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We live in a Smart World

Smartwatches. Smart TVs. Smartphones. Smart Homes. All brought to you by Smart people. 

Our machines are learning to do things for us, and they are learning fast, as fast as we can teach them. 

Arguably the single most significant event during the Industrial Revolution was automation. And we are now at a stage in history where the single most significant event to advance us forward might be machine learning.

We are living in that world of automation and technology right now in fact. We can answer our door if somebody rings the bell at our home in Winnipeg from half-way across the world if we wanted to. We can have our fridge inform our online grocery service to place an order and deliver it when the milk gets down to a panic level, and it is there on the doorstep when we get home from work.

Artificial Intelligence is the term commonly used to describe this concept of machine learning when technology mimics the cognitive function of a human.

It’s great when it works well. but when it doesn’t, we can accidentally unlock our car remotely when somebody is trying to break into it. Yikes! ….oops….

But like our brain, the HUB of this ecosystem operates by way of inputs. You have to see a threat to experience and feel fear, and the brain converts visual stimuli to an emotional state. Now I know it is much more complex than that, and I couldn’t do it justice, but that’s the essence of what goes on with the human brain.

This comparison is important for us to understand how to maximize the potential, and assess the risk related to AI.

In a store environment, we are at a point when orders for product are placed automatically when stock on the sales floor gets low. RFID (radio frequency identification) is making that even easier. We can even send a message to a store manager when a fire exit is blocked for more than 60 seconds. CCTV (closed caption television) has that capability – built in, yet rarely used.

And all of this comes with the tremendous value of re-deploying precious human resources to other areas of the business, like one to one customer service (rather than counting inventory and placing manual orders or doing fire safety patrols). 

Where to Start

  1. Develop a wish list: With existing technology, and an understanding of the new technology you will be procuring, plan out what you need.
  2. Be careful what you wish for: Understand the concept of garbage in, garbage out. The system will only be as smart as the teacher.
  3. State the goals: Be clear on what you want to be accomplished and community the mission to all involved. Your goal may overlap with another department and synergy most always wins out.
  4. Assess the risks: There are inherent risks with operating a retail business. To mitigate these risks takes a lot of people power. If your technology can be your eyes and ears you will protect your bottom line. Tip! If you create a better risk management system with technology contact your insurer as you may qualify for a premium rebate!
  5. The plan: Map it out to avoid unnecessary work and costs. Create a timeline, and stick to the plan  
  6. Execute: Have fun every step of the way, because the magic of machine learning and artificial intelligence is unlimited and is going to make everyone’s lives a whole lot better.

“In order to maximize machine learning to its fullest potential, it takes a well structured technological ecosystem where each component has a well-defined function and operates in such a way as to inform the brain of the system to do the right thing.”

Case Study: 

Remember this, AI is meant to provide you with enough information to make an informed decision. You may grant authority for decisions to be made, but that comes after knowing the right inputs are being sent, and the system is firing right.

I once worked for a company that had an automatic replenishment system in place. It required human interaction to adjust the system regularly, to provide a data input that the machine needed to know. One person made a decision to stop making the adjustment, to let the system work the way it was supposed to. 

The result? 

Out of stocks – the worse customer experience there is. 

The fix? 

Turn it back on and allow human interaction!

What next?

Massive orders were made to replenish month of outs causing “slot locked” distributions centres, general order pushed to stores, massive chaos and shrink beyond expectation.

The Paul Harvey?

The company had to disclose the shrink as a “material item” to the market, and share price hit was more than the shrink – a double whammy as they say.

Fun stuff

Right now plants are getting the water they need because probes measure moisture levels of soil and saturate pads to allow for the optimal moisture level of each individual species of plants. No people involved.

ATM vestibules have an automatic messaging system to communicate to loitering persons to leave the area. No people involved.

Distribution Centres are picking sorting and preparing packages robotically.

Your favourite breakfast is made, waiting and ready at the exact moment you wake up because your automated home monitors sleep patterns and knows when you are waking up. Okay, that one may be a year or two out, but you get the picture….


Hello, I'm Stephen O'Keefe. The information you read here is intended to help businesses answer some of the tough questions about everyday events in the retail environment. After spending over 3 decades in this industry we've seen a lot!
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About Stephen O'Keefe

As an independent consultant I leverage my experience and knowledge to help a number of companies achieve results. Clients range from non-retailers looking for guidance to serve their retail customer, to retailers looking for quick solutions to unique and costly problems, right to the Industry Association. Bottom line Matters!

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