Lessons For Retailers From Forrester’s CXSF 2017

“Human + Machine” was the theme for this year’s CXSF 2017, held October 19-20 in San Francisco.

In addition to Forrester’s leading analysts on artificial intelligence and the customer experience, the event also featured a wide-range of speakers, from the founder of Slack and the CTO of Pinterest to eBay’s Chief Product Officer and Amazon’s Chief Evangelist for Alexa & Echo.

Retail, of course, was a significant focus of the event—particularly because its offline-online nature has been a perfect testing ground for the Human + Machine dynamic.

Here are five important takeaways for retailers:


1. AI has crossed the majority threshold

Artificial intelligence in merchandising
From J.P. Gownder’s talk: The Robot Revolution Requires Human Design

J.P. Gownder is Forrester’s most well-known thinker on artificial intelligence, and he presented some fantastic research about the industry’s future.

For the first time in history, AI has crossed the majority threshold—51% of companies, especially the marketing departments within, are now using or are planning to expand their use of AI.

The heat is on for retailers that are late to the game. Early adopters are predicted to pull ahead because they’ll be feeding AI the data it needs to create the personalized experiences consumers are increasingly expecting.


2. The winning combination

Digital experience in retail
From Michelle Yaiser’s talk: Context Matters

“Human + Machine” is more than an event theme, and it’s far more than a way for digital merchandisers to automate mundane tasks.

Early research, as presented by Forrester’s Michelle Yaiser, shows that the fusion is eliciting more positive consumer emotions than either experience alone—and this is when factoring in the many early mistakes made by those trying to use both.

The goal for modern retailers is to be creative and patient, to find exciting use cases for the machine without letting that excitement blur the immeasurable importance of the human.


3. Prepare for the rise of voice search

Merchandising voice search
From Kjell Carlsson’s talk: AI Supercharges Speech Analytics

With Amazon, Google, and Apple as the trendsetters, voice search could go mainstream in the next 3-5 years.

Kjell Carlsson sees it as relatively unexplored terrain—one that merchandisers and consumers alike must take seriously. And it’s all powered by AI.

Voice search in merchandising

Perhaps the easiest way for digital retailers to prepare is to begin offering customers on-site voice search capabilities. Customer adoption will likely grow alongside overall adoption.


4. Don’t believe the myths

Merchandising customer experiences
From Anjali Lai’s talk: Digital Experience vs. The Human Touch

There are many myths out there about artificial intelligence, and many are steeped in fear—fear that it’s going to overthrow humanity and fear that it will ruin the empathic retail experience.

Other myths are based on assumptions, such as the assumption that digital experiences are less emotional than physical experiences. The truth is, both have their own unique benefits.

Customer experience in retail

Forrester’s Anjali Lai encouraged CXSF 2017 attendees to break free of these myths to see and capitalize on the parallels.


5. Personalization is the future

Personalization in retail
From Jennifer Wise’s talk: The Ethical Traps in Artificial Intelligence

Personalization was the take-home word at CXSF 2017, but all presenters who brought it up (including Forrester’s Jennifer Wise) also addressed how far retailers are from delivering it.

Still, customers are expecting more and more of it. And when they receive it from one retailer who got it right, it sets a benchmark for what they’re looking for in all retailers.

Beyond personalization’s ability to deliver dramatically increased conversation rates and revenue gains for retailers, it is becoming a way for consumers to differentiate between brands.


A final note on CXSF 2017

Although the “Human + Machine” theme may change in name, it’s going to be the topic of conversation for decades to come.

Overall, I was impressed by the quality of the content and the layout of the event, and I left feeling inspired by what responsive merchandisers can accomplish in their blending of human empathy with machine learning.


For general recaps of each day of the event, see these two articles on HuffPost:

Forrester’s CXSF 2017: Insights From Day 1

Forrester’s CXSF 2017: Insights From Day 2

Cameron Conaway

Cameron is the Director of Content at Reflektion. His work as a journalist and content marketer has appeared in Forbes, Newsweek, and The Guardian, among other outlets. Connect with him here on LinkedIn and on Twitter @CameronConaway.