30th August 2017

By Martin Howarth, Business Development Manager, GCI.

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is changing everything from marketing to manufacturing. We are witnessing the beginning of the future for how the retail industry will leverage AI to better understand, connect with, and create superior experiences for customers.

One of the key areas starting to emerge is the personalisation of the interaction between customer and retailer. A brilliant example of this in action was recently showcased at Microsoft Inspire, Microsoft’s yearly partner kick-off event hosted in Washington DC.

Sephora, a global leader in the cosmetics industry, was seeking out ways to create more intelligent, data-driven experiences for its customers. Working with Microsoft, Sephora created a solution to reach customers by email, direct mail, SMS, and mobile push notifications when their favourite products are in stock, on sale, or if they are near one of Sephora’s retail stores. Leveraging PowerBI and Adobe Analytics, the Sephora platform lets customers quickly make purchasing decisions — all while giving the retailer a better understanding of how best and when best to engage customers.

The combination of the Adobe Platform on Microsoft Azure provides a holistic, 360-degree view of a customers’ purchase history. This information, when coupled with contextual data on the environment, season, and time of year during which products are bought, allows Sephora to further personalise the customer experience and build “smarter” marketing campaigns.

Why we need to walk before we run when it comes to Artificial Intelligence

Many organisations are looking into this to see if they can differentiate themselves in the marketplace. However, the customer experience needs to be consistent across all channels from in-store, mobile and online. There are many exciting developments in the field of Artificial Intelligence which will help to support this, so it came as a surprise to read this recent article on Retail Dive.

The survey was carried out in the USA, but is it the same for us here in the UK? If we add personalisation to websites, we increase the amount of processing required, potentially leading to even slower response times and a deterioration in the overall customer experience. The same back office systems will also be used to support in-store applications and again, if there is insufficient investment in the underlying infrastructure it doesn’t matter how “awesome” the AI is – it won’t work and customers will choose with their feet. I’m certain that other people have had the experience in a store or with a call centre where the advisor apologises because “the computer is slow today”. The emergence of AI is exciting, but don’t forget the underlying infrastructure.


Martin Howarth Headshot


Martin Howarth is Business Development Manager at GCI.

An experienced Sales Manager and Executive, he has worked across a number of vertical markets, holding extensive experience in Networks, IT Services, Managed Applications, Security, Data Centres and Cloud services. As well as an established sales career, Martin also holds a degree in Engineering from Coventry University.