Artificial intelligence is moving beyond the realm of science fiction. The ability to feed large quantities of data into intelligent software and neural networks is empowering organizations to streamline their operations and engage customers in new ways. This trend is taking notably strong hold in the ecommerce sector, where brands are looking for just about any way to stand out in a crowded marketplace.
The rapid rise of AI is leaving many organizations in a difficult position. On one hand, many of the underlying technologies that make AI possible are still extremely complex and expensive, creating a situation in which solutions will be out of reach for all but the largest companies. On the other hand, cloud computing and mobile apps are making AI accessible at a few key entry points, and retailers that identify those opportunities can position themselves to stand out in a crowded marketplace.
“Artificial intelligence is moving beyond the realm of science fiction.”
Before we get into the specific use cases where AI is starting to emerge, let’s first take a high-level view of what the technology can do in the ecommerce sector.
AI’s potential in ecommerce
A long-term view of AI in ecommerce could evoke images of a shopping world that is entirely different than what we have today. Traditional channels could disappear as they all blend into shared experiences that help consumers find exactly what they’re looking for at any given time. This possibility puts an emphasis on the importance of data accuracy in the ecommerce world. If brands don’t have updated, integrated product and customer information, they will increasingly find it more and more difficult to stand out.
For example, if a consumer sees an item at a friend’s house, takes a picture of the good and does a visual search, an AI platform can use that image to find matches. That’s just the start, and it’s already an option. From there, the individual can search similar products and change specific dynamics, with an AI platform automatically cultivating results based on past purchases. This second step would also be achievable with existing technologies.
With possible products discovered, consumers can use virtual or augmented reality to get a more realistic view of a good, purchase the item through a variety of interfaces and set shipping specifications. We could even end up in a situation where home-based 3-D printers produce the actual asset, with consumers purchasing the right to create the item.
In this setup, consumers are completely circumventing normal channels and using existing technologies to leverage AI and find a specific product based on something they like. The only reason this isn’t completely possible today is because many of the solutions involved are so expensive that the entire ecommerce ecosystem isn’t in place. For example, taking a picture of an item and performing a search is possible, but the results may not be highly cultivated. Similarly, you might be able to use augmented reality to preview an item, but those solutions are usually housed within existing websites.
An era in which all of these solutions exist outside of brand-specific borders is possible. Current AI applications can enable brands to prepare for this type of vision and take advantage of many of its benefits right now. Three of the most notable AI applications in ecommerce are:
1. Deep personalization
The move to highly custom, personal experiences has been an ongoing trend in the commerce sector for years, but the continued emphasis of strong customer journeys is making it more important than ever. AI is starting to take over in this segment.
“The move to highly custom, personal experiences has been an ongoing trend in the commerce sector.”
A Business Insider report explained that the growing base of digitally native consumers is giving retailers a larger pool of data to pull from as they work to make recommendations. As such, brands can more easily anticipate customer preferences and use AI to accurately adjust experiences accordingly. What’s more, this functionality can cross between ecommerce and brick-and-mortar experiences, leading to better product recommendations and customer service improvements.
All of this functionality is increasingly available as enacting such strategies relies on blending existing analytics solutions with AI applications. The key differentiator for brands will be their ability to integrate data across lines of business to ensure they get a full image of customer interactions.
The growing move toward chatbot deployment represents one of the most accessible AI use cases for ecommerce companies hoping to take advantage of AI. The market for AI chatbots already climbed to more than $190 million in 2016 and is expected to experience rapid growth. The reason: Brands can use chatbots integrated into various messaging and web platforms to allow for natural interactions with customers without relying on customer service representatives.
Chatbots are exciting, in large part, because they can resolve basic issues very quickly, creating better customer experiences while freeing service representatives to focus on more demanding tasks. AI-empowered chatbots take this functionality to another level by being able to handle slightly more complex issues.
3. Advanced search features
AI is transforming the way search engines function and, as a result, make it easier for people to find what they’re looking for. The Drum reported that AI is powering more nuanced search functions, including the ability to perform more advanced visual searches. An example of this is the hypothetical scenario mentioned earlier in which a consumer snaps an image of an item and goes directly to shopping.
Voice search is also on the rise, the news source explained, with AI personal assistants often being used to help consumers find what they want quickly. In response, many ecommerce brands are reconfiguring their web and mobile systems to allow for easier use of voice search.
Preparing for AI
Over-reliance on legacy web platforms or databases can limit a business’ ability to adapt to AI. Existing AI solutions are heavily reliant on being able to access your customer and brand data seamlessly across channels. Emerging solutions will only heighten this reliance. Interface upgrades are also increasingly necessary. Technical advances will be needed to lay the groundwork for AI. Pixafy can help brands identify their best options for platform, design and development refreshes, laying the basis for AI initiatives.