to breakthrough performance and increase the job satisfaction of practioners.

That may sound like hype, but there are solid reasons why category management should be at or near the top of every retailer’s list of generative AI opportunity areas. It checks all the boxes when it comes to the ideal set of circumstances that benefit from predictive and generative AI and the use of copilots that function as powerful digital assistants. Here’s why:

  • The dynamics of category management have changed, and planogram creation is more complex. Consumer product trends shift quickly, shopper behavior is highly dynamic, and retailers are expected to offer localized assortments.
  • Data volumes have increased exponentially, creating new challenges related to the speed of shopper insights discovery and the use of those insights for strategic decisions in a marketplace filled with unforgiving shoppers and relentless competitors.
  • Assortment decisions are impacted by new variables such as the growth of e-commerce and the use of stores as fulfillment centers, private label growth, the importance of new product launches and even shrink.
  • Category managers’ time is best spent on higher value strategic activities than mundane tasks related to running reports and data analysis which are better suited to advanced technologies.

In short, category management has changed dramatically, new pressures abound, resources are constrained and increased complexity can often be overwhelming to category managers. All of which leads to sub-optimal business outcomes and job dissatisfaction among those whose efforts are crucial to overall business performance.

Copilots are key to unlocking AI value creation

In simple terms, copilots are virtual assistants that make it easier to interact with artificial intelligence so  users can be better at their jobs and achieve superior performance. What that means for a category manager is a copilot suddenly gives them super powers to do all the things category managers do, only  faster and easier with increased confidence and better results. Here’s what that looks like in practice:

  • A category manager can ask the copilot a question, get an answer and begin to act in near real time versus days or possibly weeks depending on the organization and processes related to accessing and making sense of business intelligence.
  • A copilot uses predictive and generative AI to query datasets and pull from AI and machine learning analyses, to organize information into a unified view that is shared in easily understood natural language.
  • Previously unknown shopper insights can be discovered by tapping the copilot’s ability to sift through data and perform complex, granular analyses with blinding speed. As a result, a category manager can obtain a deeper understanding of the factors impacting performance and perform scenario modelling to identify opportunities that analytics teams may not know where to look for or have the capacity to pursue.
  • Category managers can trust their copilot because there is sharing of underlying assumptions about different variables such as product margin, thus eliminating the so-called “black box effect,” than can lead to scepticism of AI generated recommendations.

These capabilities form the basis of a new source of competitive advantage and currently exist in the Category Manager Copilot that SymphonyAI Retail CPG announced in October 2023 at the company’s Xclerate customer conference. The firm was among the first to recognize the disruptive potential of generative AI and moved swiftly to develop copilots that could be put against key use cases in category management, supply chain and shopper insights.

Ultimately, generative AI-powered copilots make it possible for retailers to deliver on the most timeless source of competitive advantage which is to move with speed and precision to outrun competitors and drive growth.

What makes category management fun

Running reports, attempting to analyze disparate sources of data and relying on legacy processes and out-of-date technology is no category manager’s idea of a good time. What makes category management fun is developing and executing strategic plans with internal team members and supplier partners that resonate with shoppers and deliver results for the business. That’s an oversimplification perhaps, and “fun” is relative, but generative AI and powerful copilots give category managers the ability to spend more time engaged in the aspects of their profession that are enjoyable and create value, versus monotonous, soul-crushing, time-consuming tasks.

Category managers aided by copilots will still find the work challenging, but it will be different, more strategic, more rewarding, and yes, more fun, because effort is expended in ways that impact performance and growth.  That’s not hype. That’s the future of category management in a world where copilots are key to unlocking the promise of generative AI.

To learn more about generative AI and its impact on the retail industry check out these additional resources:

Executive Insights: How generative AI accelerates retail innovation and increases productivity

Six things grocers must do to win with generative AI

Improving retail supply chains with generative AI

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