Xcelerate 2018 event review: Are you ready for AI-enabled retail?

FMCG retailers present on how data and AI is changing the game

At this year’s Xcelerate Retail Forum, as a result of the tremendous rate of change in the industry, we collectively asked our attendees if they were ready for artificial intelligence-enabled retail? After listening to presentations and talking to attendees, it was clear that they are not only ready for AI-enabled retail, many are leading the way.

Change is a constant

In 2017 our Chairman, Dr. Pallab Chatterjee, shared his vision of the Amazon Effect and what the industry should do about it. Since then, a lot has changed. During his keynote this year, Pallab reconciled the expectations he set a year ago and provided additional clarity into the current business landscape. Although the sentiment around new market entrants, the role of the store, fulfillment strategies, private label, changing demographics, and more have evolved… the need for powerful technology platforms to identify the changes, understand their impact, and to create new efficiencies and engagement opportunities remain fundamentally essential to win in today’s market.

Organizational culture counts

The message of creating new efficiencies proliferated across many presentations this year. Right from the start, Microsoft’s Sandy Gupta had us contemplating digital transformation across four essential and distinct areas: customer engagement, employee empowerment, operational optimization and product transformation. Sandy emphasized the value of using data to create new value, but he also made it clear that organizational culture is at the core of the challenge. In other words, there must be a fundamental desire and willingness to explore new models and processes, experiment, and accept “fast failure” as an option. This feeling was echoed by Heinen’s CFO, Maryann Correnti, who said it’s no longer okay to only succeed in product leadership, customer intimacy or operational excellence; today, retailers need to master all three. (You may find the article by Randy Hofbauer of Progressive Grocer on, “How Heinen’s Focus on Operational Excellence Led to Grocery Greatness“, a useful read).

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Data, data, data

Throughout the course of the event, we heard interesting examples of retailers and CPGs using data more intelligently to improve supply chain performance, create more personalized marketing strategies, deploy hyper-localized assortments, improve promotion effectiveness and more. For the audience, it was a unique opportunity to see real examples of companies taking their data and applying it to make a difference to the customer experience and the bottom line.

Xcelerate’s entertaining MC, keynote speaker and shopper behavior expert, Ken Hughes, said it best when he declared that retailers really can’t just be retailers anymore. Thinking of themselves as such is self-destructive and limiting. Instead, they must be masters of their own data estate, identifying themselves as data-driven technology companies that serve physical goods to consumers on a one-to-one level based on the relationship they’ve built and developed through deep learning over time.

When Sandeep Dadlani, Chief Digital Officer for Mars Incorporated, spoke about the need to go 100x faster, this is what he was talking about. There is a need to accelerate the pace of innovation, which requires massive data sets and fast computation they’d never be able to achieve manually. AI helps them solve this problem.

For example, Coborn’s and K-VA-T have started using AI to analyze shopper response to traditional marketing plans. They described how they are able to identify unique patterns, create distinct shopper profiles, and launch more targeted ads across channels that helped them drastically improve the ROI on advertising expenditures.

“Retail” contains “ai”

Today’s retailers, if they’re not already doing so, will be using AI at some point to remain competitive. This was a topic debated by an executive panel hosted by RSR Research’s Brian Kilcourse (who also wrote an Xcelerate event review). By leveraging the data at their fingertips, these retailers and brands have been able to unlock the potential they’ve always possessed, but just couldn’t access without the power of AI. They’re able to prepare for a future that will demand efficiency. From IoT to blockchain to virtual and augmented reality and more, managing data more intelligently and establishing effective collaboration between retailers, manufacturers and technology partners will be the key to successful deployments. And AI, just as it’s lower-case relatives find themselves in “Retail,” – will irrefutably be an integral part of that process.

I hope all of you who attended the event found it useful and took something new back to your business, and that whether you made it or not, you will join us next year. The only thing we know for sure is that things won’t be the same in 12 months’ time!

Take a look at this highlights video for a glimpse of the blend of industry expertise, cutting edge technology and great exchange with industry peers.

Watch Pallab’s keynote titled One year later – The Amazon effect and the supermarket of the future: What we got right, wrong and how AI will take us forward.