Lessons Retail Marketers Can Learn from HBO’s “Westworld”

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is going mainstream, captivating TV viewers, moviegoers and bookworms alike. One example of AI in pop culture is HBO’sWestworld.” In the show, a futuristic amusement park allows visitors to live out their fantasies through AI-enhanced technology that personalizes each experience.

For retail marketers, this idea should sound familiar – not because of the robot cowboys, but because the best retailers are taking a similar approach to customer engagement.

Imagine a world where every interaction is tailored specifically to each unique customer, such as receiving a list of product recommendations through a simple retina scan. That’s not as far off as it may seem.

Though we aren’t at a “Westworld” level of human/AI interaction yet, advanced machine learning technology is already informing and enhancing the consumer experience, especially in retail. Using technology that is already available, here are three lessons retailers can learn from the HBO hit:

Personalize down to the individual shopper

Similar to the robotic hosts of “Westworld,” retailers are already serving as hosts to their customers’ shopping experiences. Through the use of real-time analytics and machine learning technology, they can guide shoppers toward personalized product recommendations, advertisements, promotions and prices.

AI makes this degree of personalization possible by analyzing buying behaviors to determine why customers behave the way they do. Machine learning technology pinpoints the factors that motivate each shopper to make a purchase, eliminating guesswork and cutting down on irrelevant communications.

Take for instance a shopper who purchases expensive perfume. She might only do so when offered a steep discount, and probably won’t react to targeted promotions for more perfume shortly after the purchase. Machine learning can even detect when purchases are made as gifts for others, so customers aren’t offered promotions for products they’re not likely to buy regularly.

Maintain the human element

Many marketers are hesitant to trust AI with important decisions about marketing, but they fail to understand that the human element is still vital to all parts of the process – from planning to execution to the final transaction with each shopper. Robots won’t overtake humans in the marketing process but they can empower marketers to make better decisions. 

For example, while machine learning platforms can identify the right ads and prices to show to each customer, a human must still identify goals, budgets and other necessary components. This need for the human element is not going away anytime soon.

And while customers appreciate smart technology, they still crave human interaction in stores and online. Though online sales are rising, 85% of customers still prefer to shop in physical stores, where associates can improve their experience in person. Effective retailers commit to top-notch customer service to keep these shoppers returning.

Merge the online and physical customer experience

Just as the characters in “Westworld” move seamlessly from real life to fantasy, retailers can eliminate the gap between in-store and online customer relationships to improve retention and sales. This means using technology to gain a holistic view of each customer’s online and offline shopping behavior to offer highly personalized and relevant messaging and promotions.

Consider a customer who bought a sweater from her favorite retailer in-store using a credit card connected with her online account. It would be more effective to send her emails about complimentary items that can be purchased online rather than about the same or very similar products. To create an integrated experience like this, retailers can use machine learning technology that breaks down information silos and offers a holistic, cross-channel view of the customer.

While retailers can’t offer a “Westworld”-like experience at the moment, AI is already starting to bring some of these elements to consumers. The most strategic retailers will use machine learning to understand and target customers in more accurate, specific ways, while those who don’t offer personalized experiences will lose their competitive edge. Investments in the right technology will enable spot-on personalization that customers crave, and AI is quickly becoming that relevant force within the retail industry.

Kerry Liu is CEO of Rubikloud