For people in the e-commerce world, AI is already a practical reality. The biggest brands in the world have been successfully implementing AI tools for quite some time. This has filtered down to smaller businesses to some extent, but using AI tools is still far from standard practice.
It won’t be long, though, until AI is unavoidable if you want to stay competitive. As we move towards 2020, sellers must get to grips with what AI can offer, or risk being left behind. Here are 7 important things they need to know:
Customer experience, or CX, is vital for earning customer loyalty — and loyal customers spend more (and are significantly easier to retain) than new customers. And the kind of personalization made possible through AI is one of the keys to achieving exceptional CX.
Using machine learning algorithms, an AI interface can automatically realign to suit customer preferences before they’ve even expressed them. Central to this will be drawing data from myriad sources to rapidly determine what people are likely to choose (as well as going off expressed preferences — Clarabridge offers AI-driven sentiment analysis for this).
Something that AI systems are getting much better at handling is natural language, i.e. how people speak normally (as opposed to how they phrase things when using search engines). This is so valuable because searcher intent is hugely important — what are people looking for?
If a shopper searches for “pedal”, what do they want? A pedal for a bike, motorbike, or drum kit? The sooner you know, the better you can cater to it. Understanding searcher context and general trends, AI search (as in the AI-powered Ntent platform) can make results more relevant.
When someone reaches the checkout stage, you should pull out all the stops to max out their order value. This is done through a combination of up-selling and cross-selling — the former offering higher-end versions of selected products, and the latter offering compatible products.
Amazon introduced smart recommendations to the mainstream public using its class-leading recommendation system, and every seller should use them. A system providing AI-led recommendations draws from customer activity to pick out the items most likely to tempt the shopper, leading to greater order values and more revenue.
Many sellers have already added chatbots to their stores because they’re immensely versatile for customer support. Having real people manually field queries all day is a good way to rack up expenses, plus people can’t scale — but chatbots can.
Notably, though, chatbots can also be used to great effect in areas outside of customer support — to enhance the admin interface of your store, for instance. Shopify led the way in this regard when it acquired the Kit chatbot, adapted it, and made it free for anyone running their store on Shopify: a merchant can adjust their product prices and run ads, all from Facebook Messenger.
AI tools are superb at forecasting — extrapolating from previous results to predict future results — and forecasting is a vital part of stock control: if you can determine what level of demand awaits you, you can optimize your stock levels.
In future, e-commerce forecasting software will combine in-house data (general e-commerce analytics) with broader industry trends to create scarily accurate predictions of product demand. It’ll never be 100% accurate, but it will be tremendously useful for cutting back on spending.
Many of the improvements AI will bring will actually take place behind the scenes in the day-to-day grind, because it’s phenomenal at achieving operational efficiency — efficiency comes down to logic, and computer systems are fundamentally logic machines.
AI could assist with everything from navigating HR and admin issues (Zoom.ai was built to automate the latter), onboarding new employees, negotiating with suppliers, creating presentations, and identifying new products worth adding to the inventory. In short, you could have a system capable of improving every facet of a business.
Despite its power, this AI is not the much-vaunted science-fiction concept we all grew up hearing about. Current tech isn’t even close to replicating human thought processes — it only approximates some of them using complex logic to yield the same results.
Why is this important to remember? Because AI is not — and may never be — something that you can set up and leave to run in isolation. For the time being, it must be monitored carefully, so don’t expect an AI magic bullet anytime soon. You’ll need to put in effort to use it well.