NRF 2024: Predictive and generative AI begin breakout year by dazzling retailers

01.16.2024 | Mike Troy
Generative AI began 2024 where it left off in 2023, dominating retail conversations and gathering momentum with retailers eager to capitalize on the innovative technology.

This was evident in a major way at NRF 2024, where generative AI stood out as the dominant theme for reasons as numerous as the growing list of ways it helps retailers solve business challenges. For some perspective, remember that generative AI was barely on anyone’s radar at NRF 2023 because OpenAI released ChatGPT on November 30, 2022, a scant six weeks earlier. The rapid adoption of ChatGPT introduced the world to the wonders of generative AI, sparked a period of furious change, and left retailers searching for how their businesses could benefit from the technology.

Manish Choudhary, president of SymphonyAI’s retail / CPG division, talking to customers at NRF 2024.

The speculation about possibilities turned into reality at NRF 2024 as retailers gained better visibility into real-world opportunities to improve productivity and create value. Here’s a look at some of the essential predictive and generative AI themes and considerations that were top of mind with retailers at the event:

Speed: It was a lesson many learned the hard way during the early days of e-commerce or the mobile revolution when some early adopters gained an edge. The same is true with generative AI, but because the pace of innovation is so fast, those who move slowly are in greater jeopardy of falling behind faster. Veteran technologists understand this, which explains why urgency was in the air at NRF, and retailers were eager to learn how generative AI accelerates innovation and increases productivity.

Value Creation: Moving fast is only effective if retailers have clarity about the direction they want to head. At NRF 2024, retailers gained a better understanding of optimal use cases and realistic timelines for value creation because generative AI had a year to develop, and new . That’s why some see 2024 as the beginning of a decade of disruption, with research from top consulting firms showing recognition of the looming opportunity and a willingness to invest. Even the most risk-averse retailers can press forward with confidence thanks to a clear view of the benefits they will realize.

Experimentation: It’s clear from conversations at NRF that 2024 will be a year of great experimentation among retailers. There is a recognition that they have nothing to lose – except business to competitors – by dawdling with generative AI if others move more decisively. But it doesn’t have to be that way because it is easy to experiment with generative AI. Retailers discovered that pilot programs in critical areas such as demand forecasting, category management, and store operations can, in some cases, be implemented in months. Retailers who want to move fast can then quickly get the validation needed to move forward.

Supply Chain: When it comes to generative AI use cases, they don’t get much better than supply chain. Retailers at NRF 2024 discovered new ways to manage the challenges of demand forecasting and replenishment

One key area involves scenario planning. Retailers are enthusiastically eyeing this generative AI capability because of the operational benefits associated with forecast accuracy. By incorporating a broad universe of data sets and more variables in a demand forecast, retailers gain accuracy and the resiliency needed to manage inevitable supply chain disruptions.

Category Management: Another top generative AI use case of interest to retailers at NRF 2024 involved how assortment and space decisions are made. As with supply chain, a generative AI-powered copilot gives retailers the ability to engage in scenario planning and make optimal decisions more quickly. For example, SymphonyAI’s the company’s decades of retail and CPG knowledge, processes, content, and customer segmentation to provide rapid insights into current customer merchandising and sales data. As a result, the copilot understands the intent of a user’s questions to rapidly identify all performance-affecting factors in a product category and recommend best actions.

Shopper Insights: With data volumes growing and shopper data serving as the ultimate version of the truth, retailers are keen to leverage generative AI to disrupt the insights discovery process.

In-Store Visibility: Retailers gained a new appreciation for the value of data from the shoppers’ point of view. Predictive AI that leverages computer vision Those images can tell a powerful story if generative AI is leveraged to make sense of what’s really going on, whether planograms are compliant, inventories are accurate, and pricing is correct.

Trust: Retailers came away from NRF 2024 with increased trust in generative AI thanks to the availability of large language models (LLMs) finely tuned with retail-specific knowledge. This is a major advancement that gives retailers confidence the generative AI-powered applications they use will provide them accurate results. Trust also extends to the choice of solution partners on whom retailers rely, and in the case of Symphony AI, the level of financial support and relationships with major technology partners drive innovation.

Connectedness: As generative AI gathers momentum and retailers embrace solutions in key business areas, a new vision emerged at NRF 2024 of how a retailer can become a truly integrated enterprise. It is an aspirational goal for retailers to connect disparate siloes of data and unlock the growth potential and efficiency that comes with gaining end-to-end visibility of their operations. Generative AI offers the ability to realize that dream, as many discovered at NRF 2024.

The event known as The Big Show may be over, but generative AI is gaining traction with retailers thanks to what they saw and learned about firsthand at the event. Buckle up for a year of beneficial disruption as generative AI is poised to favorably impact virtually every aspect of a retailer’s operation.

For more insights on generative AI and how to realize its benefits, check out these resources:

Webinar: Winning with gen AI (transcript available)

Executive Insight: How generative AI accelerates innovation and increases productivity

Executive Insight: Improving retail supply chains with generative AI

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