How GenAI can improve online and in-store shopping experiences. By Gopi Polavarapu 

The retail industry is rife with digital disruptions. New technologies, rising customer expectations and fierce competition from other retailers means that brands are constantly looking at ways to come out on top.

Many retailers are turning to AI to improve their offering to enable personalization, such as developing shopping lists for the consumer based on previous preferences. But with a magnitude of AI applications at play, it’s important that leadership teams are choosing the right responsible solution for them, to act in the best interest of both their customers and employees to drive better business value.

One way that retailers are taking advantage of the technology at play today is through responsibly built Conversational AI (CAI) and generative AI (GenAI) powered Intelligent Virtual Assistants (IVAs).

Meeting consumer demand
In our recent Customer Experience Benchmark Report, which surveyed 1000 consumers, 72 percent said they were most interested in being able to use an IVA for retail for product or brand search and information (e.g., price, ratings, looking for similar products) while the same number were interested in using IVAs over basic chatbots for special offers, event promotions and coupons (e.g., setting up notifications, identifying the best days and stores to shop in and getting price drop alerts).

The appetite is clear. Shoppers want quick and easy ways to find the right product or service and get the best deal. As long as they’re getting that personalized support, they’re more than happy to be interacting with AI-powered IVAs.

CAI and its role in retail
IVAs are trained on vast methodologies such as Natural Language Understanding (NLU), machine learning, customized enterprise-grade large language models (LLMs) and speech recognition and text to speech to generate human-like responses to user input.

These models can be purpose-built for each brand, so they can comprehend a user’s query with contextual details given during the conversation, retrieving relevant information and data for personalized, omnichannel, multi-lingual assistance to customers, retail employees and customer service contact center agents.

For example, IVAs have the knowledge of a customer’s previous interactions based on their spending profile, demographics, geography, and social profiles, as well as intel of inventory availability and promotions. Secondly, IVAs have subject matter expertise from a centralized bank, so they can provide quick, accurate contextual answers about products (e.g., compatibility, best size, or option for a specific need) and recommendations based on what they’ve kept before, which sets customer expectations and reduces the likelihood of returns.

The personal touch
One of our large global customers doubled down its AI efforts during the Covid-19 lockdown, as it faced a massive challenge in supporting consultants and consumers to track orders online. Through responsible CAI and GenAI powered search capabilities, the retailer was able to build complex use cases, including order monitoring and tracking to deliver superior, personalized, and seamless experiences to its consumers.

The company also required its customer service to be available 24/7 through various channels. So, through WhatsApp-enabled CAI support and regular online IVA availability, users no longer had to wait the usual 9 – 5pm to seek support for questions such as product availability or if they had a query on whether they could return an item.

Ultimately, this allowed the organization to provide a greater customer experience – delivering the right experiences and the right product, at the right time.

It was also able to transform employee experiences as everyone had to work remotely. Consultants were able to learn about new products intuitively via IVAs and access pre-loaded information to create tailored product catalogs for clients.

Enhancing the employee experience
To deliver true business value, leaders of retail organizations must not forget about their employees. In a macroeconomic climate where labor shortages are rife, the constant threat of technology taking jobs, as well as a cost-of-living crisis, employees want to feel valued.

Firstly, retail employees can benefit from IVAs for their own self-service for matters such as admin, IT, or operations, as well as HR queries such as how much holiday they have left or to request company information. In a large company, this streamlines operations that would have traditionally taken hours to raise a ticket and get questions resolved – saving both parties valuable time to focus on tasks elsewhere.

And when it comes to in-store experiences, IVAs can help inform employees, with tasks such as checking stock, so they can serve the customer more quickly and provide a better overall service. While employees at head office can identify patterns and trends to develop new products, provide custom suggestions in marketing campaigns or cross promote other items a person will like or has searched/purchased before.

Extraordinary experiences matter
To stand out in an overly crowded retail industry, retailers must deliver frictionless experiences and CAI enables these for both shoppers and associates. With IVAs, digital experiences become conversational, personalized, and instantly gratifying engagements that leave users wanting to come back for more.

Gopi Polavarapu is Chief Solutions Officer at has been a leading company in using conversational AI since its founding in 2014. More than 350 Fortune 2000 companies trust the experience optimization XO Platform and technology to automate their business interactions for over 100 million users worldwide. has been recognized as a leader and an innovator by top analysts and ensures the success of its customers through a growing team headquartered in Orlando with offices in India, the UK, Japan, South Korea, and Europe.