Pravin Pillai, global head of industry solutions, retail at Google Cloud speaks with WWD.

New Year’s resolutions aside, the concerns for today’s retailers often ignite a battle against data disparity generating a need for a unified infrastructure.

To manage the consumer’s growing list of demands in their shopping experiences, retailers also need to scale and deliver innovations such as artificial intelligence, machine-learning, productivity and more. In an interview with WWD, Pravin Pillai, global head of industry solutions, retail, at Google Cloud, provides weight for the cloud as a choice for retailers.

WWD: What was the impetus in positioning Google Cloud Platform as a solution for retailers? What solution does it provide?

Pravin Pillai: Customer expectations are changing. Today’s shoppers expect more personalized products and services. Retailers understand that the only way to keep up with the ever-evolving demands of their customers is to evolve themselves, and they are looking to Google Cloud as a partner in this transformation. Google Cloud can provide a secure infrastructure, help them scale and deliver the latest in innovation.

WWD: Why are you showing at NRF, and is this the first year?

P.P.: We have attended NRF for a number of years with a presence in partner booths, but this is Google Cloud’s second time having its own booth (#4255) at NRF. We are excited to be back to showcase how our customers are using AI and the cloud to connect with consumers and personalize their experiences, drive those consumers to take action, and accelerate their businesses with better intelligence.

WWD: How are global retailers using Google Cloud Platform to scale business?

P.P.: Google Cloud Platform, based on publicly reported data for the 12 months ended December 2017, is the fastest growing major public cloud provider in the world. Retailers of all sizes are using Google Cloud to innovate, scale, and transform their business. (Examples include Best Buy Canada, Colgate-Palmolive, The Home Depot, L.L.Bean, Lush, Zulily).

L.L.Bean modernized its IT infrastructure by moving capabilities from its on-premises systems to Google Cloud Platform, improving customer satisfaction and IT efficiency across multiple sales channels. While Lush migrated its global e-commerce site from Amazon Web Services to Google Cloud Platform in less than six weeks, significantly improving the reliability and stability of its site. Zulily turned to Google Cloud Platform to make its data more accessible, use machine-learning to improve its analysis on the performance of its products, create engaging, personalized experiences for customers, and provide a flexible, dependable site during peak shopping times.

WWD: What is the role of big data in today’s omnichannel retail environment?

P.P.: Data is a huge challenge and a huge opportunity for retailers. At Google Cloud, we are constantly hearing from retailers that they have tons of data they want to bring into the cloud securely, but [they] struggle with how to turn that data into action and ultimately better customer engagement and experiences. Today, there are more touch points with customers, [such as] in-store, online, mobile web and apps, generating more data from disparate sources.

Unstructured data accounts for 90 percent of enterprise data. Google Cloud machine-learning helps you make sense of all that information; by using it, you can leapfrog ahead of the competition. Retailers can take control of their data and while accessing machine-learning and artificial intelligence to provide better product and service recommendations for their customers as well as more accurately predict trends in demand and sales.

WWD: With an increasing need for personalized, seamless shopping experiences — how will the consumer deem a fulfilling shopping experience in 2019?

P.P.: Customers are always looking for personalization and to have a seamless experience whether they’re shopping in-store or online. In 2019, brands need to leverage analytics and artificial intelligence to truly understand their customers shopping and buying habits across all available channels and provide accurate, contextual product recommendations and shopping experiences.

Using cloud-based devices and services helps retailers connect with omnichannel consumers. For example, the right message can be delivered to the right customer with Chrome digital signage, Google Maps Platform and IoT solutions. Check-out processes are frictionless with Android mobile point-of-sale tablets, self-service kiosks and secure checkout experiences.

In addition to personalization and a seamless, reliable shopping experience, customers are concerned with keeping their data secure. Data security and providing retailers with control of that data are top priorities for Google Cloud.

WWD: How is Google Cloud using machine-learning to shape aspects of retail?

P.P.: Machine-learning is increasingly impacting all aspects of the retail value chain. Early adoption of machine-learning started with product recommendations as a popular use case. Now we are seeing image-based search tools, conversational commerce, intelligent assortment planning, dynamic inventory management, loss prevention and fraud detection and many more uses of ML.

WWD: What is the role of AI for 2019 in retailing? What insights can you share?

P.P.: Artificial intelligence will continue to play an important role for retailers in 2019. The power of AI allows retailers to increase their velocity and stay competitive. Using AI, retailers can better plan inventory or suggest the best price or promotions, making it more likely they can have the right product, at the right price available at the right time.

AI can also help deliver new shopping experiences including shopping using images of products. During post-purchase, AI can be used in conversational commerce to automatically route customers to agents (instead of through a complex phone tree) and surface key data so agents can work swiftly.