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The year 2022 was the year of "generative AI", with the rise of AI chatbots like ChatGPT. Pexels/Tara Winstead

US supermarket giant Target has announced plans to introduce Generative AI technology across nearly 2,000 stores by August this year. This marks the first time a major retailer has ventured into AI by implementing a GenAI-powered chatbot.

Named "Store Companion," this innovative tool is designed to "make team members' jobs easier and enhance the shopping experience," according to a Target press release. This initiative is part of Target's broader strategic approach to leveraging Generative AI to empower its team, enhance the guest experience, and support its long-term growth.

Generative AI refers to applications typically built using foundation models. These models comprise expansive artificial neural networks inspired by the billions of neurons connected in the human brain. Foundation models are a core component of deep learning, which describes the many deep layers within neural networks.

According to an analysis by the International Monetary Fund, the development of generative AI is set to impact nearly 40 per cent of all jobs globally.

Leadership Perspective

"We know this technology will continue to play an outsized role in the future of retail," said Brett Craig, executive vice president and chief information officer at Target. "With that in mind, we're continually experimenting with new tools to make it even easier for our team to do their jobs and to bring more of what guests love about shopping at Target to life. The transformative nature of GenAI is helping us accelerate the rate of innovation across our operations, and we're excited about the role these new tools and applications will play in driving growth."

Functionality of Store Companion

The Store Companion AI chatbot will be available as an app on store team members' specially equipped handheld devices, providing immediate answers to their questions about processes and procedures. For example, team members can input prompts like "How do I sign a guest up for a Target Circle Card?" or "How do I restart the cash register in case of a power outage?" and receive instructions and resources in seconds.

This tool also serves as a store process expert and coach, assisting new and seasonal team members in learning on the job. To develop this resource, Target's in-house technology team utilised frequently asked questions and processed documents from its store teams across the US. The project progressed from its initial testing phase to its planned rollout in six months.

Currently, Target is piloting the tool at about 400 stores, using feedback from these teams to refine the experience ahead of the chain-wide rollout.

Enhancing Team Efficiency

"Generative AI is game-changing technology, and Store Companion will make daily tasks easier and enable our team to respond to guests' requests with confidence and efficiency," said Mark Schindele, executive vice president and chief stores officer at Target. "The tool frees up time and attention for our team to serve guests with care and to create a shopping destination that invites discovery, ease, and moments of everyday joy."

Echoing this sentiment, Jake Seaquist, store director at one of the pilot stores in Champlin, Minnesota, noted that the team is "hearing great feedback about the new app. Streamlining day-to-day tasks goes a long way with our team members and adds up to more time spent with guests and a better guest experience across the store."

Prior AI Implementations

Before developing this new tool, Target had already begun implementing generative AI technology on its website. Enhancements to thousands of product display pages on have created more relevant, guest-friendly experiences. Target also uses GenAI to summarise reviews and refine product descriptions to help shoppers make confident purchase decisions. These enhancements are expected to be applied to more than 100,000 pages by the end of the summer.

Future AI Plans

In addition to Store Companion, Target plans to roll out another internal GenAI tool in the coming months, starting with its headquarters team members.

Target joins a growing list of legacy brands leveraging AI to boost employee productivity, enhance advertising, and position themselves as tech-oriented pioneers. For example, Coca-Cola started using generative AI for marketing earlier this year. McDonald's launched an AI-powered voice assistant in partnership with IBM at more than 100 drive-thru locations starting in 2021.