The Three Ways AI Is Impacting Customers And Retailers This Holiday Season

This post is part of a series sponsored by IBM about Five Ways Marketers Can Win the Holidays

Artificial intelligence (AI) is impacting the way consumers are shopping for the holidays. It is also driving how companies are operating in order to deepen customer relationships. According to Lauren Kindzierski, VP at HGS, “Forward-thinking companies are already using a combination of bots and brains to deliver next-generation customer experiences and optimize operations.”

Photo Credit: Pixabay

Cognitive and machine learning is powering behaviour in three critical ways for customers and retailers this holiday season.

  1. How customers find gifts? Customers are looking for ease and convenience when holiday shopping. They want an experience that is personalized to their needs. The expectation is that each stage of the journey will be seamless. Voice is driving the beginning stage of their journey. According to Accenture, a majority of consumers are already using or would like to use a number of technologies that are powered by AI. Sixty-eight percent of those surveyed indicated that they were using or wanted to use Google Home, compared to 71 percent for Amazon’s Alexa. Similarly, voice-search enabled digital assistants such as Apple’s Siri and Microsoft’s Cortana and are becoming the go-to search mode for mobile. This trend is here to stay beyond the holidays. ComScore says that by 2020, 50 percent of all searches will be voice searches.
  2. Where and how customers buy? AI can help companies manage data and allow them to be predictive of customer behaviour. By leveraging information about weather, location, and preferences, it can help to create an optimal shopping experience. For retailers, AI can improve supply chain management. It can provide insights in to managing inventory levels and streamlining shipping management. The result is the right items are available and can be shipped to customers in a timely fashion.
  3. How companies manage customer service? During the holidays there is an increased need for seasonal staff to handle customer service issues. For companies, AI is playing a key role in handling many of the basic requests. IVR’s and chatbots powered by AI are handling tasks such as updates on orders, sharing return policies and answering FAQ’s. According to Narvar, customers are not noticing the difference. Their research found that 38% of consumers didn’t know whether a live chat or messenger app was a human being or AI. Only 10% knew it was not human. Gartner predicts that by 2020, the customer will manage 85% of its relationship with an enterprise without interacting with a human source.

To find out more about the five ways marketers can win the holidays, check out this series by IBM covering: 1 – Bridge Digital & Physical Experiences, 2 – Predict the Future to Improve Your Impact, 3 – Market in the Moments that Matter, 4 – Discover the Best Path to Purchase, and 5 – Get Alerted to High-Impact Situations.

Purple Goldfish Hall of Famer–Pizza Shuttle

Hall of Fame Class of 2012–Pizza Shuttle

I’m pretty sure everyone loves pizza. There are just so many ways that you can enjoy it. A variety of crusts, toppings, sauces, and servings really can make just about anyone happy. Plus, because there are so many different places to get pizza, the price can always be counted upon. Of course, not all pizza companies are created equal. Pizza Shuttle, located in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, throws in a handful of extras to their orders, setting them apart from the likes of places like Papa John’s, Godfather’s and Domino’s. That’s why Pizza Shuttle was added to the 2012 Hall of Fame.


Located in Milwaukee, Wisconson Pizza Shuttle has a handful of signature extras. My personal favorite is the “The Largest Pie in Wisconsin” a veritable $39.95 gut buster. According to an article by Josh McDonald, it looks like they also throw in the ice cream as an added lagniappe. While there isn’t much out there about the origins of Pizza Shuttle, one thing is certain–they are the masters of a first and last impression when it comes to pizza.


When it comes to eating pizza, there is no such thing as “enough.” Whether you’re struck by the ooey gooey cheese or the way your teeth sink into the crust, we usually can’t help but take just one more piece, can we? At Pizza Shuttle, their pies are out of this world good. Made up at just the right combination of cheese, crust, toppings, and grease, one slice is never enough. Of course, when you order a Monster Pie, you’re sure to have leftovers ensuring you get to enjoy your yummy pizza long after you’ve left Pizza Shuttle.

As for that free custard–Wisconsin is famous for dairy (think: cheese). Adding delicious free custard to the end of an already amazing meal will keep their customers talking–and coming back again and again. Besides, who doesn’t like free custard?!


