Retail Tech

RetailTech Simplified – Using Machine Learning In Physical Retail

Sriram Kumar
September 11, 2019
2 minute read

RetailTech Simplified” is a blog series breaking down the technology driving the future of retail and explaining it in plain English.

There are many elements such as Artificial Intelligence and Deep Learning that are imperative to the success of Machine Learning. For the purpose of this article we will focus solely on a simplified explanation of Machine Learning.


Machine learning is a buzzword easily stumbled upon in today’s digital world. Familiar examples of machine learning include virtual assistants like Siri and Alexa. Everyone is talking about it, feeling the hype around it, but still finding it difficult to understand. This article will explain what Machine Learning is in plain English.

Why should a machine learn?

A quick example can illustrate this well: A retailer sells cold drinks in his store year-round. In the summer months, he notices that he sells twice the amount of cold drinks than any other time of year. The following year, he notices the same pattern. He also puts together that in the summer, the temperature is higher. He determines the following pattern:

Warm weather = Increased sale of cold drinks

But why is a machine required?

In the previous case, the weather factor is only taken into account and is easy for humans to understand. But there are multiple factors which can affect sales, like locality, time of day, gender preference, age preference, and many more. The more factors involved, the more difficult it becomes for a human to understand. With Machine Learning, these factors can be calculated easily and quickly, and with more accuracy.

Where does learning come in?

The machine gets smarter over time by watching the success rate of the previous and current promotions and learns over time to provide the best results. By learning, the machine will enable a retailer to promote the right cold drink to the right person.

In simple terms, machine learning identifies patterns, learns from them, and makes better decisions, improving its performance with its learning from every experience.

Will machine learning cost me my job?

No, Machine Learning gives insights and additional data around subjects that humans may never had known about or understood. By opening the employees eyes to these trends and patterns it will actually empower them and ensure they can spend more time focusing on what’s really important in their day to day work schedule.

Where can the application of machine learning be more effective?

In the above example, only one product and one external factor – cold drink and weather were considered. In a real-life scenario, a retailer will have hundreds of products and many factors to consider. Machine learning makes understanding the factors much easier.

The application of machine learning in the case of retailers is not limited to promotions, it can be used in many other fields, like transportation, finance, government agencies, law, and healthcare as well.  The applications are endless!

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