e-commerce, eCommerce, AI, artificial intelligence

I don’t know what I want but I want it now. This is the anthem of e-commerce in the on-demand economy; built on a solid foundation of total convenience. Technological advances during the information age across industries have spoilt us for choice and availability. We want what we want faster and cheaper than before.

This benchmark in human behavior has transformed us into hyper consumers of everything.

Ever since the advent of e-commerce giants such as Amazon and eBay, our behavior has slowly but surely shifted from brick-and-mortar retail shopping to the convenience of our smart device while binge-watching Peaky Blinders. Where do we go from here?

One thing is for certain; the customer is still the king and the king expects his demands for total convenience to be met. This expectation defines the scope of any online platform or business; in particular, those who are playing in an ever-crowded and competitive e-commerce marketplace.

This expectation also defines the scope of the technology and systems you need to have in place to sustain the most convenient shopping experience at all times.

 

The Evolution of Value

Our parents used to pick and choose what they wanted to buy from a print catalog, call a number, or deal with a moody rep at the store and wait in hope that their purchase will arrive sometime within the month unscathed from cargo.

Sounds terrifying right? At least it’s better than when your grandparents waited entire months to purchase an item which surfaces depending on seasonal availability. The catalogs were more convenient.

Historically, purchase value was calculated by the shopper as (price + product) multiplied by a complex formula of emotions divided by time-related variables. For example, “Do I really need this new iMac? It is awesome but a bit pricey for my budget. I guess I can get Mom to buy it for me as a Christmas gift…”.

However, the shoppers’ behavior and beliefs have shifted as the retail market became global and accessible to all.

More options mean more competition. To sustain your retail business, you must better understand how to earn your prospect customers and keep them. Enter Customer Relationship Management (CRM): The art of developing and managing customer relationships in a bid to create a loyal customer.

Forms of communication changed and evolved (i.e. guerilla marketing, social media marketing and etc.) as the attention span of the target audience declined across the past years. Social media platforms were meant to connect the world and bring us closer to each other, however, the aversion of younger generations towards social media channels in favor for unique and privacy-guarding alternatives indicated that the next generation and wave of shoppers despise being inundated by ads wherever their eyes glanced.

Lord knows I am sick of ads and I am only a mobile-adopter and not born into a smartphone-driven world like the mobile-native Gen Z.

 

Multi Channel Cross Platform E-Commerce Consumer Behavior

 

Online shoppers in 2018 are tech-savvy, spoilt for choice, availability, and access to a global variety of commodities online. They know where to go and rely on trusted reviews and endorsements to seal the deal. Need them fresh Yeezys? Tap that app. Need some marijuana for that ‘glaucoma’? Tap that app.

The modern-day shopper has a shorter span of attention and is making purchases based on spur of the moment decisions on-the-go. One-size-fits-all advertising messages are already obsolete in e-commerce, and now, companies’ competitive advantages are coming from optimizing micro-moments.

What are the micro-moments? According to Think with Google, these include:

  • In-the-moment purchase decisions
  • Decisions to solve problems right away
  • The pursuit of big goals during downtime
  • Decisions to try new things in routine moments

 

E-Commerce website shopping experiences and customer journeys are paramount to the success of your e-commerce business. Every micro-moment throughout the customer experience must be studied, analyzed and optimized for maximum convenience.

That has become the standard expected by online shoppers. At least, the minimal requirement to achieve some sort of customer satisfaction.

 

Give ‘em an inch, they take a mile

Customer service and CRM professionals will tell you how “customer satisfaction” is the lowest rung in the ladder climb towards much-coveted customer loyalty.

Alas, customer loyalty is a thing of the past; I couldn’t care less who I buy from as long as I get what I want for the price I want right now. The only thing the modern shopper is loyal to is his or her own sense of convenience. Why, because the customer is now in control.

From Amazon to your neighborhood’s online dispensary, the importance of the aforementioned is not lost on them. They all strive towards creating a shopping experience relevant and simple for their target audience via relevant content marketing driving them to their neatly designed user-experience enriched websites in hopes of maximizing their conversion rates.

