With “Help Wanted” signs still plastered on storefronts across America and new headlines announcing hiring hiccups each week, it’s hard to avoid the fact that the retail industry is facing a serious labor shortage, ranging from distribution centers to the checkout line. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the retail industry had 964,000 job openings in May, up 35 percent from two years ago, and rising as stores reopen and prepare for the holiday season.
Some retailers are turning to incentives to attract employees, with Walmart announcing earlier this week that it will pay 100 percent of college tuition and books for associates through its Live Better U program. For online brands, though, it can be more difficult, with digital storefronts required to attract and keep customers.
Zohar Gilad, CEO of retail software provider Fast Simon, told PYMNTS that artificial intelligence (AI) may be a part of the solution, as “AI can do things that were difficult to do before a lot faster. … It can kind of automate a process that was pretty much manual labor.”
For example, a fashion brand may be able to automate the visual discovery components of their product pages, using technology to identify the different apparel items worn by models and suggesting similar products rather than having an employee manually input suggestions.
“A lot of the tricks of the trade and a lot of the things that made people successful in retail still hold in digital,” Gilad added. The difference, he said, is that in a digital world, everything is measurable, scalable and much more precise.
Fast Simon’s software can also provide consumers with personalized search results and product pages, which help to increase average order value and reduce shopping abandonment issues. Last month, Fast Simon released its new Display Merchandising Optimizer module, which uses AI to analyze shopping behavior, back-end sales history, image performance and other data to present the best image of a product to each customer.
And if a potential customer does leave the website without buying anything, Fast Simon can be integrated with email marketing providers to remind shoppers of what they were interested in. “We’re able to help the merchants have very personalized recommendations for folks who are searching or browsing and abandoned the store, and pretty much get to remarket to them,” Gilad said.
To be sure, Fast Simon is hardly the only company providing AI software to retailers, with others helping retailers optimize pricing amidst rising inflation. And it’s not the only one trying to reduce abandonment rates, with Google this week releasing a new Retail Search product to combat search abandonment.
One of the advantages of Fast Simon, though, is that it’s integrated with many of the major online storefront providers, including Shopify, BigCommerce, WooCommerce and Magento. This allows Fast Simon to give merchants a turnkey AI product without much heavy lifting.
For brands with custom storefronts using headless commerce implementations, Fast Simon also recently released a software development kit and component library to allow them to use the platform while retaining complete control. This, Gilad said, gives retailers “the best of both worlds.”
“It really provides those merchants with the capability to integrate with our platform very easily and very fast, and still retain all the goodness of AI and the benefits that we offer,” he added.
The use of AI can also go beyond eCommerce platforms, Gilad said, with Fast Simon’s personalization module integrated into Shopify’s point-of-sale (POS) hardware.
During the pandemic, the company also helped some retailers set up buy online, pick up in-store (BOPIS) capabilities, automating and personalizing a consumer’s online experience based on what was in stock at their nearest retail location.
“Our job is to make sure that merchants can get anything they can get from the traffic that comes to their store per shopper,” Gilad said.