AI-Powered Retail: Strategies for Monetizing Predictive Technologies

Produced by

Karen Etzkorn

Chief Information Officer
Qurate Retail Group

Kelly Fladger

SVP, Chief Human Resources Officer, Havertys Furniture

Kristin Howell

Global Vice President, Retail Marketing & Merchandising, SAP

In the bustling world of retail, where technology and consumer expectations constantly evolve, a profound shift is underway, guided by the invisible hand of artificial intelligence (AI). At the forefront of this transformation are industry veterans Karen Etzkorn, Chief Information Officer at Qurate Retail Group, and Kelly Fladger, SVP and Chief Human Resources Officer at Havertys Furniture. These leaders recently shared their insights during a panel discussion on "AI-powered retail: Strategies for monetizing predictive technologies," shedding light on how AI is reshaping the retail landscape. Kristin Howell, Global Vice President of Retail Marketing & Merchandising at SAP, helmed the conversation, exploring the multifaceted impacts of AI in retail.

Karen Etzkorn, with a tenure spanning over five years as the CIO of Qurate Retail Group, a conglomerate known for its dynamic retail brands like QVC and HSN, emphasizes the rapid ascendancy of AI within the retail sector. "A year ago, we were talking about AI here at this conference. But it wasn't the number one topic. It is now," she noted, highlighting the pervasive integration of AI in everything from technology adaptation to consumer interaction. Qurate Retail Group's strategic approach involves piloting various AI capabilities through a Center of Excellence, focusing on enhancing customer experience and operational efficiency, from automating content creation to improving semantic search on their websites.

Kelly Fladger, steering the human resources frontier at Havertys Furniture, underlines AI's potential in enriching employee and customer engagement. He elaborated on initiatives like leveraging AI for generating instantaneous HR responses, thereby empowering employees to focus on strategic tasks. Moreover, Kelly discussed how AI assists in navigating the complexities of furniture retail, ensuring product visibility and compatibility with consumer expectations through smarter, AI-driven interfaces.

Both leaders underscored the necessity of a balanced, ethical AI implementation strategy. Karen shared insights into Qurate's governance framework, emphasizing the importance of incorporating legal, privacy, and human resources perspectives early in the AI development process. This comprehensive approach aims to safeguard data privacy, ensure ethical AI use, and align AI initiatives with organizational values.

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Kelly, echoing the sentiment, highlighted the importance of humane AI application, stressing that while AI can augment the retail experience, it should not replace the human touch that is integral to retail interactions. Both advocated for AI as a tool for optimization and transformation, rather than a replacement for human roles, pointing to the potential for AI to elevate the retail workforce to engage in more strategic and meaningful work.

The discussion also ventured into the practical applications and challenges of AI in retail, from customer service enhancements to inventory management. Karen and Kelly shared their experiences in deploying AI solutions, reflecting on the need for a test-and-learn approach to identify and scale successful initiatives. They emphasized the critical role of aligning AI strategies with business objectives and the potential ROI of AI projects, advocating for responsible AI development that resonates with company values and enhances customer trust.

Kristin Howell further enriched the conversation by highlighting the balance between technological innovation and maintaining the human touch in business processes. She outlined SAP's commitment to developing AI applications that are relevant, reliable, and responsible, emphasizing the need for accuracy and trustworthiness in AI-generated responses. Kristin also emphasized the necessity of a comprehensive strategy that aligns AI applications with organizational values, highlighting the collective responsibility of technology providers and retail leaders to navigate the ethical considerations and deployment challenges of AI.

Throughout the discussion, Kristin skillfully prompted the panelists to share their experiences and insights into AI's retail integration, touching on tangible benefits, the impact on employee roles, customer experiences, and the broader retail sector. Her probing questions unveiled the strategic importance of AI in retail's future, enhancing operational efficiency and deepening consumer connections.

As the conversation concluded, the speakers touched on the broader implications of AI for the retail industry and society at large. They expressed optimism about AI's potential to revolutionize retail operations and customer experiences, while also cautioning against the risks of unregulated AI development. The need for responsible governance, ethical AI use, and continuous learning and adaptation were themes that resonated throughout the discussion, painting a picture of a future where AI is not only a technological tool but a strategic partner in the journey toward a more efficient, personalized, and humane retail experience.

In the rapidly evolving retail landscape, leaders like Karen and Kelly exemplify the thoughtful, strategic approach required to harness the power of AI. Their insights offer a roadmap for other retailers navigating the complexities of AI integration, emphasizing the importance of ethical considerations, customer-centricity, and the irreplaceable value of human insight. As AI continues to transform the retail industry, the lessons shared by these pioneers will undoubtedly shape the strategies of businesses aiming to thrive in the age of intelligent technology.

APRIL 2024