Instant Response Elevates the Customer Experience (and AI Isn’t the Only Answer)

Retail customers are impatient. What can you do to deliver faster, better help?

It is now well-established that artificial intelligence, and in particular generative AI, has the potential to transform retail operations. One of the greatest influences of AI in retail may be felt in the area of customer experience.

AI and machine learning are already in broad use and can be designed to improve the customer journey and create efficiencies. An AI-driven bot, for instance, can recognize an existing customer and provide a more personalized experience by interpreting intent and making product suggestions, offering customized discounts, and more. The potential for cost-savings and increased efficiencies for retailers are real—which explains why chatbot revenues in the U.S. are projected to leap to $42 billion by 2032.

3 in 5

consumers would like to use AI applications as they shop.

Source: Digital Commerce 360

Bots designed to manage basic customer service issues are pervasive online, but they also provide retailers the opportunity to be more effective at engaging in-store shoppers. And many are taking note. Salesforce reports that 92% of retailers are increasing their investments in generative AI to enhance shopping experiences, focusing on hyper-personalization and recommendations.

Shoppers are in alignment with the trend. In a recent IBM poll, 55% of consumers expressed eagerness for AI enhancements such as virtual assistants. Giving in-store shoppers access to virtual assistants in stores could have the greatest potential for increasing sales and revenues, as evidenced by further IBM survey results. For instance, about 80% of consumers who haven’t yet used AI for shopping are interested in seeing how it can help them research products, get product information, or connect with customer service.

Improved customer service means faster service for in-store shoppers, which includes having their questions and concerns addressed without having to wait. In a new study reported in Forbes, half of all customers will not wait more than three minutes in a store. This validates the adage that time is money, and retailers and brands that recognize shoppers’ rising impatience and are doing something about it will see gains in customer loyalty and sales.


What most excites customer support leaders about AI’s potential?


faster responses


more consistent responses


saving money on training


summarizing conversations

An AI-powered chatbot can certainly provide the instant response that shoppers desire and can readily handle a huge number of predefined tasks.

Advanced AI in retail applications can be enabled to access a robust knowledge base to recognize individual customers and their prior browsing, purchase, and relevant brand interaction histories. The technology can analyze conversations, detect patterns, make predictions based on patterns and topics of discussion, and deliver increasingly relevant responses.

But reducing wait times isn’t the only parameter for selecting a solution to customer service. While immediacy rates high among shoppers, if a bot can’t answer a question, or, perhaps even more frustrating, puts shoppers in an unending loop from which they can’t be released into the care of a human, they will balk. As such, retailers should be aware that exclusive reliance on digital platforms can lead to a perversion, rather than promotion, of satisfying customer engagement.


of consumers demand immediate responses to their queries.

Source: Zendesk

Exclusive reliance on digital platforms can lead to a perversion, rather than promotion, of satisfying customer engagement.

As yet, basic AI bots have not advanced to the point of fully gleaning a customer’s emotions, displaying empathy, or grasping the meaning of a complex customer concern or dilemma. And these are qualities that customers value. This is where human virtual brand experts can play a significant role. They offer the personalized interactions customers seek in stores—plus the immediate response they desire. This can build trust and set the stage for positive, long-term relationships between consumers and brands.

An ideal scenario is to blend AI with human assistance. The bot can be the first line of contact, and when certain phrases come up in the conversation, the bot then seamlessly funnels shoppers’ more involved concerns to a live person. One study found that 86% of customers would rather interact with a human than a chatbot. And in another survey, 71% of customers say that they would be less likely to purchase from a brand that did not have real customer service representatives available.

In-store shoppers can be referred to a live person such as a sales associate or brand representative, who are either in the store or working virtually from a remote location. This bot + human ensemble then becomes a complementary partnership, whereby bots and humans work together to provide clear, quick, and true help during the customer journey.

This bot + human ensemble then becomes a complementary partnership, whereby bots and humans work together to provide clear, quick, and true help during the customer journey.

Such a partnership can be customized for specific retailers, stores, and brands. One such blended program, AskMe® uses QR codes placed on product tags or shelf labels that shoppers scan to instantly connect with a live virtual brand expert. A highly trained brand expert attends to the customer’s needs on the spot—in the store, at the moment the customer is exploring products and may be most ready to make a purchase. They can help customers compare features and pricing, learn more about their lifestyle and individual preferences, and thus provide customized advice to assist them in making a purchase that will fulfill their individual needs and desires.

A coordinated system of chatbots and live, personal assistance delivers an optimal experience for in-store customers. They receive a consistent brand experience while receiving instant feedback on their product concerns and questions, personalized to their individual needs. This sets customers up for a more confident purchase decision, and they leave the store with a more positive opinion of the retailer and the brand.

Consumers are eager for AI enhancements as they shop.



virtual assistantsAI applications

Source: IBM

A 2024 Mintel study predicts that as consumers are bombarded with emerging technologies, they will begin seeking a balance between reliance on the “faceless algorithms” of AI and real human connections. “While tech itself can boost efficiency, brands will still need to invest in their people and communities to continue nurturing customer relationships. Additionally, you can employ various communication tools—such as chatbots, voice assistants, and social media monitoring—to ensure that your customers are getting the help they need in the way they prefer.”

Ready to talk?

Improving customer engagement is second nature to MarketSource. Through our expert knowledge of retail environments and application of the right tools and people, we accelerate sales for many major retail brands. Start a conversation with us now.
Author: Karen Salamone

Author: Karen Salamone

Karen is Head of Marketing for MarketSource. She is a transformational B2B and B2B2C leader with a history of building marketing organizations, content teams, and demand generation centers of excellence from the ground up. She is recognized for delivering meaningful insights and fresh approaches and for earning best-in-class content, design, and multi-media awards.

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