3 Ways A.I. Will Influence Everyday Ecommerce

Once the stuff of science fiction, we’ve now realised the power of Artificial Intelligence is a reality, and has applications far more practical than 80s sci-fi films suggested. Today A.I. is having quite an impact on everyday tasks – including shopping.

Whether you’ve thought about it before or not, AI is gradually filtering into all aspects of our lives. From security checks at airports, to better user experience and self-checkouts in supermarkets, AI is everywhere. And it’s growing fast. Research puts it as a $5 billion market by 2020. Connected machines, wearables, and other business tools are already boosting productivity at work and at home.

Convenience in eCommerce today is key. And so A.I. naturally has a lot to offer. Here are 3 of the big developments for eCommerce A.I. has brought so far.

1. Personal Shoppers for All

Many of us are familiar the likes of Siri, Google Now, and Cortana. They introduced most of us to the idea of asking questions to a phone, computer or appliance. But they seemed to have left us wanting even more: We’re hankering after machines that understand us better, and have a greater utility for everyday purposes.

To date, the technology for this isn’t used widespreadly. But some are already showing its potential: A bot from North Face bot which is trying to recreate the experience of a store where you’re asked ‘Hi can I help you shop for a jacket today?’ It then asks where and when you will be using the jacket, before matching the information with weather predictions and other data to help you select the best jacket.

Voice technology is also set to change the customer experience. Voice search was popularised with voice assistants like Alexa and Siri, which made it necessary for retailers to re-optimise their pages so they can handle voice-based searches. Amazon’s voice-controlled home automation speaker, Echo, allows users to make online purchases using voice search technology. Shoppers who have a device integrated with its Alexa technology can make orders using spoken commands. A study by comScore predicts that by 2020, at least 50% of all web searches will be conducted by voice.

2. Natural Language and Making Connections

Search is fundamental to eCommerce conversion rate. When search is poor, and fails to lead the customer to the product they wanted, the sale is likely to be lost. When it’s difficult for consumers to find what they want, they’ll leave your site fast, and find a competitor’s that makes life far easier for them.

One way brands are addressing this, is by combining A.I. with Natural Language Processing (NLP), with the aim of making a humanised digital experience. This combination means that when someone types the name of a product, if it is spelt incorrectly, or just called something different to how it’s labelled on the site, the search can decipher what the customer wants, and therefore can lead them to the product. A.I. can also make connections around what other products a customer might like, based on their search preferences so far. It can show them items often bought or searched for together – all with the aim of getting the customer to buy everything they might be looking for in the one place.

3. Chatbots

3 billion people are actively using messaging apps. For instance, Facebook Messenger is used by more than 1 billion of us, and it’s growing faster than Facebook itself. The pervasiveness of messaging apps make them viable channels for businesses to connect to customers.

Chat companies and brands are partnering up fast. The Facebook Messenger and Uber partnership, for example, makes it possible for customers to order an Uber without leaving Messenger. Amazon’s voice activated tool Echo has partnered with Capital One, and now the bank’s customers can find their balance, make a payment, or check recent transactions, all via their bot Alexa. The birth of Echo signalled for many another quantum leap in retail technology, similar to the social and mobile boom of the last few years.

To the Future

A common criticism of A.I. is how inorganic chatbots and the likes often sound, and how they can trip when encountering nuanced language resulting in frustrating (or just funny) interactions. Chatbots can now learn from interactions and adjust for future ones, also as a fallback for when things go wrong, they can allow for a direct connection to a human agent if a customer is unhappy with the service.

In the not too far distant future, virtual personal assistants and chatbots will be able to detect the emotional state and viewpoint of the customer they’re interacting with. The bots of today have pre-formatted answers and can’t compute that a user isn’t in the mood for jokes for instance. Soon they’ll be able to give a more informed and intelligent – a more human – response.