Artificial intelligence is the key to the future of online retail, business bosses have said, providing a crucial way to help shoppers find what they want.

Alex Baldock, chief executive of Shop Direct, which runs and Littlewoods, told the Telegraph Festival of Business in London that artificial intelligence was the company’s “big bet”.

“You have three seconds to seize the shopper’s attention – it’s called thumb stopping, the three-second audition,” Mr Baldock said. “That’s where personalisation comes in.” Shop Direct is owned by the proprietors of The Telegraph.

Mr Baldock was joined on a panel discussing the role of technology in business by Adrian Blair, the chief executive of Just Eat, the food delivery website.

Both Mr Baldock and Mr Blair affirmed that all their online growth was now coming from mobile: Just Eat, for example, currently takes 80pc of its orders on mobile devices.

The delivery company also uses chatbots and artificial intelligence for restaurant recommendations, and customers can now order food using an Amazon Echo, a voice command device produced by the US tech giant.

“When I was a student I would have dreamed of that,” Mr Blair said. “Through technology we have made it unbelievably simple to order food, and have cut out the payment step. Those sorts of things point the way to the future, making things unbelievably easier for the customer, and more efficient for the provider.”

Just Eat is also trialing land-based drone deliveries, which would deliver food to the customer by road. The consumer would then input a code to remove their food from the drone, which Mr Blair described as having a “rectangular R2D2 face”.

Facing threats from Deliveroo and Uber Eats, Mr Blair said that unlike his competitors, Just Eat’s restaurants employ their own drivers, and so avoid the legal issues that have plagued rivals.

“That makes the economics of our business look very attractive,” he said. “We are able to operate at a scale others would struggle to match because of our model.”

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