How Artificial Intelligence is changing the E-commerce sector
05 March 2019
A current buzzword in not only digital marketing but across many industries is Artificial Intelligence (AI). AI is the creation of intelligent machines or computers that are taught to work or think in a way that a human does.
Often when we hear the term AI, we might think of robots taking over the world or self-driving cars, but actually, there are many ways that utilising AI on your e-commerce site can advance your digital marketing offering. AI is now seen by many industry experts as the next step for online retailers, with studies predicting that by 2020, 85% of customer interactions will be managed without a human.
Aside from the basic benefits of removing humans and human error from repetitive but necessary tasks in business, AI offers huge opportunities for transforming the e-commerce sector. Whilst many of us are already aware of AI in digital assistants like Alexa and Google Assistant, progressive learning algorithms and natural language processing technologies, which are all subset capabilities of AI, can provide unrivalled online customer experiences. With the low attention span of digital users, having a convenient, quick and personalised online shopping journey is vital to e-commerce success in this saturated marketplace, all of which are achievable through AI.
This article is going to look at just a few of the ways we are already seeing AI technologies changing the landscape of e-commerce, and where we might see the relationship going in the future.
One of the profound ways in which AI technologies are changing the e-commerce sector is through website and journey personalisation. Much like a bricks and mortar shop, online shopping experiences need to cater to the individual, and by offering personalised journeys, customers are more likely to reach conversion rather than leaving an item in their basket.
AI technologies are able to gather data on users’ habits including, how long they may spend browsing an item and which sections of the e-commerce website they visited the most. By correctly utilising this data, online retailers can tailor the content that each user sees, such as making highly relevant product recommendations to the individual next time they visit the site. Online shoppers who are engaged are more likely to remember your brand, spend time on your website, and thus, see an item that they would like to buy. Whilst we already see an element of personalisation through retargeting campaigns, newer capabilities may allow whole websites to be designed and delivered uniquely to each individual user, in order to encourage user engagement.
Another element of AI which consumers may be more familiar with is voice search. Voice search, which builds upon natural language processing, is becoming more and more advanced and is widely seen in digital assistants. Outdoor giant, The North Face, has been using voice search on its website to offer a personal-shopper like experience to its customers. Users are able to search using their voice, describing exactly what they would like their item for; the website then returns highly relevant results based on the voice search, i.e., “I need a mid-length dress for a summer wedding”. This capability creates a convenient and personalised shopping experience for the user, bringing real life and online shopping experiences closer together, and means that users don’t have to spend time working their way through product filters and typing into search boxes. When presented with quick and extremely relevant products, the user will be more likely to purchase.
AI copy-bots are in use across some news outlets; writing whole news articles without any human input. Although news outlets are not comparable or necessarily in competition with e-commerce sites, copy-bots may become a thing of the future, being able to quickly produce user-specific content that will help to engage individual online shoppers. But can a copy-bot really be as creative a human brain?
Retailers are taking steps to make online shopping experiences as, if not more, convenient than the real thing. A new technology which is being seen on some e-commerce sites is the use of augmented reality (AR). This enables shoppers who are conducting mobile searches to see their item ‘in real life’ before they buy it. Most notably this is being used in furniture and clothing industries so that buyers can ‘try on’ their clothes before they buy them or see how their new sofa might look in their house. These website capabilities are much more likely to drive online shoppers to your website because the user can properly test out your products before buying them. Although this currently isn’t as widespread as other technologies, I believe that it will become more popular with changing user search habits; currently, most of online shopping is conducted on a desktop, but AR may help facilitate the change towards increased mobile shopping.
Having an automated chat-bot on your e-commerce site is great for the customer who appreciates convenience. Whilst saving the retailer the time and money of having a human responding to customers, a chatbot uses AI to communicate effectively, providing answers to questions or offering product information. For the larger online retailer, being able to offer quick and personable assistance to the user could be the difference between a sale on your website, and your potential customer visiting a competitor’s website. Investing money in a chat-bot seems like a logical step for e-commerce sites, as they are able to improve the user’s experience without needing further input from members of staff. Bots use Artificial Intelligence Mark-up Language and Natural Language Understanding to process human requests. Bots build upon information they can access and group together similar questions each time to create layers of appropriate answers, often making conversations sound more personal than a human being would. This results in good customer service and therefore, increased reputation for your e-commerce company.
What might the future hold, and what online retailers should look out for
With technologies and AI exponentially developing, the possibilities for e-commerce sites could be endless in the coming years.
I think we may see further steps towards complete website personalisation, using more in-depth data to wholly tailor the content to each user. We may see data being shared between iTunes or Spotify and websites so that when a user visits your site their favourite music plays.
Although the technological capabilities are presenting digital marketers with many ways to appeal further to their customers, agencies and retailers alike will be faced with more concerns about data privacy. With AI technologies able to gather lots of data on users, there may be a trade-off between personalisation and privacy in the future.
Furthermore, businesses will need to think about how they can properly make use of data gathered through modern technologies. Intense data mining and analysis will need to take place for businesses to truly understand their customers. With more and more companies adopting new AI enabled technologies, e-commerce businesses will need to think of unique ways to use this advanced data to engage their customers more effectively than their competitors.
The tangible benefits which AI technologies can bring to e-commerce businesses are abundant. With personalisation and customer service being taken to the next level for online shoppers, it can lead to increased revenue, brand awareness, client loyalty, greater reputation, general likeability, and engagement for online retailers.
And with the potentially endless possibilities of AI, it is exciting yet daunting to see where digital marketing and the e-commerce sector may go next.
Written by Alice Pelham