July 16, 2024
Will retailers look up to the cloud for gen AI? Google Cloud hopes so

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As the retail industry gears up for the big NRF 2024 conference that gets started on Jan. 13, it is clear that generative AI will be top of mind for many and Google is aiming to be a key part of the action.

Today Google Cloud announced a series of AI technologies and services designed to help retailers deliver more personalized and efficient shopping experiences to their customers. The new services extend Google’s existing generative AI technologies including Vertex AI, PaLM 2 and Gemini large language models (LLMs), with an industry focus for retailers.

One of the highlights is Google Cloud’s new conversational commerce solution that enables retailers to easily deploy chatbots powered by gen AI on their websites and apps. Google also announced an enhancement to its Vertex AI Search product for retailers, which helps to enable high-quality search and recommendations. Additionally, Google introduced AI-powered solutions to modernize customer service and catalog management. The customer service modernization offering integrates with existing customer relationship management (CRM) systems to deploy chatbots that can provide personalized recommendations and schedule appointments.

Google is no stranger to the world of retail and has already had some success getting AI into retail environments.

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Retailers and consumer-facing brands have already been using several Google Cloud generative AI technologies,” Amy Eschliman, Managing Director, Cloud Retail Industry Solutions at Google told VentureBeat. 

For instance, she noted that Gymshark is already deploying Google Vertex AI to provide virtual assistants that will guide consumers through the product selection process. The assistant is also enhancing the Gymshark training app to be able to seamlessly record activities via text and dynamically provide new insights to help customers reach their fitness goals.

The outlook for generative AI in retail is strong

As part of its NRF 2024 retail push, Google is also releasing new research about the demand for generative AI in retail.

While the research is self-serving, it provides some insights into where retailers might be headed in 2024 with AI. The research is based on a survey of 274 executives in the retail industry. 

Not surprisingly interest and demand are high, with 95% of decision makers noting that they expect generative AI will have an impact on retail customer experience. That realization is also translating into some urgency for retailers to get generative AI into their operations. Seventy-two percent of respondents indicated that they are ready to deploy generative AI technology in 2024.

As to where generative AI fits into retail operations, 59% want to use it to improve customer service automation. Marketing support and product description generation is another key use case cited by 49% of respondents.

How Google is using gen AI to improve retail

The new conversational commerce solution is all about helping retailers build virtual agents that have natural conversations with shoppers to provide personalized product recommendations based on preferences.

Eschliman said the conversational commerce solution is powered by Google’s PaLM (Text and Chat) and natural language models (Speech-to-Text and Text-to-Speech). Google Cloud’s search and recommendation machine learning (ML) models can also be leveraged by virtual assistants. 

“This is a solution that utilizes multiple Google Cloud products all working together within a reference architecture,” she explained. “In addition to fully configurable standalone chatbots, we are also offering a conversational experience that is pre-embedded within Vertex AI Search for retail.”

Another core part of the retail push is the catalog and content enrichment solution which looks to solve a critical issue for retailers, with improved product descriptions.

As an example of how a retailer might put this solution to work, Eschliman said a merchandising team for a sporting goods store can use this technology to bring the entirety of their product catalog online with complete and accurate descriptions. The technology can help to reduce errors like incorrect product information, and automatically translate product copy into different languages. 

She added that a team can also use this solution to more easily onboard and launch new products or make timely updates to product descriptions or images to take advantage of the latest trends. For example, the sporting goods store could capitalize on an unexpected surge in worldwide popularity of Kansas City Chiefs merchandise and quickly generate enriched product data that helps improve SEO performance or ranking on their own site’s organic search results.

Vertex AI Search for retail brings new experience

Search is the cornerstone of Google and it’s a critical aspect of the online shopping experience as well, enabling consumers to find products and services.

As part of the NRF 2024 updates, Google is introducing enhancements to its Vertex AI Search for retail offering that integrates gen AI attributes. Google has been working on integrating gen AI into its public search engine with the Search Generative Experience (SGE). Eschliman emphasized that the retail search upgrade is a different technology.

According to Eschliman,  Google Cloud’s Vertex AI Search for retail helps retailers significantly improve the shopping experience on their digital platform with Google-quality search. The product offers advanced search capabilities such as a better understanding of user intent and self-learning ranking models that help retailers.

“What we’re announcing at NRF is an upgrade to Vertex AI Search for retail,” she said. ” We’ve developed a LLM that can be custom-trained for each retailer to improve product rankings, increasing both product relevance and retailer revenue.”

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