Sometimes, satisfying our customers doesn’t come from great customer service. Rather, it comes from giving them more of what they love–and less of what they don’t want. At Pizza Shuttle, they know the people who come to them want one thing: more pizza. What’s more, they always deliver.

Today’s Lagniappe (a little something extra thrown in for good measure) – The Pizza Shuttle offers The Pizza Challenge–and your shot at winning $500. Watch one couple make the attempt in today’s video.

Purple Goldfish Hall of Famer–Ikea

Hall of Fame Class of 2012–Ikea

I still remember the first time I walked into IKEA. Let’s just say that I once thought walking into Target was going to be a suck on my wallet. Of course, as anyone who has been to IKEA knows, there are ample opportunities to furnish your place for so little money. However, in taking advantage of all of these inexpensive opportunities, you can actually end up spending quite a bit. One thing that helps IKEA customers spend even more? The fact that IKEA offers childcare services (meaning you can roam their vast store child-free) AND their delicious meatballs. I don’t think I’ve ever left IKEA without first downing a plate of meatballs.


The little extras are baked into IKEA’s model. They epitomize high value and low maintenance. Free childcare at Smaland, free breakfast, low cost signature meals like Swedish meatballs and a slew of low cost items help place IKEA into the Hall of Fame Class of 2012. Best of all, IKEA has valued people from the beginning.Perhaps that is why they offer so many excellent perks to their customers. IKEA is a company that believes that people, both customers and employees, come before products–but together, people and products can be great.


As anyone who has ever walked through an IKEA can attest, they day can be overwhelming. There just is no way around it. First of all, the IKEA inventory is vast. It just goes and goes and goes. When you’re taking a child through the inventory, overwhelmed can quickly lead to stressful. And, of course, so much walking is bound to make anyone at least a little hungry. IKEA has taken away the burdens of a long day of shopping for their customers by providing child-care and food. The question here should really be why NOT child care and meatballs?


Shopping for a home can be a big burden. Not only is it stressful, it can also feel totally overwhelming. Luckily, the experts at IKEA have helped to lift a little bit of that burden from their customers via their freebies.

Today’s Lagniappe (a little something extra thrown in for good measure) – Whether you have or have never been to an IKEA, you’ll really enjoy this couple seeing the inside of IKEA for the first time ever.

Customer Service is Improved by Matchmaking

“Your call may be recorded for training and quality purposes.”

We’ve all heard this before. Companies use call center recordings for training and compliance purposes. But imagine a solution that uses technology, data and analytics in real-time to automatically match customers to like-minded customer service representatives. Software that uses algorithms to analyze customer speech for tone, tempo, and syntax to identify the customer’s personality type and behavioral preferences.

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Personalized Marketing Solutions

You might have noticed that I talk a lot about customer experience. Perhaps this is because of how important the experience of your customer is–but how little time companies seem to put into making customer experiences special. One thing I’ve noticed is that over the years, companies big and small have made changes to incorporate a better customer experience. Whether this is because of the dawn of the internet, where company reviews will never die or because companies realized a shift of power was happening no one can really say. Maybe it’s a little bit of both. Either way, the customer experience has certainly changed–and will continue to do so throughout 2017.

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What Led to Amazon Being a Household Name

These days, Amazon is practically a household name. Of course, they haven’t always been at the top of the game. In fact, it took a lot of hard work and customer care to get to where they are now. Among companies today, Amazon is arguably the leader in continuously raising the bar. In 2013, the company released its Mayday button for the Kindle Fire HDX tablet. The single-click support solution allows tablet owners to access an Amazon customer service representative via webcam. Within fifteen seconds, an Amazon representative shows up on-screen to solve problems in a responsive fashion with a simple touch of a button.

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Purple Goldfish Hall of Famer–Kiehl’s

Hall of Fame Class of 2012–Kiehl’s

Try it before you can buy it. Those words are music to my ears. Whether I’m buying a new car, sampling a new flavor of ice cream, or searching for a new pair of shoes–I want to be able to try something before I make my purchase. In most instances, I’m going to be stuck with said purchase and no real easy way out. Shouldn’t I be absolutely positive that I’m making the right decision? You may know that one of the 12 types of purple goldfish is sampling–and that is exactly what today’s Hall of Famer, Kiehl’s, does best.


