Machine learning (ML) has many applications in various domains, including retail. Retail companies can use machine learning to analyze their data and discover the best ways to meet their customers’ changing needs. ML has been widely adopted by major retail players like Amazon, eBay, and many others, who have used it to enhance every aspect of their sales cycle, from storage logistics to post-sales customer service. It is a branch of artificial intelligence that enables computers to learn from data and make predictions without being explicitly programmed. A typical machine learning model for retail can process large and complex data sets and produce valuable insights that reveal consumer behavior and market trends.

In this article, I will discuss how machine learning can help retailers improve inventory and supply chain management, retain customers, detect fraud, and more.

Machine Learning Applications For The Retail Sector

  • Inventory management and supply chain management: Using complex algorithms that consider historical and real-time data, market trends, customer behavior, product attributes, competitor prices and promotions can optimize inventory and supply chain management. Let’s look at some examples in which ML can help in inventory management are:
    • Demand forecasting – ML can help retailers predict future product demand based on historical data, market trends, customer behavior and external factors. This can help retailers optimize their inventory levels, pricing strategies, and marketing campaigns.
    • Stocking – Machine learning enables retailers to decide how much inventory they need for each product category and store location, as well as for stock transfers to avoid stockouts or overstocking, by using sale pattern recognition, risk scoring and anomaly detection.
  • Customer retention: Retail businesses generate vast volumes of data, and machine learning can help customer retention by using complex algorithms that can learn from this data and make accurate predictions about customer behavior. ML can help retailers identify customers likely to churn or leave the business and take action to retain them. Some of the ways are:
    • Churn predictions - Retailers can use ML to predict which customers risk moving away based on their historical and real-time data, such as purchase history, browsing behavior, feedback and demographics. This can help retailers segment customers and target them with personalized offers, discounts, loyalty programs, or other incentives to retain them,
    • Personalization - Using ML, retailers can tailor their products, services and recommendations to each customer based on their preferences, needs and interests. This in turn, helps increase customer satisfaction loyalty and reduce churn.
    • Customer service - Retailers can provide better customer service using chatbots, voice assistants, sentiment analysis, and natural language processing. These technologies can help automate basic, common queries, provide relevant information and handle customer complaints more efficiently and effectively.
  • Fraud detection: Machine learning (ML) can help in fraud detection in retail business by analyzing large and complex datasets of transactions, customer profiles and identifying patterns and anomalies that indicate fraudulent behavior. The following examples showcase how ML can be used in fraud detection are:
    • Detecting employee theft - ML can flag transactions that match high-risk patterns, such as discounts and write-offs at the point of sale or other irregular transaction patterns.
    • Detecting identity theft - ML can use geolocation data and customer profiles to verify the authenticity of transactions and alert the management of any suspicious activity that deviates from regular shopping habits.
    • Detecting false returns - ML can monitor the frequency and amount of returns and compare them with the purchase history and customer behavior. It can also detect anomalies in the return process such as mismatched items or receipts.

    Machine language can also provide recommendations for the action that can be taken after detecting fraud.

  • Determining customer lifetime value (CLV): Machine learning can help in customer lifetime value (CLV) in retail business by using data analysis and prediction techniques to estimate how much revenue a customer will generate over their lifetime.
    • ML can help retailers segment customers based on their behavior, preferences, and spending patterns to tailor their marketing campaigns and offers accordingly.
    • Identify customers who are more likely to switch to competitors and take proactive actions to retain them.
    • Optimize pricing strategies and product recommendations based on customer demand and willingness to pay.

    Machine learning can provide insights into the factors influencing CLV, such as customer acquisition cost, retention rate, purchase frequency, average order value and profit margin. These insights help retailers improve their decision-making and resource allocation and maximize their return on investment.

  • Track customer sentiment on social media: Machine learning can help track customer sentiment by using data analysis and prediction techniques to understand how customers feel about their products, services and brands they interact with online.
    • ML can help retailers analyze large and complex data sets of customer reviews, comments, ratings and feedback across social media platforms such as Twitter, Facebook etc.
    • Segment customers based on their sentiments and preferences and tailor their marketing campaigns and offers accordingly.
    • Respond to real-time customer queries and complaints and provide personalized and relevant solutions.
    • Improve product quality and customer experience by using customer feedback as a source of innovation and improvement.

    Final Words
    In conclusion, machine learning in retail provides retailers with valuable insights and solutions that can help them enhance their performance and competitiveness in the dynamic and challenging retail market. Adopting ML also enables retailers to create personalized and relevant customer experiences and build long-term relationships with them. Machine learning is the critical enabler of digital transformation in retail, providing a competitive advantage for retailers who adopt it.

Author's Bio: 

Kaushal Shah manages digital marketing communications for the enterprise technology services provided by Rishabh Software.