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Are you prepared for a new era of retail with AI and Gen Z at the forefront? 

Are you prepared for a new era of retail with AI and Gen Z at the forefront? 

In the dynamic world of retail, challenges like inflation and supply chain disruptions persist. To captivate and retain customers, ongoing innovation is essential. Recently, I attended ShopTalk 2024, a leading retail conference brimming with insights. With more than 10,000 attendees from brands, retailers and tech providers, I felt submerged in a pool of insider knowledge.

Among the many topics discussed in keynotes, panel sessions and intimate discussions, generative AI stood out. Both attendees and represented companies faced the steep learning curve ahead with a mixture of curiosity and trepidation. Speakers agreed that while short-term AI benefits are overhyped, the long-term potential is underestimated.

Understanding — and mastering — AI’s capabilities will be crucial to boost efficiency and better satisfy customers, propelling business growth.

The new (AI) rules of success

For most of us, widely diverse tasks fill our days. From inventory, sales, HR, accounts receivable and payable, we’re constantly solving problems, interacting with others and digging deep for creative solutions to keep us moving forward. But some of our tasks are rote — they’re a tedious means to an end. Dharmesh Shah, CTO of Hubspot, recently said, “You are competing with AI.” But then he challenged us to reframe that thought in one of two ways:

  • You are competing *against* AI
  • You are competing *using* AI

Automating repetitive tasks frees up time and energy to focus on areas where humans shine: empathy and creativity. Investing in those qualities while outsourcing the rote tasks is what will allow us to leverage AI and grow business in the future.  

AI’s power for enhancing efficiencies and designing creative solutions and support structures was a key theme at ShopTalk 2024. Three areas of focus emerged.  

  1. Designing future workflows

In a world where AI can do everything from pass the bar exam to re-create John Lennon’s voice for a new Beatles song, it’s challenging to sort hype from reality. Assessing what business value AI will actually unlock is where we’ll win in the short term. 

  • Improve output. Encouraging employees to explore and experiment with AI capabilities will help them discover new and exciting ways to increase output and reduce burnout from mundane tasks.  
  • Enhance customer experience. If AI can help you automate a seamless customer journey, you’ll learn more about what your customers want, what frustrates them and what keeps them coming back — or leaving forever.   
  • Improve your competitive edge. We don’t win by knowing more, we win by caring more. Individually, we’ll never know more than AI, but reducing our time on rote work will allow us to connect and use our talents more effectively. 

Competitive advantage. Evaluate AI use cases and build a portfolio of AI solutions balancing short-term productivity gains and long-term vision. Continuously test, iterate and plan for change.

  1. Embracing future jobs

New digitally oriented roles are emerging quickly, moving “Marketing Ops” teams to “AI Ops” teams. AI ethics consultants, emotional AI trainers and AI prompt engineers are just a few roles you may be leaning into in the near future.

Consider the (future) power of hiring an AI prompter (as a consultant) to build out a digital marketing plan for a product launch. Once the plan is created — and tested with the first product — it can be replicated over and over again with a new brand narrative and creative assets. 

How can you prepare your company for this change? 

  • Equip employees with technical tools. As new digital tools emerge, your employees will need time and training to learn how to use them. Each initiative should ladder up to your overall strategic goals as a company. 
  • Explore AI’s impact on traditional retail. Gathering data, extracting insights, generating ideas, prototyping and scaling successful initiatives require deep curiosity. Already, there is a significant imagination gap between AI winners and losers. Are you hiring curious employees? 
  • Experiment. Ngai Yuen Low, group chief marketing and merchandising officer for Aeon Group Malaysia, believes growth requires conflict. Not everything you try will work — or even survive the test of time — but without religious experimentation, you’ll be left behind.  

Competitive advantage. Prioritize pain points, balancing your focus between consumer-facing and enterprise systems. Test systems that reduce the barrier to entry and pivot quickly if they fail.

See Also

  1. Evolving future companies

As work environments evolve, strategies to support a new generation of employees become essential. Gen Z, also known as the anxious generation, is the first fully digital generation. They make up a quarter of the U.S. population and will comprise the majority of first-time parents in the U.S. by 2030. 

The White Party at ShopTalk

Gen Z is already changing the face of marketing by the amount of time they spend on their digital channels, watching influencers and making in-app and in-video purchases. They prioritize authenticity with creators and influencers driving their purchasing decisions and loyalty. If we thought millennials changed the workplace, Gen Z will turn the tables again — and we need to be ready.  

  • Implement policies. Supporting underrepresented employees and promoting diversity, equity and inclusion will be table stakes for job seekers. Larger companies are already using AI to help forecast and identify what programs will help them adjust and evolve. 
  • Focus on work-life integration. Companies that demonstrate a commitment to employee well-being, building inclusive workplaces and providing social spaces tailored to employees’ needs will become their prime targets. They won’t just look for their workplaces to consistently provide opportunities for personal and professional development, they’ll expect it. 
  • Build trust through collaboration. Make no mistake that transparency and authenticity will be top of mind in all aspects of their lives, from the businesses they work for to the ones they support. AI — and eventually Artificial General Intelligence — will help us understand employee needs, improve collaboration and ensure all voices are heard and have input into decision-making processes.

Competitive advantage. Prioritize forward-thinking strategies that adapt to changing environments, leveraging emerging tech and AI to build authentic connections with tomorrow’s employees and shoppers.

As ShopTalk 2024 made clear, the future of retail lies in our ability to adapt and innovate. The integration of AI and other cutting-edge technologies will shape our approach to workflows, job roles, company culture and consumer engagement.

By embracing these changes and staying ahead of industry trends, we can carve a path to success that resonates with future generations. Let’s seize this opportunity to lead the way and create a thriving retail landscape for years to come.

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