Kiehl’s allows customers to get samples in one of three ways–you can visit their store, you can visit their counter at a department store, or you can call them to request a sample. Why try something before you make a purchase? Kiehl’s explains it best when they say, “We understand that no two skin or hair types are exactly alike and that products work differently for each person. To ensure you find the precise products that meet your needs, Kiehl’s pioneered an extensive Sampling Program many years ago. We’re confident that when you try our products, you will recognize the high quality and efficacy of the preparation.”


As stated on their websites, Kiehl’s recognizes that while they may sell the same product to two different customers–no two customers are exactly alike. One may choose a shampoo for how it makes their hair feel while another customer may be strictly in love with how that same shampoo smells. The thing is that as customers, we’re so overwhelmed by the demand to buy RIGHT NOW (4th of July sale! One day only sale! Black Friday!) that we forget we have a choice in what we purchase. We’re allowed to try it, consider it, and make the best decision for ourselves that we can.


Customers like to feel like they are in control–and that they are making good decisions. Free samples are one way that we can empower our customers to feel like they’re in charge of the purchases they’re making and the money they’re spending. That is an excellent gift to be able to give to a customer.

Today’s Lagniappe (a little something extra thrown in for good measure) – Sometimes, getting a free sample more than once could require a disguise. At least, it does in the video below.

What Marketing And Change Have In Common

There are so many marketing companies out there these days doing so many different things. From commanding the digital space to being more effective in branding, marketing companies certainly aren’t lacking in options for their specialty. But while the number of marketing companies continues to grow, the one thing that remains constant in how they reach you…is change.

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When Technology Leads to Behavior Changes

Some might argue technology is making us less human. Others would argue just the opposite. No matter which opinion you share, you can’t dispute the rising trend of personal data collection and its effect on behavior change. But while behavior change might not be your ultimate goal, it can still happen. Take Automatic Link as a for instance, who leverages the OBD-II port in your car to report data back to your smartphone via Bluetooth. The device allows you to monitor your car’s speed, fuel injection rate and more. There’s also an accelerometer in the device, which detects sudden stops and starts and a speaker that beeps in those moments as if the device were chiding you about your driving habits.

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Purple Goldfish Hall of Famer–L.L. Bean

Hall of Fame Class of 2012–L.L. Bean

In my experience (and probably yours) the word “no” when it comes to good customer service is unheard of. After all, “no” has a negative connotation in most cases. That’s why when, as a customer, I experience the word “no” in a positive way I sit up and pay attention. With Maine retailer L.L. Bean the word “NO” isn’t a bad thing at all. In fact when it comes to free shipping and guarantees, they really know how to turn a negative into a positive.


Leon Leonwood Bean, founder of L.L. Bean, returned from a hunting trip back in 1912 with really cold, wet feet and a revolutionary idea. He started to combine rubber bottoms with soft leather uppers, thereby creating a waterproof, non-slip boot that didn’t exist anywhere else at the time. Today, these duck shoes are imitated by many retailers but can’t compare with the originals by L.L. Bean  which to this day are handcrafted in Maine. And because L.L. Bean is so convinced his boots were the best boots, he offered a LIFETIME guarantee on them. How’s THAT for good customer service?


Free shipping is one of those little items a store can throw in that makes a big difference today. I can’t be the only one who has looked at my online shopping cart and decided to toss a product because five things were far more expensive to ship than four. In today’s world, free shipping is excellent business practice.

Now let’s talk about that other word: guarantee. The truth is that if you have an excellent product and you stand behind it, there is no reason you shouldn’t offer a guarantee on it to your customers. Many companies do, but putting it out there in print makes a big difference to your customers. L. L. Bean clearly knows this and it works for them.


Creating a good product or service that you feel confident selling is very important. At L. L. Bean, they’re so confident in what they’re sending to you that they’re not putting any restrictions on how long it will last–it’s guaranteed for a lifetime and ships at NO cost. No doubt customers feel excellent putting their money toward L.L. Bean products time after time–since about 1912.

Today’s Lagniappe (a little something extra thrown in for good measure) – Did you know that L.L. Bean offers outdoor discovery schools for kids? Learn more about what they do and how they hope the great outdoors can impact a whole new generation.