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Major Retailers Seek Innovators to Shape the Future of Shopping

Amazon and Target are on the hunt for disruptors that will dynamically advance the shopping experience.

As technology becomes more prevalent in retail, companies are stepping up their digital game. From artificial intelligence (AI) to supply chain applications, brands and retailers are expanding their capabilities to be at the forefront of future shopping experiences.

E-commerce tycoon Amazon is taking its intelligent voice control service, Alexa, up a notch. As a form of AI, Alexa voice-enables products connected with speakers, allowing users to communicate with their products and ask them to answer questions, play music, control smart home products and obtain news. To address what’s next for conversational AI, Amazon has launched The Alexa Prize, an annual competition for university students.

Participants will be challenged to create a socialbot, a new skill that will allow Alexa to speak with humans about popular topics. In teams, students will work together to accelerate conversational AI areas, including commonsense reasoning, context modeling, knowledge acquisition and natural language generation. This AI development will enable customers to have coherent conversations with their Alexa-programmed products. The winning team will also receive $500,000 and a $1 million prize for their university, if their socialbot can converse with humans efficiently for twenty minutes.

“I believe the dreamers come first, and the builders come second,” Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos said. “Things that seem impossible if we work them the right way for long enough, sometimes for multiple generations, they become possible.”

Target is also working with startups to advance the retail industry. Along with the successful launch of its Target + Techstars Retail Accelerator, Target is now opening applications for its Pitch to Pilot program. This program will allow startups to introduce their digital retail solutions to the company, with the possibility of sharing their developments with Target’s consumers in the future.

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Target is looking for technology platforms that will benefit their consumers with more personalization and more seamless purchasing experiences. Once pitches are submitted to the Target Startups website, the retailer will contact selected startups for further evaluation and a possible visit to its Minneapolis headquarters.

“We’re smart enough to know that all the answers do not lie within our four walls,” Target CEO Brian Cornell said. “We need entrepreneurs developing new and innovative products and solutions that have the potential to create new paths for growth, diversify our business model and transform every facet of industry—from supply chain to operations to marketing.”