Note: This is a guest post authored by Michelle Deery from Heroic Search. She specializes in writing about eCommerce and is passionate about AI and how it is propelling eCommerce forward.
Artificial Intelligence (AI) has finally emerged from the shadowy realm of university labs and science fiction to splash down right in the heart of mainstream society. This seemingly rapid ascent has been bolstered by an unlikely (even pedestrian) bedfellow: online shopping.
In this article, we’ll explore the symbiotic relationship between AI and online shopping. We’ll look at why your eCommerce store needs AI to survive, and how the eCommerce environment has proven to be a perfect petri dish to incubate and refine machine learning technology.
Artificial Intelligence can go deep. Like, really deep. Its networks of software and hardware essentially mimic the neurons in our brains, analyzing huge swathes of digital data and drawing insights from the patterns they recognize. They adopt tasks, such as identifying pictures and recognizing voice commands, and then they leverage their biggest advantages—speed and volume—to quickly master these tasks, even outperforming humans in some cases.
As complex as AI can be, it can also be applied in service of simpler, more focused goals, such as making it easier for your customers find relevant products in your online store.
If you’re an eCommerce provider, your business depends on your ability to connect users to the products they want. This is a big challenge in a world where product offerings and consumer behaviors are both moving targets. But it turns out, hitting those moving targets is something AI excels at. There has never been a better time to embrace your new robot overlords and make them your partners in creating a more user-friendly and more profitable venture.
Here are four reasons why your eCommerce store needs AI right now:
1. Refined Search Capabilities
When Artificial Intelligence learns and masters a skill quickly, it’s called deep learning. Deep learning is largely responsible for the huge strides that Facebook, Google and their ilk are making towards developing a true understanding of their individual users, even as their networks approach monumental scale.
One business area that is ripe for refinement and reinvention is your website’s search capabilities. Previously, websites have relied on static (human-guided) algorithms that did a poor job of adapting to new content and shifting user behaviors, and as a result, they did a mediocre job of narrowing down the user’s search queries.
AI can smooth out the search glitch and ensure that your results don’t lose relevance over time. One way that it improves search queries is through natural language processing. This allows the system to better understand and “infer” what a user is looking for based on the language they use to search. By better understanding what the user really means, the search engine can interpret more complex queries and respond with better, more individual shopper-specific results.
In addition to improving search functions, AI can also create some that are entirely new, such as visual search. Visual search enables the user to upload an image to a website—say, a dress or a chair—and have the site identify that item and items like it from the site’s catalog.
What makes this possible is that the AI itself is writing (and rewriting, and rewriting) the search algorithms itself, without human intervention. As you add products and users add more behavioral data points, it continually refines its approach to making recommendations. As more and more people use search tools to explore product catalogs (rather than manual filters), having a more intelligent search engine can mean the difference between finding exactly what they want and getting overwhelmed with less relevant results (and moving on to another site).
2. Analyzing Big Data
The problem humans have when it comes to analyzing big data is that it’s just too big… there are simply too many data points coming in too fast to see all the patterns. Because Artificial Intelligence mimics the neurons in our brains to analyze large volumes of unstructured data, it can do what we do, only at tremendous scale.
Why is this crucial to the survival of your eCommerce store? Big data gives you an insight into consumer trends, helping you to provide a solution to a problem that your customers may not even know they have. You will also be able to determine product attributes in real-time and then determine which ones need to be discounted or replenished and which ones are likely to be relevant to a specific search query.
AI’s ability to read, understand, analyze and break-down big data for you allows you to start trends and marketing styles before your competitors, and this kind of foresight can be the key to success in a highly competitive and crowded shopping environment.
3. Personalized Online Experiences
It might sound odd to suggest that a robot can make your customers online shopping experience more personalized than a human being, but look at it like this: AI can’t replace a physical salesperson who greets your users with a friendly “Hi! Can I help you?” But it can provide intelligent engagement at every single customer touch point, something that would require way too much time for a human workforce.
It can do this by identifying clusters and patterns in information, such as similarities between customers, past purchasing behavior, browsing history and other common threads. With this information, your eCommerce store will be able to offer proactive guidance, such as providing your customers with a personal shopping assistant and customized the sales experience based on their behavior in real-time, while they are on your site.
Soon, AIs will even be able to handle more complex questions that typically require a human salesperson, but even if it can’t find the answer itself, the AI will be able to identify and “triage” these complex questions, directing them to the appropriate human salesperson and ensuring your customers stay in your store until they get what they want.
A good example is Viv, an AI-based interface developed by the creators of Siri. Viv enables any site to use AI to triage their customer inquiries, and it can even perform a multitude of services without human intervention. The result is increased sales success with less customer service overhead.
4. Product Cataloging
There are many ways that you can improve your customer’s experience. Utilizing themes, such as those from Shopify, can make your eCommerce site more visually appealing and user-friendly. But if you can pair a beautiful website with highly efficient product cataloging, then you will really make some happy customers.
AI can play a vitally important role in product cataloging. Customers today expect more insightful and accurate product information from their retailers, and if you don’t meet their expectations, you could find yourself losing out to a competitor. 30% of American adults say they would purchase goods from an online retailer they’ve never even heard of before if they display detailed and accurate product info.
Your product data needs to be consistent and high-quality across your sales channels. Sounds simple, but it isn’t, especially if you sell across multiple channels that require different formats for the product data. An AI can actually recognize what product data means instead of just populating fields. It can see the difference between a description and a specification and populate the appropriate and relevant data in the right place, and update that data automatically across all channels.
Data and using analytics will be key to the survival of all eCommerce stores in the years to come. We can expect more competition, more products, and more varied consumer behavior. AI can help ensure that, as a retailer, you are anticipating and even setting trends, rather than constantly playing catch-up.