Interviews, insight & analysis on digital media & marketing

How AI is recharging retail in 2024

Artificial intelligence (AI) has been all the talk of the town for over a year, since ChatGPT arrived on the scene to thrust the technology into the mainstream. This breakthrough has led to adoption growing across many sectors, though the technology isn’t being embraced quite as quickly as many would expect.

Speaking at the Smart Retail Tech Expo, Harmony Murphy, Senior Advertising Head, Retail Sector UK at Google, shared the surprising statistic that just 28% of companies were embracing AI in 2023.

While adoption isn’t quite as high as expected, Murphy – who was also joined by Nancy Jain, Senior Account Manager at Google – referred to AI as a “flywheel of growth” for businesses and highlighted the role it can play, particularly within marketing.

At Google, for instance, AI is used throughout its advertising products. “We integrate AI into them because we know it will help drive qualified traffic leads with less wastage for our advertisers. And then you’ve also got the driving operational efficiency. If you can drive that from the inside-out of your business, you can put more into your marketing and advertising, driving to the consumer, and then overall resulting in conversion,” said Murphy.

In search of the right answers

Search query strings are getting longer, and consumers are overwhelmingly either searching for things related to their basic needs or the more “extraordinary” luxury items. However, these searches are also less directed toward specific brands.

Murphy believes these changing search habits are due to consumers being more curious and having a desire to shop around, rather than just focusing solely on the transaction. Equally, as pointed out during the presentation, despite the cost-of-living crisis, consumers aren’t solely in the market for the cheapest items – they want to get products and services that are the right value, not just cost-wise, but also around key issues such as sustainability.

For brands, according to Murphy, these search habits present a great opportunity to focus on data segmentation and both retention and acquisition in real-time. It gives marketers the window, with the correct application of data and AI, to reach consumers with the right product, at the right time, at the right price.

Driving businesses forward with intelligence

The key message that Murphy and Jain wanted brands to take away from their presentation was that they can drive business transformation by embracing AI. And perhaps the most effective way that this can be done is through the use of AI to enhance creativity within brand marketing efforts.

Google research found that 50% of people try a new retailer, brand, or product if brand marketing is done effectively.

“Brand marketing is important… But the other thing which is key is showing up in the right way, so that you can actually get your message across. Put yourself in your customers’ shoes and think about the number of ads and number of brands that they’re watching daily,” said Jain, speaking during the presentation. “How do you stand out in a situation like that? How do you make sure that you capture the attention of your customer and actually get your message across?”

Jain and Murphy expanded on this idea around creativity and how it can drive brand marketing, highlighting how AI can drive customised creative. By leveraging the technology, marketers are able to make their ads more localised, and the language more personalised, despite not focusing on performance.

Additionally, the pair shared how AI enables brands to improve on their storytelling, opening up their ability to tell stories at scale with ease.

Of course, AI can also be leveraged effectively lower down the funnel, particularly helping   marketers to continue to target the right people, at the right time, with the right creative as they mitigate against current signal loss and prepare for the deprecation of third party cookies on Chrome.

The human touch is key

One of the big questions around AI is whether or not the technology will end up taking over people’s jobs and the entirety of work a business does. Murphy doesn’t see it this way, saying that AI “can never take away the humanity,” during the presentation.

“AI is just a tool. It’s you who will see the bigger picture of your organisation, not the AI,” she said.

Because of this, Murphy feels there is a need for Google and others keen on the technology to build brand confidence and trust in AI through education. It’s important for businesses to know that human emotion and intuition has to overlay, and be the foundation of, everything AI does.