The Role of Generative Artificial Intelligence in Shaping Tomorrow’s Shopping Experience

As retailers sprint through the final stretch of the holiday season, the giants of the industry are already contemplating the next frontier of consumer engagement—leveraging the transformative potential of generative artificial intelligence (genAI). Executives from retail behemoth WalMart, tech giant Microsoft, and electronic shelf labeling innovator Hanshow recently delved into the possibilities of genAI during a special panel at Fortune’s Brainstorm AI conference.

Microsoft’s General Manager for Worldwide Retail and Consumer Goods, Keith Mercier, posed a tantalizing question: “What if you could shop using natural language?” The vision painted involves a world where online shoppers make highly personalized queries, such as “moderately priced coat for Milwaukee winters in black” or “gift for girl learning to read who loves unicorns under $25.” Remarkably, this future is not a distant prospect; it’s a reality that the panelists are actively strategizing for.

According to Mercier, genAI can act as the vital link between brick-and-mortar stores and the online shopping experience. He notes that while e-commerce has largely remained unchanged for the past two decades—abundant in data but lacking in personalized service—genAI has the potential to bridge that gap. “With genAI, you’re going to be able to close that [service] gap,” Mercier explains.

Walmart, the largest corporation in America, envisions generative AI as a customer “assistant.” Sravana Karnati, Walmart’s Chief Technology Officer, emphasizes the importance of “prompting” as a means of self-expression in natural language shopping. This approach aims to make the shopping experience more intuitive and personalized for consumers.

However, the transition to this AI-driven retail landscape may face resistance from older shoppers and regulatory bodies. Klaus Smets, EMEA Vice President of Hanshow, remains optimistic, anticipating that younger generations will be more receptive as they mature and accumulate purchasing power. “The next generation is much more advanced,” says Smets, highlighting their positive perception of AI as a tool that aids in information retrieval. “They see [AI] as helping information. The next generation has a completely different understanding of what we’re going to do.”

As retailers navigate the challenges of today’s holiday season, the conversations at Fortune’s Brainstorm AI conference suggest that the future of retail lies in the hands of generative artificial intelligence, promising a shopping experience that is not only seamless but intimately tailored to the individual preferences of consumers.

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