Google targets retail sector with new genAI tools, hardware

Google’s latest foray into the world of generative AI (genAI) is focused on the retail industry with custom chatbots, intelligent inventory assistants, and edge devices customized for retail businesses.

The retail-oriented chatbot and other features were announced Thursday ahead of the National Retail Federation’s annual convention. Google dubbed the chatbot a “conversational commerce solution,” designed to work with a user’s inventory data via websites or mobile apps. The idea is to provide businesses with an easy way to graft an AI-powered assistant — or salesperson — into existing points of sale. Google also noted the chatbot program can go from genesis to deployment in “a couple of weeks, versus months.”

The company also introduced large language model (LLM) capability for the retail-facing version of its Vertex AI Search product. It’s designed to allow retailers to create customized LLMs for better product recommendations based on a deeper understanding of that retailer’s particular catalog of products.

GenAI agents are at the core of Google’s “customer service modernization solution” designed to integrate with CRM solutions and provide automated assistance in scheduling appointments, checking order statuses, or, again, personalizing product recommendations. This system can also provide genAI-created summaries of conversations with customers and reduce workload for customer-facing staff.

Finally, the announcement of a new, retail-centric configuration for Google’s Distributed Cloud Edge devices is intended to provide retailers with an easy way to provision the new genAI services. Distributed Cloud Edge hardware ranges in size from 1U rack units to multiple racks — and the retail-focused configuration unveiled today is a “small form-factor server” that can be readily deployable in any retail store. Managed via Google Cloud, the devices can provide genAI services without the need for high-speed internet connectivity.

Carrie Tharp, Google Cloud vice president of strategic industries, said in the company’s announcement that genAI has quickly become a key new technology for retailers. “With the ability to accelerate growth, boost efficiency, fuel innovation, and reduce toil, generative AI solutions are ready to be deployed now,” she said.

Google wasn’t alone in rolling out new genAI tools ahead of NRF 2024; Microsoft announced several new programs with some similar functions.

These releases are characteristic of current trends in the retail industry, according to Sandeep Unni, Gartner Research senior director analyst.

“I’m fully expecting an avalanche of generative AI-related news coming up at NRF,” Unni said. “Google Cloud has carved out a niche in the retail industry with their data and AI expertise and Gartner has seen several retailers making investments as a result.”

Google declined to provide specific pricing about its new product lineup, but did confirm that the DCE hardware, conversational commerce solution, and customer service modernization products would become generally available in the first quarter of 2024.

Copyright © 2024 IDG Communications, Inc.


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