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At the close of 2023, RetailCustomerExperience reached out to top retail leaders for predictions and insight as the new year arrived.

Ashley Hubka, senior vice president and general manager of Walmart Business, believes this year is the year retailers will explore how to use AI as more than a one-off facilitator of efficiency and productivity and become an integral tool.

In her current role, Hubka oversees the strategy, operations and growth drivers of the retailer's B2B e-commerce experience. Hubka previously served as SVP, enterprise strategy, corporate development and strategic partnerships for Walmart.

To get deeper insight into her predictions, as well as what the Walmart leader is seeing in terms of consumer expectations, we reached out to Hubka in an email interview.

Q. One of your predictions is about AI and high-value outcomes. Why do you see AI playing such a big role in retail in 2024 and what challenges are there with AI for the retailer?

A. As technology becomes more sophisticated, customers expect better offerings from retailers — they expect retailers to know them and tailor their experiences. AI helps retailers provide personalized offerings. For example, Walmart Business recently implemented AI-driven capabilities that deliver relevant prompts and offers to our customers based on their interaction with our site. This type of experience changes the way customers engage with retailers for the better, by allowing retailers to become partners for the customer and meet their expectations.

It's important to explore the advantages of AI but keep people in mind while implementing it. At Walmart, we believe technology should serve people — not the other way around.

Q. Why is removing or reducing the gap between discovery and purchase so important for the retailer — and how big a role does that play in a rewarding customer experience?

A. We're seeing a growing trend of purchases being made at the point of discovery, skipping the traditional, elongated consideration portion of the buyer journey entirely. Consumers have a desire for convenience and immediacy, meaning retailers must focus on real-time conversion — or risk a purchase being made elsewhere.

Digital discovery such as social shopping is one example of this. Customers can enjoy an immediate shopping experience from the comfort of their own home or on the go.

Q. While the start of a new year is typically all about predictions and what's to come — are there any 2023 trends or tech that may continue or grow in terms of retail CX this year?

A. In the past year, I've seen retailers double down on providing a seamless omnichannel experience, and that's not going to change in 2024. Omnichannel shopping provides customers with the opportunity to shop however they want, whenever they want. Whether they want the immediacy of shopping in-store to compare products in person or the convenience of delivery, a personalized omnichannel experience that aligns with customers' shopping habits is now table stakes for retailers.

That's why we are building Walmart Business in a way that helps organizational buyers access the supplies they need with flexible and convenient options for how they shop and receive those items. In addition to having items shipped to them, customers can place orders online or using the Walmart Business app for curbside pickup or delivery from their local store in as little as 30 minutes. For more immediate needs, customers can shop in-store using Walmart Pay in the Walmart Business app. Ultimately, offering choices that fit a wide range of needs will continue to increase in importance this year.

Q. There is a growing wave of brands and retailers focused on customer engagement and interaction. In your view why is this so critical, and are there any tips that can help retailers avoid missteps?

A. Customer expectations are changing, and retailers' engagement strategies must reflect this. This starts with gathering constant, up-to-date feedback that creates the foundation for a customized experience that serves customers' needs and provides the most value to them. For instance, feedback from customers made the need for Walmart Business clear: organizational shoppers' needs are different from those of consumers. We worked directly with businesses and nonprofit organizations to develop a site and shopping experience tailored to their needs. By understanding the unique needs of our organizational customers, we were able to maximize the value we provide them, building affinity and trust.