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“As We Move Ahead in the Digital India Journey, the Impact of AI will Increase”

Target India operates as an extended headquarter to Target, the second largest discount retailer in the U.S. In December 2013, the company launched the Target Accelerator program that has been designed to help early stage startups develop concepts that could improve Target’s business and the broader retail industry. In an exclusive interview with Dataquest, Valli Bollavaram, Vice President – Enterprise Data & Business Intelligence Engineering, Target India, talks about role of AI in the retail market and its advantages, How does it help address challenges in the e-commerce ecosystem and how did the company develop AI. Excerpts-  

 Q. Can you give an overview of the use of AI at Target?

We started using AI at Target long before it was popular in the industry. Today, we use the technology to personalize the shopping experience for our guests. We have deployed AI in one of our model stores where Machine Learning algorithms were used to predict the store’s inventory needs and assortments. In addition to this, we used a machine learning-based recommendation engine in the store to provide personalized recommendations for our guests (at Target we refer to customers as guests) on our digital channel. Given the rapid advancements of technology and the possibilities of AI, its adoption is one of continuous evolution and improvement. Keeping this in mind, we ensure that we use our data, insights and algorithms to further our guest experience on a day-to-day basis.

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Q. What are the challenges faced by Target while deploying AI? How does AI benefit Target?

For artificial intelligence to be effective, the data should be of high quality and should have the ability to self-correct the output. The challenge comes when there are disparate sources of data. Ensuring that the data quality is maintained regardless of the source is important. In addition, the self-correction needs to happen at the right time for the business to gain value. Change management tactics focused on improving the human trust of AI outputs also needs to be planned.

Q. How does Target develop AI?

We believe good talent lies at the center of the successful deployment of AI in any organization. That is why we ensure that we hire the right people. We also invest in training our existing teams to ensure that all the skill sets required to implement AI are readily available. We try to pair technical experts with subject matter experts to customize AI algorithms to suit business needs. We also conduct and participate in hackathons with focused AI themes in order to identify suitable talent.

Q. What is the role of AI in the retail market and its advantages?

The use of AI results in the ability to make sense of data and arrive at insights/decisions based on self-learning rules. Data is constantly being generated at different interaction points and retailers can take advantage of this by using it to derive insights. These insights are useful while making business decisions. Various aspects of the retail business including sourcing decisions, assortment mix, presentation of items, supply chain optimization, optimal pricing, customer loyalty can be made more efficient with the help of AI.

Q. How does AI help address challenges in the e-commerce ecosystem?

Some of the typical challenges that an e-commerce business faces is with regard to delivery and pricing expectations. Consumers expect products to be delivered quickly and in time. Retailers are also under pressure to competitively price products, while at the same time ensure profitability. Sophisticated AI algorithms help in making the entire logistics and delivery efficient to meet these customer expectations. This helps increase customer satisfaction while at the same time reducing operating costs.

Q. According to you, what are the challenges faced by companies using Artificial Intelligence in India? How can they overcome it?

Digitization in India is still a work-in-progress and there is a lot of work to be done. Hence the availability of quality data is restricted and this hampers the accuracy and usability of AI algorithms. As we move ahead in the Digital India journey, the impact of AI will increase across the country. In the meantime businesses should strive to find alternate methods of collecting data for AI.

Q. What are the areas where Target is looking to expand its scope of work in India in relation to AI?

As AI evolves and develops, it will have a big impact on the way every business is run. With this in mind, we will continue to invest in our Enterprise Data & Analytics, and BI capabilities in India and build relevant AI capabilities to further the company’s business.

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