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How AI is revolutionizing e-commerce

By Expert commentator 10 Oct, 2018
Essential
Ecommerce strategy

How AI is revolutionizing e-commerce even for small businesses

If you attended any digital marketing or eCommerce conferences this year then you know that artificial intelligence is one of the hottest topics around. Speakers are talking about it, vendors are selling it, and attendees are just trying to keep up. If you walk away from the AI discussions because they’re too complex or not right for your brand, then you’re missing out.

AI solutions are easier to use and apply to your eCommerce business than ever. Let’s dispel the myths around artificial intelligence to find out how this tool can benefit your business.

You don’t need the budget of a national retailer like Yankee Candle Company to wow your customers with artificial intelligence.

yankee candle

AI and machine learning: know your terms

Before you can start to explore different intelligence options for your eCommerce business, you need to understand the terminology. Many industry leaders will throw around terms like “machine learning,” with the assumption that you know what they’re talking about, without taking the time to break it down. Here are a few common terms you will want to keep in mind:

  • Artificial intelligence: the ability for a robot to complete tasks that would normally require a human. AI occurs when a robot is able to follow a set of rules (called an algorithm) to make decisions.
  • Machine learning: the ability for a robot to make its own rules, and improve upon an algorithm to get better results.

Machine learning is often considered a subset of artificial intelligence. Typically, developers will create an algorithm for a robot to follow (AI) and then develop machine learning capabilities for the robot to make its own rules.

Consider what it takes to teach a robot to fold laundry. Through AI, a robot could use an algorithm to identify a shirt and fold it correctly. However, it takes machine learning for a robot to take a scarf, study its features, and determine that it should be folded like a towel rather than like a pair of pants or socks.

AI for eCommerce is affordable and easy

The next step to understanding how artificial intelligence can help your eCommerce strategy is to dispel the myth that investments in AI are expensive and complicated. You don’t have to reinvent the wheel to use AI on your site, and many companies are already testing AI tools within their web pages.

More than 60 percent of businesses used AI tools in some form in 2017, a significant increase from 38 percent in 2016. Of those businesses, 77 percent say they use AI to improve their marketing and sales processes.

Using artificial intelligence in your eCommerce strategy can be as simple as trying out an “off the shelf” AI tool that suggests products to customers and generates email recommendations through machine learning. You don’t even have to invest in a forward-facing tool that could confuse your customers.

After a series of short, successful tests, you can expand your AI budget to explore different options to improve the customer experience and grow eCommerce sales.

How can eCommerce brands use AI?

Now that you understand that AI isn’t a complicated or expensive concept, you can start to explore its uses in the eCommerce sphere. There are several ways you can use artificial intelligence depending on your comfort level and website improvement goals.

  • Improve customer recommendations with items frequently bought together or bought as an alternative.
  • Automate your customer service experience through chatbots to provide more information to your sales team.
  • Send automated engagement emails and responses based on customer interactions and information.
  • Learn more about your customers and how to market to them with big data analytics and analysis.
  • Listen to what people have to say about your brand online to help you respond to comments, reviews, and questions.

These are a few specific examples of how some companies use AI and machine learning to help customers, but Apiumhub recently shared a high-level view of how where companies are directing their AI efforts. While eCommerce is going strong as one of the top uses, many companies are starting with digital marketing or analytics and working toward more complex uses.

Where can you start investing in artificial intelligence?

Once you’re ready to take the leap into AI investment it’s not hard to get started. In fact, you likely already use some AI tools without realizing it.

If you host your site on WordPress, explore some of their AI tools to improve your website. Some of these tools work to detect spam, delete fake comments, and recommend products or posts to increase customer engagement.

The next place to look is the Shopify app store. There are dozens of results for apps that use machine learning and can improve your eCommerce experience. You can either focus on a problem area on your website (like upselling or cross-selling products) or test an AI tool against an existing one that you already have.

bed bath beyond

Once you feel comfortable with adding AI tools to the back-end of your website, take the lead and launch something forward-facing. There are a variety of customer service chatbot tools for your website or for Facebook messenger. Consider testing one of these to drive more leads or move customers deeper into the sale funnel.

You don’t have to completely hand over your eCommerce website to the robots just yet. You can test different machine learning tools as you feel comfortable and make changes or pull back if you don’t see the results you want.

One more note about eCommerce AI tools

If there’s one takeaway you should remember when choosing AI tools, it’s that not all apps are created equal. If you find a recommendation engine that doesn’t work, the problem might not be AI, but that particular app. Consider testing multiple different options to see which ones work best (if any) before giving up on AI and returning to traditional eCommerce tools.

Artificial intelligence isn’t a fad that’s going away anytime soon. The vast majority of eCommerce brands (large and small) are testing AI tools in some form or another on their web pages. If you’re able to embrace AI, you can get ahead of the curve and wow your customers instead of getting left behind while your competitors embrace this new technology.

Craig SmithCraig Smith is the Founder and CEO of  Trinity Insight, an eCommerce optimization agency and INC 5000 company.  Trinity helps brands grow e-commerce revenue by driving qualified traffic and improving digital experiences.

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