Retail stores have seen tremendous growth in the past decade. So much so that we now have chain stores of retailers such as Ikea, Walmart and Target with each having numerous stores around the U.S. and the world. You might be familiar with the long, long aisles and multiple floors these stores span. But with increased scalability, specific issues also tend to grow.
One such area that we are going to focus on in this article is customer service and support at retail stores. From a business standpoint, more human resources are required if you have a large store. You need to ensure that there are attendees at every aisle and with the correct knowledge of the products. Even then, they might fall short for attending every customer during peak sales time, such as year-end sales or the rather infamous Black Friday sale. Additionally, the customer service representative might not be acquainted with complete knowledge of the products on display. This can make an already angry customer even more dissatisfied. But there is a solution to these challenges in the form of technology. Natural Language Processing (NLP). NLP solutions can act as personal assistants and help customers with their purchases. These tools can ensure that customers have a hassle-free, time-efficient, and unique shopping experience at your store. So how can we apply NLP in retail stores?
Applications of NLP tools
NLP tools can be implemented in various forms at retail outlets. They can be used as physical robots that can work as a human employee. Or they can be used as virtual assistants in the form of stationary screens that can be installed at multiple locations throughout the store. And their use is not limited to in-store. As most retail stores have an online platform, the NLP tools can also be used to enhance the online retail shopping experience of the customer. Here’s a detailed look at how NLP can be implemented in the retail scene.
As mentioned above, NLP tools can be used as either physical maneuvering robots or as stationary digital screens in retail stores. Let’s discuss each in detail.
NLP solutions in the form of humanoid robots can be used similarly as human employees. These robots can move from one location to another and answer customer’s questions. These NLP-based voice recognition robots can help with customer service by understanding the context of the questions and responding to them in a natural language manner. These robots need to be embedded with Natural Language Understanding (NLU) and Natural Language Generation (NLG), in addition to NLP technology to better converse with customers.
In addition to language understanding and speaking capabilities, these robots can be embedded with emotion detection and behavior recognition technologies. Behavior recognition technology can help the robot identify customers that might need its assistance. It can thus deploy itself automatically to serve such customers in need. Emotion recognition, on the other hand, can help analyze the facial expressions and the vocal tone of the customers. The robots can thus respond in a manner that can provide the best interaction and solution to the customer.
The humanoid robot, Pepper, developed by SoftBank Robotics, is already deployed at retail stores at multiple outlets. It is currently used in Nescafe stores to sell coffee and is also selling mobile phones at SoftBank mobile stores.
Retail stores can also use NLP tools in the form of touchscreen devices. These devices can be stationed at every few meters or at specific product locations to assist customers regarding the product on display. These digital touchscreens can work as chatbots with NLP, NLU, and NLG capabilities and can answer general questions regarding products on display. Similarly to humanoid robots, these robots can be equipped with additional technologies such as computer vision for providing greater assistance. For example, with the help of computer vision, the robot can see the stock of the product available on display. It can then use this information to provide answers to customers, or it can alert the store authorities to restock the product. Additionally, the tool can be embedded with emotion and behavior recognition technologies for providing improved assistance.
For example, Millie, developed by 20bn, is a virtual assistant that can help with customer assistance in the form of a digital interactive medium.
Most retail stores today have an online app. Retailers can use NLP and other tools in their online applications for the same purpose (improving customer service) as with brick and mortar stores. The tools can analyze users’ search history. Based on the data collected, it can notify customers when the product is available in the nearest store if it is currently out of stock. Customers can even order the item through the online app. The app can also provide recommendations of similar products to the user based on their preferences.
Benefits of NLP in retail stores
Now that you’re aware of how NLP solutions can be applied at retail stores, here’s a look at the potential benefits these solutions bring along. NLP tools are an excellent way to save time and money and provide a natural way of interaction for the customers. The benefits are discussed below.
NLP tools primarily reduce the dependence on human resources. They can work 24*7 without the need for breaks or getting mentally or physically exhausted like their human counterparts. Thus, they can help reduce the costs incurred for providing customer services. With NLP tools, retailers can expect a high ROI over the years when compared to human resources.
Adds a human touch
NLP tools provide a natural way of conversation. Say goodbye to mundane solutions for customer service by incorporating NLP tools. Customers no longer need to press 1 or press 2 and have long waiting times to get their queries resolved. The experience with NLP is similar to talking to another human. With NLP tools, retailers are guaranteed friendly contextual interaction with improved user satisfaction and high customer retention.
NLP solutions can help save time for customers as well as businesses. As the customer can get solutions quickly, it reduces the time spent in discussions. The customer can move ahead with other purchases. Similarly, NLP robots can serve another customer soon. Thus, more customer queries can be answered in the same amount of time with the help of NLP tools. And the technology will improve with further advancements, proving to be even more useful with its time-saving capabilities.
Even though a few major retail stores have managed to grow, a large number of small and medium retailers have taken a hit with the growth in the popularity of e-commerce websites. And even the major retailers are looking at continued decline with the e-commerce market expected to grow exponentially. Thus, retailers need to adapt to the changing times if they want to keep up with the changing dynamics. They need to implement advanced technologies, just like e-commerce players, to draw crowds to their stores. We have already discussed how the use of NLP in retail can help in this aspect. In addition to NLP, retail store owners should also give their attention to other technologies such as artificial intelligence, computer vision, and blockchain, among others. These technologies can be used independently or in combination as per the requirements and budget constraints. To sum it up, retail stores should either adapt and survive or remain unchanged and perish.