Reaching your target audience has never been easier, tools and platforms provided by advertising giants such as Google and Facebook have made the process of targeted communication accessible to all.

The past few years have seen the emergence of inbound marketing with a focus on creating content in a bid to raise awareness and drive traffic to their search engine optimized websites. The know-how and tools on how to achieve the minimum expected standard of an online shopping website are universally known and accessible to all.

As global retail sales indicate; there is no shortage of potential online shoppers and shops across the world. However; if all e-commerce businesses are following the same standards required to attract leads to their websites; how does one gain ground in an already saturated market? How can website A sustainably attract more leads than website B?

The key has never been in the recent mantra of “content is king”, the customer will and always will be the king. To gain a competitive advantage over your competition, learn and understand the customer more intimately than ever.

What does the shopper perceive as value in 2018? Convenience.

Convenience is a simple, quick, relevant shopping experience in the spur of the moment. I want… nay demand! the following:

  • On-the-go shopping availability
  • Minimal clicks, please
  • Ability to accommodate my personal preferences.
  • Cheapest or reasonable price.
  • Secure and safe transaction.
  • Fast(er/est) delivery. Right now, if possible

 

E-Commerce - The On Demand Economy

I don’t care about customer or brand loyalty. Deliver on the above and keep evolving your services according to my expectations and you’ll have a returning customer. This is called personalization.

Personalization extends beyond your online presence. Instead of blasting email shots to your database hoping for a bite; you can now formulate accurate, purposeful and deliberate marketing messages tailored to each segment of prospects across each particular marketing channel (e.g.) Instagram, Facebook & etc.

Your customers and leads are not just names and email addresses listed in your CRM system. This is a database full of emotional, rational and irrational human beings taking their time reviewing and sweating over purchasing the next gadget from your website or another. The issue was that the sheer potential of customers available to any online retailer makes it an impossible task to guarantee a convenient personalized shopping experience for everyone.

This issue was foreseen and transformed into a strategic advantage and capability by Amazon.

 

 

The Rise of AI – The Science of Convenience

Enter Artificial Intelligence.

Evolving human consumer behavior necessitated AI and personalization. From Google to Amazon; AI has been a powerful technology to enhance their user experience and in turn, their value to the aforementioned users.

AI fields such as Machine Learning (ML) and Deep Learning (DL) allows your e-commerce business to drill deeper into each customer’s unique preferences, through features that track online behavior, analyze demographics and note product preferences.

They prefer and demand that they be able to make their purchase as quickly as possible whenever and wherever they are.

In Researchscape International’s 2018 study; 74 percent of 300 marketers surveyed said personalization in this field has strongly helped their clients or companies in advancing customer relationships.

Importantly, 88% of the marketers surveyed believe that their prospects/customers expect a personalized experience.

AI has become inevitable. The utilization of AI in any business let alone e-commerce businesses has become an issue for survival let alone growth. According to Accenture Insights forecast for the year 2035, it’s predicted that AI could be responsible for increasing profitability by 59% in wholesale and retail.

Ongoing analysis of historical data and statistics, AI has introduced a more intelligent form of automation from enhancing inventory and delivery management systems to innovative product development and design.

Online retail giants used Machine Learning (ML) to build predictive models that help identify potentially fraudulent transactions or item reviews and to find customers who are at high risk of attrition, enabling you to proactively engage them with promotions or customer service outreach.

ML also provide a more personalized customer experience by using predictive analytics models to recommend items or optimize website flow based on prior customer actions.

Whether through your website or social media channels; your ability to deliver the most relevant results and messages are critical to succeeding in providing shoppers with a personalized experience across all marketing channels.

Retailers who have already embraced AI technology have seen their revenue increase by an eye-watering 6-10%.

