Another day, and another AI (Artificial Intelligence) story. It would seen that necessity is overtaking novelty if the volume of copy is anything to go by, even if the specific needs are still often very much in the cloud.

Undoubtedly recent history will repeat itself, with investment and popular hysteria chasing the latest billion dollar bandwagon, with the usual varying degrees of due care and attention as to where this will all end up, commercially, ethically and socially.

This is not to say that there are not substantial opportunities for the retail industry. There are enormous efficiency benefits in the retail engine rooms of the world, as well as the immersive and personalised customer interfaces, from physical shops to social selling.

Those that can afford to invest in the biggest leaps forward will make some significant initial advancements over competitors. So the latest news that John Lewis is investing £100m into AI with Google over the next 5 years will not raise too many eyebrows. They are joining an ever-growing queue willing to pay ‘big-bucks’ for the expertise of AI specialists.

Of more importance, and somewhat re-assuring, is that John Lewis has also said that it is ‘the marriage of humans and AI that is the holy grail.’ Could this in fact be a turning point in their recent history which has seen ‘humans’ in the form of customers, colleagues and partners been denigrated to second-best behind the clamour towards a more online, impersonal, real-estate approach to literally building customer loyalty & footfall.

The fact is that if John Lewis, or any other brand, thinks that adopting AI is single-handedly going to propel them to successful retailing, then they are seriously misguided. Equally if they regard ‘humans’ as simply the beneficiaries of a greater knowledge, rather than naturally intelligent people in the shape of customers & colleagues utilising technology to deliver a more profitable experience, then they may well be missing that point as well.

What John Lewis should understand more than anyone, from being at the forefront of the omnichannel world, and once custodians of the mantle of UK’s favourite retailer, is that it is the intimate and truly personal relationship between human beings, it is the genuine honesty and authenticity of a brand that is still, the only way to become a successful retail business.

As with every innovation in the history of retailing, from automated manufacturing to mobile shopping, from digital payment to RFID inventory management, the competitive advantage of early adopters will be neutralised by a market that learns from its leaders’ mistakes. The competitive bar will be raised to inconceivable heights of sophistication, but it will be within the reach of many others.

And so it will be with the best, the most useful, the most efficient, and most engaging applications of AI.

But absolutely, what will make AI sing, will be its marriage with people. Because the last bastion of competitive advantage is authenticity. This is what creates brand distinction, as expressed through its colleagues, its employees and its customer services.

AI will make distinctive and intimate brands surprise and delight their customers with new levels of efficiency. AI will generate more trust than ever, in the brands and retailers they love.

This will make absolute ‘common sense’ to those who understand the meaning of retail. Whilst it will be those who find only madness in the unpredictability and idiosyncrasies of ‘human people,’ that once again will spend their way to an efficient end.

Of course, the strange irony about ‘Common Sense’ is that it is in fact not common at all, and is, in fact a rarity.

Any smart business, retailers included, would do well to discover as many intelligent people as possible to make ‘common sense’ of the deluge of AI that threatens to swallow us all up.