Ready or Not, It's Time to Embrace AI Focus less on what could go wrong and more on what AI can do for you.

By Reshu Rathi

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

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Market leaders such as Amazon, eBay and Netflix are using artificial intelligence (AI) to take their customer experience to a whole new level. Meanwhile, many small-business owners still believe their web sites' live chat will be enough to serve potential buyers.

They're missing the mark.

AI has changed online commerce by enabling brands to make sense of their data and put it to good use with smarter algorithms. In this age of conversational commerce, artificial intelligence is critical to providing a personalized experience. Businesses without an AI strategy are almost certain to perish. According to Forrester, insights-driven businesses will "steal" $1.2 trillion per year from their "less-informed peers."

Related: Why Small Business Should Be Paying Attention to Artificial Intelligence

Until a few months back, only bigger companies could afford the sizable investments required to implement AI. That's no longer the case. AI is becoming more accessible to businesses of all sizes. In the next few years, AI will continue to expand its reach throughout organizations. Early adopters already are reaping the benefits. If you're not one of them, now is the time to start.

Here are four reasons you (and every small-business owner) should incorporate AI-enabled technology in your sales and customer-service strategies.

1. Leave competitors behind.

Virtual assistants, smart mirrors, visual search, chatbots -- no matter the size of your business, AI is the future. Some experts predict that by 2020, 85 percent of customer interactions will be handled without a human. It won't happen overnight, though, even if at times the technology seems to advance that quickly.

A recent Forrester survey revealed 58 percent of businesses have considered AI technologies, but 12 percent actually put AI into practice. In that gap lies a huge untapped opportunity. Businesses that adopt AI technologies wil vault ahead of their competitors.

The takeaway: AI-driven personalization is the future. Use AI or die. It's that simple.

Related: 5 Ways Small-Business Owners Can Benefit from Artificial Intelligence Today

2. Save money.

AI can help small businesses cut their costs in the long run. But most company leaders underestimate the importance of implementing AI at an early stage. Yes, the initial cost of hardware and infrastructure is expensive. Don't let that keep you from making the leap.

AI enables your team to engage your customer base in a highly personalized way. This increases conversions and retention. If you're like most small retailers, your limited budget means you can afford discount offers for only a few potential customers. Unfortunately, it might be difficult to know how much to discount your product or who should get that enticing offer. AI can help you give the right discount to the right customer -- thus achieving a better return on investment.

AI can assist you on virtually any marketing channel, including push notifications, email marketing and SMS marketing. AI can determine the best time to send messages to every customer, so you'll increase your chances for engagement and a higher conversion rate. AI also can help you identify the right marketing channels for every recipient. This information allows you to target customers with the right message at the right time. Your marketing spend just got smarter.

The takeaway: AI won't just help you save money -- it's a must to satisfy your customers' increasingly sophisticated expectations.

3. Re-create the offline shopping experience, online.

Outstanding service is the key to success for small businesses, and many companies make an extra effort to delight their customers. Physical retailers dish out the special treatment. They go beyond the first-name basis, seeking to tailor their assistance around the remembered preferences of loyal customers. Small businesses in the online world were missing the personal touch -- until AI came along.

Mainstream AI makes the tools required to personalize an online shopping more accessible and affordable. If you don't implement AI, you'll struggle to uncover customer data, much less identify patterns to effectively segment your customers based on purchasing behaviors. AI makes it easier to analyze their past actions so you can predict their future behavior.

The takeaway: Online shopping is continually evolving, and so are customer expectations. AI is one of the few accessible ways to fulfill those expectations.

Related: 10 Artificial Intelligence Trends to Watch in 2018

4. Save time.

Marketing plays a vital role in the success of every business. That being said, you often need to hire more people and dedicate hours of manpower to get good results from it. Small businesses, unfortunately, don't often have resources needed to ramp up marketing efforts.

AI can empower small retailers by automating tasks, accessing rich insights and reaching out to the right customer with the right message at the right time.

Key takeaway: AI not only can save you time and money, it can make your marketing more effective and targeted.

Wavy Line
Reshu Rathi

Marketing Manager

Reshu Rathi is an online marketing and conversion rate enthusiast. She has been in the internet marketing industry for nearly ten years, specializing in content and product marketing, lead generation and engagement strategy. She provides thought leadership for a variety of global publications.

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