Retelling Retail: Artificial Intelligence in Consumer Culture

Artificial intelligence has plugged itself into our society and is the future of the retail industry.

AI in a supermarket. Photo credit: Getty Images.
Artificial intelligence in a supermarket | Photo credit: Getty Images.

Science fiction films, television shows, and novels have warned us of our inevitable reliance on artificial intelligence. Think back to the iconic 1990 Arnold Schwarzenegger flick “Total Recall,” where we are introduced to an autonomous driving system named Johnny Cab. All he needs is a destination, and they are on the move, free of human nature and its glitches. This technology is not lost in a script but is in the foreground of Waymo’s plans in manufacturing driverless cars. Life imitates art. However, as much as the current social climate makes us scream out for this technology, we must hold our expectations—just a bit.

Johnny Cab | Total Recall. Photo credit: NYCDA

Artificial intelligence attempts to combat human error, even if it’s just a simple red line under a misspelled word. Efficiency is key. We want all our services to employ heightened effectiveness, not just transportation. So it would be no surprise that the retail industry has been plugged into robotics. Once upon a time in supermarkets, there were no self-service checkouts. It was an analogue experience with human interaction and a long line of trolleys, but now we are moving towards a digital age. Artificial intelligence is the future of retail, and Softbank’s production of the Pepper Robot only proves the future is upon us.

The Pepper Robot

Pepper stands at approximately 1.2m tall with omnidirectional wheels for smooth transportation. Her purpose is to interact with us and answer our questions with no bother. She features at approximately 140 stores around Japan, and, since then, Apple has invested around $50 billion into Softbank and their vision for technological advancement. Pepper is expressive, emotive, and mobile. She is perfectly modelled to be a staple of our everyday lives.

The novelty of Pepper is not the impressive part; it is the results. A tech store in Palo Alto trialled the revolutionary robot that resulted in an impressive 70% increase in foot traffic. Another store saw a rise of 13% in revenue and astronomical increases in sales. Around 10 000 have been sold, with approximately 2 000 employed by education institutions in Japan to support robotic education. With these impressive results, Pepper showcases what the future of artificial intelligence has in store for our society.

Consumer Culture and Artificial Intelligence

But our consumer culture is hesitant to catch onto artificial intelligence. According to a study conducted by Oracle, 95% of customers prefer human interaction rather than artificial intelligence. But the retail executives disagree. 98% say that artificial intelligence will boost foot traffic, whereas 48% of consumers believe artificial intelligence will not impact their shopping patterns. Do institutions know what we want? Or do the streamlined, attractive technologies at their disposal blind them?

For years, Elon Musk has warned us of the imminent control robots will have on humanity. We feed everything we know into machines to make them smarter than us. Earlier this year, Amazon announced that it would replace low-skill employment in their warehouses with artificial intelligence. This would mean that artificial intelligence would replace approximately 1 300 jobs across 55 U.S. stores. Let’s go back to supermarket self-service checkouts for one second; yes, they are convenient and efficient, but it dehumanises the entire shopping experience and replaces employment. But, we always want to adapt. Always want to extend human knowledge. From retail to the fashion industry, artificial intelligence is taking hold of our society and designing a new one.

So, the question is: are we too reliant on artificial intelligence? We cannot be positive, but what is certain is that our modern world is becoming digitalised, and our future will be the coming of the digital age.

But what do you think? What does the future of the retail industry look like with artificial intelligence? Are you excited about what’s on the horizon? Comment below!