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  • John Ennis

Eye on AI - August 15th, 2019

Welcome to Aigora's "Eye on AI" series, where we round up exciting news at the intersection of consumer science and artificial intelligence!


This week, we touch on two main topics: the impact of technology on the restaurant industry, and how voice-activated shopping and ChatBot messengers are already changing commerce.

Impact of Technology on Restaurants

We begin with an article out of The New York Times, titled “The Rise of the Virtual Restaurant,” in which reporters Mike Isaac and David Yaffe-Bellany describe how simplified delivery systems, and the subsequent rise in delivery requests, have led restaurant owners to convert their businesses into into retail-free spaces.

“Food delivery apps like Uber Eats, DoorDash and Grubhub are starting to reshape the $863 billion American restaurant industry,” write Isaac and Yaffe-Bellany. “... No longer must restaurateurs rent space for a dining room. All they need is a kitchen — or even just part of one. Then they can hang a shingle inside a meal-delivery app and market their food to the app’s customers, without the hassle and expense of hiring waiters or paying for furniture and tablecloths. Diners who order from the apps may have no idea that the restaurant doesn’t physically exist.”

This transition has led to the popularization of ‘virtual restaurants,’ which are attached to real-life parent restaurants but offer specific, delivery-only menus, and ‘ghost kitchens,’ which act specifically as meal-prep hubs for deliveries.

While delivery demand increases, the cost of entry is still prohibitive for many restaurant owners. Uber Eats and Grubhub pay commissions of 15 percent to as much as 30 percent on every order, fees that can cripple small independent eateries with narrow profit margins.

One possible solution may be improvements that lower the cost of delivery services. Domino’s recently launched a new e-bike delivery program that addresses that issue, and Amazon has begun using autonomous robots to deliver products in Southern California, with full-time, fully-autonomous delivery slowly inching toward a reality.

“For much of this year, a fleet of Amazon Scouts, mini-tank-like delivery vehicles about the size of a cooler, have traversed residential neighborhoods in a Seattle suburb to deliver packages,” writes technology reporter Peter Holley. “... the light blue and black robots are able to safely navigate typical neighborhood obstructions such as trash cans, skateboards and lawn chairs. And yet the six-wheeled, battery-powered machines can’t climb steps and will initially be chaperoned by a human employee to monitor their progress.”

Fully automated delivery still has some kinks, but it’s only a matter of time before it’s literally door-to-door.

See Amazon’s Scout in action below:

One way dine-in restaurants can compete is through enriched experiences. For example, an article out of The Spoon this week described an AR-inspired dish plate called “DishCanvas” which displays moving images and enhances food design. This kind of novel experience might bring in more patrons, with many more AR-inspired possibilities.

See DishCanvas in action below:

Language, Commerce and Competition

Language continues to reshape the relationship between commerce and AI. The Harvard Business Review released an article this week titled “As Customers Begin to Shop Through Voice Assistants, What Can Brands Do to Stand Out?” which describes how voice-activated shopping programs influence competition by favoring the strongest brands.

“If digital assistants with trustworthy recommendations become a significant source of sales – and we think they will – they could chip away at all but the strongest product brands,” write reporters David R. Mayer and Nick Harrison. “Competition will become even more brutal as consumers switch between only one or two verbally suggested options offered by digital assistants – one being their own private label or another low-cost product. Companies that have negotiated with retailers for shelf space up to now will have to find ways to convince the digital assistants to put their products at the top of verbal searches.”

In time, the article suggests, we may see a stronger shift into more ‘tribal’ brands, where emotional connections that go beyond product specifications can help drive customer traffic.

Like many others, I still find voice-based shopping a bit clumsy and with limited product comparison capabilities. Augmented reality may offer a solution, as outlined in this MediaPost article titled, “Shoppers Warm To Augmented Reality But Not Smart Speakers.”

An article out of ITnews describes how Woolworths Supermarket has launched a conversational AI platform they’re calling “Olive” in its Australian market to assist with customer service, which was developed by WooliesX.

“Let's say you ordered something and it didn't arrive as expected,” explains WooliesX’s chief digital technology officer Nick Eshkenazi. “Olive will apologise to the customer and then try to identify them and their order. It will show you all the items that are in the order, and you'll be able to choose from those and say ‘I'm missing a couple of those, or three of those.’ …. Olive will confirm that those are the items that are missing and it tells you in three to five business days you will see the refund for those items.”

It seems every week the chatbot evolution continues. Chatbots have certainly come a long way in the past few years. I think Olive is a marked improvement. Try it out for yourself here (click ‘live chat’) and see if you can hold a conversation:

Other news:


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