How Advantage Solutions is embracing AI to power innovation and execution at retail


Before anyone had ever heard of buzzy, headline-grabbing AI tools like ChatGPT, machine learning and artificial intelligence already were at work transforming the retail and consumer packaged goods industry. 

It was — and is — a transformation that most shoppers will never see directly. But it’s one they’ll feel, and it’s already proven to be a key enabler in shaping a better shopping experience for consumers and, therefore, better results for brands and retailers. 

But AI is only as good as its data. And no company, perhaps, has as extensive — and often exclusive — data as Advantage Solutions, which sits at a unique position at the intersection of leading retailers and consumer-packaged good companies.  

“I constantly get asked the question, ‘What’s your AI strategy at Advantage?’” says Advantage CEO Dave Peacock. “The simple answer is we don’t have one.”

That, of course, is tongue-in-cheek. 

Advantage has an AI strategy as much as it has, say, a “computer strategy.” The company provides a suite of tools and resources to people to ensure they can work comfortably, efficiently and effectively to solve business problems for clients and customers. And, just like computers, AI is integrated into that toolbox. 

“AI helps support Advantage’s overall strategy to convert shoppers into buyers for our clients and customers by informing our entire digital approach,” Peacock says. The technology is “built into the suite of tools we provide our teammates and clients, enabling them to do their jobs faster, more efficiently and more profitably. It enhances our precision while driving efficiency and speed.”

Where there’s data, there’s opportunity 

Because of Advantage’s access to vast troves of data, AI serves as another tool to differentiate and enhance Advantage’s service capabilities in the marketplace, allowing it to leverage that data in a way that few competitors can. 

The company, which has assembled an AI Core Competency Center in Chicago under Chief Digital/Information Officer Francesco Tinto, is at work weaving AI into all areas of its business, from applications that serve customers to internal workforce needs. 

And it’s moving quickly, says Luigi Guadagno, Advantage senior vice president and chief technology officer, who notes that the gap between innovation and implementation continues to narrow. 

Harnessing the power of AI, combined with Advantage’s data and in-market expertise, is beginning to unlock a whole new world for the company and its customers, Guadagno says.

 “The idea is to use (AI) to bring a new level of insights, choose recommendations, leverage our expertise to apply it, and then learn from the exercise to accelerate our transformation,” he says. “The faster we can put our data repository online, the faster we can make this a centralized source of truth for us. Mining structured and unstructured data faster, combined with our knowledge, makes us different in the marketplace.”

The technology enablement work already is bearing fruit in the field.

During some Advantage employee retail visits, captured images and video feed into AI engines that recognize aisles, shelves, product assortment, placement and prices. This data coalesces into digital shelf representations that enable real-time optimizations to ensure the right brands are in the right positions in-store to influence purchasing decisions. 

Sales, market and other customer-specific data actively help Advantage to plot how field teams plan visits, execute store actions and ultimately optimize its services in intelligence, development, implementation, growth and marketing to produce the best customer outcomes, Guadagno says. 

The applications are limitless

AI presents an equally diverse slate of opportunities from which to experiment and potentially deepen an already diverse set of business capabilities Advantage can offer retailers and CPG partners. 

Whether it means getting products onto shelves in real time, or heading off supply-chain concerns at the pass, Al can help Advantage bring enhanced speed and precision to solve business problems for brands and retailers, such as pricing strategies, product assortment and shelf placement.

“Our extensive knowledge work will be a lot more powerful thanks to the analytics and tools working together,” Guadagno says. “On very large data sets you can have recommendations down to the store, the product or the category, and you can scale in real time versus much different cycle times into weeks and even months.”

Consider, until recently there was a significant gap in the time between when workers stock store shelves to when a customer puts a product in a shopping cart. Guadagno says technology will shrink that gap to minutes. 

Support teams will soon be able to make localized recommendations in real time during time-sensitive events like the Super Bowl, or use data to advise on the best solutions for pressing retail supply-chain concerns.

“That’s the Holy Grail,” Guadagno says. “It’s for us to provide digitally powered services that are connected to the just-in-time moments our customers and shoppers are living in. That allows us to truly scale and deal with workforce dynamics, different kinds of labor and marketplace challenges, and enable people to learn about new products and services.”

AI requires strategy, governance and care

And this is all, he says, rooted in Advantage’s values, strategic approach and insights.

Organizations like Advantage that thoughtfully and intentionally implement AI applications can expect leaps and bounds of improvement. 

Advantage’s vision, he explains, is to embed AI into every single facet of the company. 

Internally, virtual AI-powered agents are already being trained in help desk, HR, legal and eventually finance and communication. These agents will empower productivity gains that will promote cost-effective growth and new levels of service and capabilities.

But none of this can happen without careful consideration. So, Guadagno and his team are working to ensure Advantage balances the power of AI with its existing strengths — its unrivaled knowledge of the retail industry and tens of thousands of teammates in the field who gather insights on every store visit.

To that end, his charge is to ensure AI further empowers Advantage’s people, allowing them to layer capabilities and intelligence on top of their existing foundation of expertise and deep relationships throughout the industry. 

“We can’t be scared of the journey. Our job is changing, and we have to recognize that,” Guadagno says. “We still have to go in the store and execute. But the way we do it is different.”