More than 100 retailers have gathered at Freedom Furniture’s new Newmarket flagship to consider what the upcoming wave of automation technology offers for the industry. Speakers included Pier Smulders from Alibaba Group and Soul Machines’ Hilary O’Connor.
Held this morning, NZ Retail’s breakfast event was sponsored by Latitude Financial Services.
NZ Retail and The Register editor and associate publisher Sarah Dunn spoke of how smart retailers will use automation to redeploy staff from process-driven, easily automated tasks into high-touch customer-facing roles where they can demonstrate human empathy.
“Human empathy remains central to retail. Many jobs still require a human touch – multi-tasking, problem-solving, communicating and emotionally connecting are all aspects of retail work just as surely as buying and stock management are. If anything, automation is increasing the importance of these soft skills.”
Soul Machines director of technical sales, Hilary O’Connor, introduced ‘digital human’ Lia, a lifelike customer services avatar driven by artificial intelligence. She demonstrated Lia’s capability by using it to help select a credit card offer, explaining products like Lia can seamlessly and reliably replace human staff in a variety of roles.
Alibaba Group’s country manager for New Zealand, Pier Smulders, talked about the Chinese mega-retailer’s focus on ‘New Retail’. This is “seamless convergence” of online and offline shopping environments, expressed at every retail level – from Hema to a corner store near Alibaba’s headquarters in the Chinese city of Hangzhou.
This integration of technology means customers can engage with products and brands before they purchase, enjoying offerings like gamification, interactive AI technology in-store, AR product placement and image search.
Andy Mackie from Auckland’s Asset Factory discussed the role of images and video in enhancing the ecommerce experience. Asset Factory offers an automated product photography system that makes producing high-quality product photography very simple, even for SMEs and even at scale.
Sean Quincey from Latitude’s buy-now pay-later Genoapay rounded out the morning by sharing insights on the coming evolution of retail finance. Building and retaining quality relationships with customers will become ever more important as the regulatory landscape changes, and automation technology will make the necessary checks and information gathering smoother.
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