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5 Ways Artificial Intelligence Is Shaping the Future of Ecommerce

Paradoxically for a machine, AI's greatest strength may be in creating a more personal experience for your customer. From product personalization to virtual personal shoppers.
5 Ways Artificial Intelligence Is Shaping the Future of Ecommerce
Image credit: Georgijevic | Getty Images

Few industries are as competitive as ecommerce. Not only are online retailers competing with other online stores and brick-and-mortar locations, but also the overall noise that is the Internet. We live in a world where consumer attention span is getting shorter and shorter: 40 percent of people abandon a website that takes more than three seconds to load, and the average shopping cart is abandoned more than 68 percent of the time. I’m hard pressed to find an ecommerce site that is not constantly scrambling to engage more and drive more sales.

Technology is finally helping with those efforts in a big way. Artificial intelligence (AI), which has demonstrated its value in industries like marketing, healthcare and finance, is now making a splash in online commerce.

Related: Tech Moguls Such as Musk and Bezos Declare Era of Artificial Intelligence

Antoine Blondeau, CEO of the world’s most funded AI company, Sentient Technologies, once said, “Five years from now, we'll see AI take a bigger role in making decisions, creating pre-emptive solutions, and delivering insights. Society will become much more efficient as a result. Think logistics, ecommerce, healthcare, finance -- in all these domains and others we will start to see massive gains from AI. We'll be able to leverage AI systems to help get things to where they need to go faster and cheaper, we'll be able to enable people to see and buy things they weren't even aware existed or even knew they wanted.”

Here are three ways AI will impact ecommerce in the coming years:

Visual search.

Shoppers, say goodbye to impulse control. Software platforms that drive ecommerce websites are creating visual search capabilities which allow consumers to upload an image and find similar/complementary products. The visual search capabilities, particularly via mobile, “reads” the item for clues -- color, shape, size, fabric and brand. This helps consumers to find exactly what they are looking for right away.

“In the age of Snapchat, Instagram, and the rapidly reducing attention spans of the digital age, AI-driven platforms will be essential to ecommerce success,” says Akash Bhatia, cofounder and CEO of Infinite Analytics, a deep machine learning and predictive analytics platform for retail.

A consumer doesn’t even have to be shopping to see something they would like to purchase -- a new pair of Nike’s at the gym or a friend’s new dress -- to easily find similar items on your ecommerce store.

Offline to online worlds merge.

These visual search capabilities can now create ties from online to offline like never before. As retailers redefine the way consumers engage with their brand, retail of the future will have more information about shoppers to improve their customer service, ultimately to create the opportunity to sell more items. The offline to online experience requires minimal steps to shop and purchase, providing a sense of autonomy to the consumer.

Related: How to Create an Amazing Customer Experience

Shopping in the future will use AI to gather information you’ve posted on the website, such as a product review, to service you in their brick-and-mortar counterpart better and make suggestions accordingly.

Personalization.

Personalization in ecommerce is nothing new. But thanks to emerging AI technologies, online brands of all sizes will have increasing access to tools laser-focused on personalization.

Many retailers currently use collaborative filtering to provide customers with recommendations. These collaborative filters base their results on most viewed history, best sellers, evergreen trends and other general parameters. But collaborative filters are limited because they only gather data from one channel, be that the online store, the brick and mortar store, or the mobile application. AI brings a seamless customer experience across all of those channels.

“Personalization is a multi-dimensional problem,” says Bhatia. “A lot of information gathered on shopping habits is very subtle, requiring a lot of data to be analyzed for proper personalization. With deep learning algorithms, online retailers can continuously learn every new signal as it gets uncovered to showcase personalized products better.”

Virtual personal shopper.

Julie Bornstein, COO of the AI-enabled Stitch Fix, has said, “Traditional retailers work off the premise that consumers like to shop and that they have the time to shop. But there are people who are better at shopping and can save shoppers time.”

So the dream of many consumers to have a personal shopper is more practical than ever before. Sure, there are subscription services like Stitch Fix, Trunk Club or Birchbox, but there are a growing number of ecommerce stores integrating sophisticated AI technologies specific to their online store to shop on behalf of users. The North Face is an excellent example of this. The brand recently launched their AI technology to help you “find the perfect jacket for your next adventure.”

Related: Why the Future of Retail Will Blow Your Mind

Brands are creating more interactive shopping experiences to provide product recommendations based on natural conversation and cognitive data derived from AI. The intelligent shopping assistants are faster than humans, can analyze huge quantities of data in minimal time, and perform human-like interactions that have ‘personalities’ designed to reflect that brand’s image. Virtual personal shoppers will become an entertaining and engaging point of contact for users.

Your audience is open to AI.

A study from the research firm J. Walter Thompson, reveals that consumers are interested in how AI will be used in retail: 70 percent of US millennials say they would appreciate a brand or retailer using AI technology to show more interesting products. And 72 percent believe that as the technology develops, brands using AI will be able to accurately predict what they want.

“The opportunity to leverage AI for superior customer service is there and for retailers to thrive they should be leveraging AI to make shopping experiences more personal for every user,” says Bhatia. The opportunity for Personalization 3.0 is exciting, and it is not just large online retailers that can take advantage of these tools. The options are growing for ecommerce brands of any scale to leverage AI to break down silos, create intellectual personalization capabilities, and monetize products.