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Artificial Intelligence Is the Next (Really) Big Thing in Retail


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Since the dawn of smartphones, previous prognostications about the future seem quaint—and it seems like there’s less future prediction happening these days. Perhaps that’s because we’ve all become numb to future advancements, or that we haven’t been truly shocked as a society by new tech in a few years. With huge advancements in artificial intelligence, however, individuals and companies alike should prepare for a massive leap in everyday convenience, capabilities, and labor savings in the near future.

“Quarters, not years,” is what Sam Vasisht, CMO at San Francisco-based MindMeld said for when we should expect artificial intelligence to start making its public debut in customer-facing applications. MindMeld is an artificial intelligence company started by a group of researchers who realized the swelling maturity of current technology, and seek to monetize this moment by helping companies better connect with their customers.

In franchising, expect to see the earliest, most visible changes occur at restaurants—especially those that use delivery or drive-thrus to connect customers to their food.

“This is going to have a big impact on any business that deals directly with customers,” he said. “There’s no way around it.”

On that note, he added that any significant retail or restaurant brand not investing (or at least following) artificial intelligence is setting themselves up to seriously fall behind the competition—and out of favor with customers.

What’s the big deal? Begin by imagining what’s possible with the artificial intelligence technology many of us have gotten to know with Siri and Cortana—the most popular smartphone-based personal assistants.

Rather than having to call in a pizza delivery order or wait in a clunky drive-thru line for a burger, the near future looks a little something like this: “Good morning, Tom. I see you’re on your way to work this morning. Given current traffic and weather conditions, expect a 12-minute commute. On your way, would you like your usual cafe Americano with two sugars?”

No humans in my life are this accommodating, so I appreciate this future coddling.

On the restaurant side of this equation, my usual coffee shop would immediately receive an alert that one groggy Mr. Kaiser will be arriving in 5 minutes, so that when I arrive the order will be ready and the coffee shop will have an easier time managing the morning crush of road-weary commuters.

The same advancements in voice recognition and computing can apply to travelers, effortlessly booking plane tickets, hotel rooms, car rentals, and any other personal services, needs or meals throughout the journey.

Rather than just being contained within our smartphones, this artificial intelligence is set to quickly turn our cars and homes into virtual personal assistants ready to step in with advice, answers to quick cooking questions, emergencies, shopping advice and daily purchases like restaurants and groceries. This is truly the next big thing.

“The beauty of it is that people won’t know a big change is happening, because it’s going to be as natural as you and I talking,” Vasisht said. “If you look at small kids that are 5, 7, or 8 years old, they just assume every screen is touch operated like your iPad.”

The same assumption will soon apply that there’s always a microphone ready and waiting to assist your every need. Imagine how much easier it will be to peel those bills out of wallets when there’s always a virtual somebody asking “want me to place that order?”

I, for one, would be very susceptible to this temptation, and I’m not even a shopaholic. Get ready to start placing your artificial intelligence bets, franchisors. This one is going to be much bigger than anything we’ve seen in recent years, possibly including social media and the rise of apps.

 

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The latest news, opinions and commentary on what's happening in the franchise arena that could affect your business.

Tom KaiserTom Kaiser is associate editor of Franchise Times. He can be reached at 612.767.3209, or send story ideas to tkaiser@franchisetimes.com.
 
Beth EwenBeth Ewen is editor-in-chief of Franchise Times. She can be reached at 612.767.3212, or send story ideas to bewen@franchisetimes.com.
 
Nicholas UptonNicholas Upton is staff writer at Franchise Times. He can be reached at 612.767.3226, or send story ideas to nupton@franchisetimes.com.
 
Mary Jo LarsonMary Jo Larson is the publisher of Franchise Times Magazine and the Restaurant Finance Monitor.  You can find her on Twitter at
 twitter.com/mlarson1011.
 
Nancy WeingartnerNancy Weingartner is editor-at-large of Franchise Times magazine and the editor of the Food On Demand media project. You can reach her at 612-767-3200 or at nancyw@franchisetimes.com.
Follow her on Twitter at http://twitter.com/nanweingartner.
 

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