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How Ahold Delhaize is using AI to update the supermarket experience

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Dutch grocery giant Ahold Delhaize is taking a number of AI-driven approaches as it seeks to

deliver on its promise to customers, according to its global chief information officer.

Ben Wishart told the audience at the AI Summit in London that the company differentiates by being a “family of great local brands” rather than having one dominant “mother-brand”. With stores and online offerings across the Benelux region and US, the company’s total net consumer online sales reached €3.5 billion in 2018 while overall net sales were €16.5 billion.

With a view to personalisation and localisation, the company is using three different types of AI in its operations. The first, machine learning, Wishart defines as “a complicated way of doing maths to predict and get better at predicting”.

On the local level, machine learning is used to optimise particular assortments to best match local preferences. Wishart indicates for example that the increased proportion of millennials in urban areas would be more likely to go for freshly prepared meals.

The grocer also uses machine learning to personalise offerings to specific customers, with billions of unique offers sent out worldwide each year. Customers also have access to a “predict my [shopping] list” service which allows customers to save time by suggesting options.

The second tenet of the brand’s AI strategy is conversational interfaces, which automatically scrape data from sources like social media. The general goods retailer works with Google Home to allow customers to order products from its range while supermarket chain Albert Heijn allows people to check discounts and add items to shopping lists.

The third and final tenet is automation, which Wishart divides into physical and virtual robots. On the physical side, the company is opening a number of automated warehouses, with robots improving how it packs items and boosting the truck fill ratio.

On the virtual side, the retailer is using robotic process optimisation to automatically optimise functions such as HR to free up resources. Albert Heijn is also using software to automatically generate the most effective discounts for products in stores according to expiry date.

Overall, Wishart says, AI is simply another pillar in its goal of helping customers to “eat well, save time and live better”.

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