5 ways AI can do the heavy lifting in the retail customer experience
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By Katrina Gosek, senior director, digital customer product strategy, Oracle
The 2017 holiday shopping season trended better for online U.S. retailers with an estimated 16.6 percent jump in e-commerce sales compared to the same period last year. With a successful holiday season behind them and consumer confidence up, retailers are starting 2018 optimistic.
But what can retailers learn from this past holiday season? When we talk to our customers, the biggest challenge in this new era of retailing is just keeping up with customer expectations. Bringing new, differentiated experiences to market is a monumental task.
Success in the next era of retail won't come from adding the latest widget to your site, and it's certainly not in low prices and free shipping. Success will come down to the ability to move and innovate faster. While moving to a fully SaaS-based commerce platform and ecosystem will guarantee greater agility, the reality is that may be a multi-year process for some retailers.
So what can online retailers do to make a difference right now? It is time to let artificial intelligence (AI) tools do some heavy lifting this year.
There are a ton options for when, where and how to leverage AI, but for retailers looking for quick impact, here are five ways AI tools can help online retailers drive results across the shopping experience with without the heavy lift:
1. Innovate with voice command and visual search: By 2021, Gartner predicts early adopter brands that redesign their websites to support visual and voice search will increase digital commerce revenue by 30 percent. With mobile devices, short attention spans and endless online options, getting on-site search right is more critical than ever. The good news is that new AI technologies, such as visual search and voice command, make search more engaging and effective at converting sales.
• Visual search is about to take off in a big way thanks to strides in image recognition technologies and the growing number of mobile shoppers who prefer visuals. Retailers can essentially deliver faceted search results in a new, visual way by labeling product features, attributes and names in images and videos. Pinterest now enables users to select an item in an image to surface similar items on Pinterest. Retailers Target and West Elm are experimenting here as well.
• Voice command has become ubiquitous at home and on the go with Siri, Alexa and Google. With advancements made in natural language processing (NLP), semantics and intent recognition, there's a lot of exciting ways to experiment with voice-based assistance and order placement on retail mobile sites and apps. Start simple. Look at the most common shopper inquiries like order status, return policy, local store inventory and the ability to re-order items and check out via voice. Graduate to deliver on more complex use cases like searching and comparing products, asking for personalized recommendations based on preferences and history, and placing products on hold at local stores.
2. Leverage Big Data: Retailers spend a lot of money to acquire customers via SEM, SEO, content marketing and social with murky ROI results. AI tools to crunch customer data presents new options though. Instead of waiting for shoppers to discover you, retail marketers can now discover consumers. Third-party data audiences leverage billions of global IDs, trillions of dollars in transactional data and tens of thousands of pre-built audiences that span demographic, online and offline behaviors. Insight from these mega data sets means you can reach exactly who you want to.
3. Integrate AI in your mobile strategy: It's getting harder than ever to engage consumers, deliver on what they want in the moment and turn them in to a loyalist. Context is critical and AI tools provide that in a way humans can't. As
63 percent of smartphone owners used their mobile devices to make holiday decisions this past season, mobile shopping is becoming a way of life. Mobile is a goldmine of contextual user information, and the perfect place for retailers to seize micro-moments along the shopper's journey. Recent data from Oracle Responsys from this past holiday season told us mobile SMS traffic went up 70 percent and mobile push rates increased 110 percent year-over-year. Shoppers want to hear from retailers and brands if it's relevant and provides value. In mobile communications, use AI for personalized recommendations on products, local store events, offers and order updates to scale a personal relationship with your most valuable customers.
4. Have chatbots initiate proactive chats: Chatbots are expected to be the top application of AI over the next five years, according to TechEmergence. AI-powered chatbots are not just a great way to scale service post-sale, but also during browsing and buying. Proactive service drives sales and chatbots are a great technology to initiate proactive conversations with customers that can alleviate concerns and offer solutions to common queries.
5. Virtual Assistants can be your personal concierge: Leverage AI tools to make your most lucrative customer segments feel known and valued. Virtual assistants (that use AI, speech recognition and loads of data) can serve as a personal concierge, helping loyal customers with purchase recommendations, education and customer service. Loyalty programs can also use AI to supercharge personalization. They can recommend products based on local weather conditions, hyper-personalized subscription services and tailored promotions based on what resonates with each customer specifically.