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Salesforce Retail VP Rob Garf: ‘Every retailer needs an AI strategy, now’

InternetRetailing sits down with Salesforce’s general manager and vice president of retail, Rob Garf, at the 2023 Dreamforce conference in San Francisco about navigating the AI revolution via retail, key trends to watch out for and preparations for the golden quarter.

A journey through retail and AI

This year’s Dreamforce event had a strong emphasis on AI, which the company has prioritised for nearly a decade, which Garf believes has revolutionised the retail industry.

“Every retailer needs an AI strategy now,” he stresses.

According to Garf, some retailers are cautiously exploring AI’s potential, while others are more advanced in their implementation. He adds: “Some retailers are crawling, some are walking and a very few are running towards AI.”

However, across the board, there is a common belief AI “is here, and is here to stay”.

Garf continues to emphasise the importance of having a well-defined AI strategy grounded in trust.

Trust in data and the authenticity of AI-generated outputs is paramount, according to the Salesforce VP. He claims retailers are not “just seeking shiny AI tools, instead are on the hunt for AI applications that solve business problems” and allow them to enhance efficiency and drive top-line growth.

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Golden quarter and the influence of AI

With the holiday season fast approaching, Garf highlights that AI would influence a staggering $194 billion in online sales, thanks to predictive and generative AI.

However, according to a holiday forecast by Salesforce, over the last 12 months, 13% of online orders were influenced by AI.

This comes as 10% of shoppers added they will use generative AI to get inspiration for holiday gifts this year.

“We’re seeing a balancing act happening between online and offline,” he continues.

“Consumers are being mindful of their spending. hey are being more value-based. They’re looking for better deals, better bargains, better promotions,” he states.

Key trends to watch

According to the former head of ecommerce and cross-channel operations at Lids, the retail landscape has undergone a drastic change in the past decade, with “significant acceleration” during the Covid-19 pandemic.

“The pandemic has moved us to a digital-first world,” he says.

“Even when customers step into physical stores, their smartphones are the portal to the retailer’s brand. This digital-first mindset has changed the role of physical stores and store employees”

As a result, Garf claims store associates have now been tasked with multiple responsibilities including serving as social media managers and fulfilment experts, on top of their day-to-day tasks.

The future of retail

According to Garf, as the digital landscape evolves retailers will be tasked with reimagining their strategies and adopting AI to meet the customer’s demands.

As a result, he expresses optimism about the retail market’s demand, but with a shift in focus.

He notes: “Retailers must focus on retention and loyalty because customer acquisition costs have been off the charts with marketing budgets also being scrutinised.”

“Personalisation and seamless experiences are becoming the new normal and retailers must embrace AI, not as a novelty but as a necessity,” he concludes.

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