Skip to main content

Generative AI’s explosive growth over the past year has spotlighted all of Al and how it can be used by retail and fashion brands.

During the recent WWD Apparel & Retail CEO Summit, panelists took the stage to discuss AI, its use and how technology and data can not only create a better shopping experience but also be monetized.

The session, titled “Retail Disrupted: Unlocking AI Value,” featured RJ Cilley, chief operating officer at Saks; Danielle Schmelkin, chief information officer at J.Crew Group, and Maher Masri, president of the NAX Group with Sonia Lapinksy, partner and managing director of AlixPartners, serving as moderator.

Lapinksy began by describing AI as the latest disruption to retail and fashion apparel. She said, regarding AI’s value, there are “four major ways that we can think about creating value. It can be enterprise value that we create within the organization. And we can enhance the customer experience. There’s also market value that can be created as well as monetizing the data value that exists. And there are solutions to drive value across all aspects of retail.”

At J.Crew Group, Schmelkin said AI enhances individual productivity and creativity. She said generative AI, for example, is taking a lot of the grunt work, common and repetitive tasks such as building a presentation deck, “which you can edit versus having to create it from a blank piece of paper each time.”

Lapinsky agreed, and said AI is not only helping retailers do more with less, but helping them to do more, better. Cilley also agreed and said the “productivity piece is super important” and noted the technology is enhancing work. As a result, Saks is piloting several AI tools to see where it fits best.

Schmelkin said, “But it’s not just the hours that you’re saving. We could not do the same work with humans.” She said AI is helping to enrich the brand’s products and the shopping experience. For example, the company uses AI to level up online search language that will trigger conversions.

Lapinksy said this was a good segue into discussing the consumer’s experience. “When you think about your customers, AI should be invisible and enhancing,” she said. “They shouldn’t know that it’s AI. They should just have a better experience overall.”

Lapinsky then shared results from a consumer survey done by AlixPartners that showed various pain points of online shopping. The results included marketing quality and relevance, promotion quality and relevance, sizing confidence, customer support and finding the right product, among other issues — each of which can be improved with AI.

“When I think about the customer experience right now and customer support, a lot of retailers are using AI retroactively,” Cilley said. “They take the calls in from the contact center, and then it is analyzed. And then they train their agents.” He sees this process changing with AI, where the tools are used in real-time to generate responses for service agents. Cilley said it would be a game-changer.

Masri said, “One of the most exciting things about AI is being able to shift the focus from answering a question to finding the questions to answer. And to find the opportunities that we could not see before. As humans, we have access to massive amounts of both first- and third-party data. However, there are multiple clues and signals around the consumer behavior ecosystem, which includes patterns. [AI] gives us the ability to automate and find patterns of signals from multiple different data sources.”

Masri said AI can connect social signals with news events to reveal behavioral patterns. “And also use transactional data to find that signal and build opportunities around it. What we’re seeing now is more of an opportunity to bring those things together.”

As a result, the entire shopping experience is improved and more relevant to customers.