With the emergence of various e-commerce businesses; the competition is sharper than ever and AI has enabled giants such as Amazon to combat the challenges common to e-commerce businesses:

  • The battle for the click
  • The abandoned cart
  • The hyper-localized competition in e-commerce

 

Content Personalization

Personalization extends beyond your online presence. Instead of blasting email shots to your database hoping for a bite; you can now formulate accurate, purposeful and deliberate marketing messages tailored to each segment of prospects across each particular marketing channel (e.g.) Instagram, Facebook & etc.

In addition to creating content, promotional offers, and targeted ads on social media, e-commerce marketers should optimize every last detail—including transactional emails like shipping notifications, purchase confirmations, and status updates.

 

E-Commerce and Personalization Survey Data

 

Triggered by buying behaviors, these messages can help generate repeat sales and deepen customer engagement. According to research from Experian, the revenue per email from transactional messages dwarf bulk emails. Open and transaction rates for messages are also higher since shoppers want to know when their orders will arrive.

You can add the following types of optimizations to your transactional emails:

  • Cross-sells based on seasonality and purchase
  • How-to videos and buying guides
  • Links to your mobile app
  • Exclusive offers

 

Smart(er) Search

Whilst we like to use the term ‘smart’ it would be fair to replace it with ‘convenient’. Mainstay apps on our handheld devices (e.g.) Google Maps; offer us one thing: “sustained convenience”.

With people pushing back against digital saturation and time-spent (wasted) consuming content via their smartphone screens, a preference towards a more personal and human experience is only natural. However, that doesn’t mean they are willing to compromise on value (i.e. convenience) expected from their online shopping experiences.

Innovating for the sake of creating a more convenient shopping journey has enabled retail giants to develop solutions such as chatbots and virtual assistants.

Amazon’s Alexa; perhaps the most famous virtual assistant in the world right now, is changing the game via Deep Learning applications to recognize not only voice commands but also emotions at the same time.

Amazon Alexa and other virtual assistants are designed to recognize a request and return a response.  While understanding voice is something that humans can do at a very young age, it is only recently that computers have been able to listen and respond to humans.  Varying accents and speech patterns in humans make this a difficult machine task to complete utilizing more traditional math or computer science.  With Deep Learning, the system of algorithms can more easily determine what was uttered and the intent.

E-commerce chatbots help buyers in looking for the right product, checking product availability, comparing multiple products, and finally, helping make the payment.

 

Recommendation Engines

Online shopping often involves personalized content recommendations related to items you might like to purchase, movies you might want to watch, or news you might be interested in reading.  Historically, these systems were powered by humans creating associations between items. However, with the advent of Big Data and Deep Learning, humans are no longer necessary since algorithms can now identify the items that might interest you by examining your past purchases or product visits, and comparing that information to that of others.

 

E-Commerce and AI: Live or die

Like it or not; AI is here to stay. Amazon’s AI infrastructure enabled them to gain a commanding 37% of the e-commerce market. According to Sellbrite; Amazon will be responsible for the half of the online sales in the world in 2021.

Despite Amazon’s behemoth size, Jeff Bezos remains wary of the evolving needs to maintain their standing as the global retail market leader.

Over the last few years, more and more marketing touch points have been created. Ranging from stores to websites and from chatbots to voice assistants, consumers use these (and many more!) contact points at all times of day and at all possible locations. Moreover, they expect a consistent and personalized experience, and preferably one in which all information is updated instantly throughout all communication channels.

It’s important that we stop considering digital and physical as separate entities, and ask instead how we can design experiences that connect with the people around us, enabled by digital in a physical world.

AI is a necessity if you wish to remain relevant in the future and maintain your competitive edge. But as much as your business is a slave to the algorithm, you can harness AI to surge ahead. Those who neglect it will fall behind in the race.

 

This is the first chapter of a series that focus on Artificial Intelligence implementations, advances and their impact on our daily lives and economy. The author is passionate about exploring the evolution of the relationship between humans and machines. I would love to discuss and hear from you your opinions about the direction of where this relationship is going.

 

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