Symphony RetailAI CEO Explains CINDE
I had a chance to talk one on one with Dr Pallab Chatterjee, Chairman & CEO, Symphony RetailAI, who told me retailers are saying stores and store execution are become even more important with the implementation of click & collect solutions, thus the challenges they face are not going away.
CINDE, Chatterjee explains, is bringing capabilities that assist in the day-of-the-life of a category manager. The AI models are connecting the dots in all the available data to say “this is what we found.” He says Symphony RetailAI’s mission is to provide 2%-plus incremental growth. The company is looking at all of the places where we can help, he says, but CINDE’s AI recommendations are coaching retail employees, rather than taking over the decision making, thus helping to sidestep the fear many have about AI removing the need for a human element.
One of the biggest efficiency problems retailers have is that e-commerce players can change assortment quickly and stores have to be able to become more agile, he explains. Being able to adjust your assortment on demand inside the store, instead of a few times a year, helps physical stores compete with online players.
Going forward, in addition to looking at opportunities for applying AI, Chatterjee says CINDE is getting smarter. For example, in the demand forecasting AI model, when weather data was added it got much more accurate. Every time you give it new data it tries to figure out pattern matching, and thus gives more accurate recommendations. This is the difference between a deep learning AI model and a statistical regression model. Deep learning means the AI can makes inferences, Chatterjee explains. “It really gets better and better with the more data you feed it.” This is a step above machine learning, because you’re training the machine to make its own inferences.
We are feeding the model information and the compounding of the data from all of the retailers we are working with is making it get smarter over time, says Chatterjee. Meaning, the more retailers that work with Symphony RetailAI, the smarter the AI will grow.
“It does take time for the models to learn and get better over time,” he notes. “CINDE is a lot smarter today then she was two years ago,” when the AI was born.
Alasdair James, Global Executive and Board Director, followed, presenting his keynote “Future Expectations in Retail. What’s coming in the near future?” James spoke of what retailers and CPG manufacturers need to do today to prepare for tomorrow, and the must have capabilities required to meet the needs of customers.
He used the example of how AI can enable strategies for the upcoming evolution 5G technology will drive, but dove into how technology is creating complexity, noting “you could spend your whole year assessing tools.” He posed the question, how can technology help us spend less time, rather than more time and talked about growth, as Chatterjee did.
He spoke about Wayfair, noting that an article that came out saying the company was overvalued by 84%. Yet the share price went up and continued to go up thanks to topline growth.
“If you’re growing, you have the right to a future,” he pointed out.
He related this opportunity to AI, explaining to the audience how the only real competitive advantage companies have is their people, and how associates adapt technology is key to success. Driving topline revenue growth from new consumer engagements is important and colleagues need to spend more time focused on meeting changing consumer needs, which is where AI can help.
“You have to invest in growth, and then you have to invest some more,” he closed.
Lisa Kinney, Albertsons, Talks data challenges
Lisa Kinney, VP of Customer Strategy and Merchandising Analytics, Albertsons, presented “The power of customer data” in which she shared the journey Albertsons is on to become customer-centric and ensure customer insights are at the heart of its operations.
Lessons she’s learned so far?
- It’s complicated
- Time is priceless: There is no extra time in the workday
- We’re not lacking in data and tools: The data the retailer has on its customers far exceeds her expectations. It’s more about how do you connect it all.
- Simplicity is key: CGs need to explain simply and know their customers
- Causation and correlation is hard to answer: This is a customer world, we can’t look at it as a category world anymore.
She talked about how diagnosing and anticipating is something the retailer is working on, using predictive anticipation to tell where customers are going. “We can test, learn and scale, and the science behind that is incredible.”
Heinen’s Talks Computer assisted ordering
After a break in the Innovation Zone, Rick Fink, Director of Supply Chain, Heinens, presented “Meeting customer expectations in every store.” Heinen’s Grocery Store, celebrating its 90th anniversary, continuously strives to deliver the best customer service while offering the freshest, highest quality foods. To meet its customer's expectation requires having the right assortment, available at the right time, at a value. Heinen’s latest project to automate store replenishment is helping it continue to drive customer satisfaction.
Computer assisted ordering (CAO) is being used currently by 7 of its 23 stores. Two pilot stores have close to 50% of packaged goods being ordered through CAO. The goal is to have all 23 stores ordering nearly 100% of packaged goods in grocery, dairy and frozen by May 2020. After this it will evaluate the perishable departments.
“The first time we started, we put a hold on it. It wasn’t because of our system, it was because of our disciplines at the front end.”
But the benefits have included a reduction in out of stocks, better rotation of stock resulting in better dates for customers, and associates spending more time on the floor helping customers since they don’t need to scan an order. The retailer has also reduced its back stock.
“When we have an issue, we give [Symphony] the issue.” Heinen’s undergoes constant process evaluation. Like many retailers, Fink says the biggest challenge has been change management.
“The key for a 23 stores chain is we have to focus on our customer,” he says.
Guest keynote speaker Tanya Streeter, World Champion Freediver, closed the night. Streeter still holds the longest-standing world record in the sport, having dived on a single breath to a depth of 525ft/160m in the No Limits discipline off the coast of the Turks and Caicos Islands in August 2002. Streeter talked about how having the right support system around you is key to success. As humans we strive to do what seems impossible and quite often, with training and collaboration, the impossible, becomes possible.