How e-commerce businesses can maximise AI this Black Friday

Here, David Duke, chief operations officer at Visualsoft, explores the key areas in which AI tech is transforming the field of e-commerce for small businesses.

Artificial intelligence (AI) has exploded into the public consciousness in 2017, and is well on the way to transforming almost every aspect of business. In fact, it is estimated that 85 per cent of customer and client interactions will be handled without a human by 2020.

This is particularly true in the field of e-commerce. From creating personalised shopping experiences to offering virtual buying assistants, AI is transforming the online shopping experience for consumers and retailers alike by replacing the traditional personal touch of a live sales assistant in a bricks-and-mortar store.

As Black Friday – one of the most popular shopping dates on the retail calendar, which saw UK consumers spend almost £6 billion last year – fast approaches, many e-commerce businesses are now looking for ways they can innovate and engage more customers during this period. This is especially true considering that more and more savvy shoppers now prefer to avoid the stress of the instore Black Friday experience by shopping online.

Here, we’ll take a look at the key areas in which AI tech is transforming the field of e-commerce, as well as the reasons why growing e-retailers should be making use of this tech to profit this Black Friday.

Visual search – a more intelligent way to search for products

Visual search is a term which has recently hit the headlines after ASOS pioneered its use in a mainstream capacity. Visual search allows shoppers to use their smartphone to take a picture of items they see and like in the real world, and then AI technology can be used to recommend something similar. The basic idea is to take a key search term such as ‘blue skirt’, and use the medium of imagery to replace it with something far more tailored to what the customer is actually looking for.

In a way, this is simply a real-world continuation of ASOS’s (aka As Seen On Screen) original objective – making it possible for people to buy the clothing they’ve seen their favourite TV or film stars wearing on screen. The obvious extension here is that visual search allows consumers to emulate fashion trends which they’ve seen on any screen – from the television or cinema screen, through to the screens we currently view the world through such as mobile or tablet devices.

Considering that 80 per cent of ASOS’s business comes from mobile, and that mobile commerce is set to become ever more important to retail – with research suggesting that UK shoppers will spend a total of £27 billion over mobile devices in the year 2017 – visual search could be a key innovation for growing businesses. This is particularly true for the fashion sector, as small companies look to steal a march on their more established rivals ahead of this year’s Black Friday.

Smaller businesses who take a proactive stance in designing their online storefronts to take advantage of visual search, offering their customers a way to find the products they are looking for quickly and without undue hassle, stand an excellent chance of engaging whole new demographics ahead of the Black Friday weekend.

Offering a more personalised shopping experience

In today’s increasingly competitive online marketplace, a key way for growing retailers to stand out from the crowd will always be through offering the best customer experience.
A great way for businesses to offer their customers memorable, engaging experiences is through personalised products and services which fulfil their unique needs. However, this personalisation must find a balance between presence and intrusion.

According to research from Adlucent, nearly three quarters (71 per cent) of consumers find personalised products and tailored advertising helpful, but can be turned off by unsuitable ads that they feel ‘follow them around’ when they’re browsing the internet.

This is where AI comes to the fore. AI can be used to analyse masses of data far more quickly and efficiently than any human being. This in turn means that patterns can be spotted in customer buying data, allowing brands to tailor specific Black Friday offers and products to each customer dependent on their preferences and buying history. This ability to process information gives e-retailers unparalleled insights into consumer behaviour, offering a level of personalisation which has never been possible before.

The shopping assistant of the future?

Another way in which online retailers could make use of AI is through offering customers a new kind of personal shopper – essentially a virtual assistant which is tailored to their unique needs and desires.

Whatever the consumer may be looking for, AI can take the simple product search to the next level by tracking the shopper’s sales history, browsing habits, and even their social media activity (Instagram likes etc) to pick out personalised recommendations which the user may not have even considered.

For example, Levi’s makes effective use of an AI ‘virtual stylist’ to help shoppers find their ‘perfect pair of jeans’, offering a tailored service, while aiming to reduce returns by providing calculated sizing recommendations.

Considering the fact that more than four in five consumers (81 per cent) conduct research before making a purchasing decision, spending more than 75 per cent of their shopping time doing so, retailers who provide the customer with a way to streamline this process are well-placed to reap the rewards this Black Friday.

This is a particularly useful tool for appealing to impulsive customers who may be browsing over the holiday shopping period, as this technology can be used to pick out products based on each customer’s preferred styles, colours, and price points/budget, making it far more likely for these customers to add these products to their cart on a whim.

Spotting new trends ahead of the competition

The ability AI affords to quickly process masses of data can also be used for spotting new and emerging trends – what consumers are buying at the moment, as well as what they may be looking for in the near future.

AI accomplishes this by ‘crawling’ through the web to find which products are selling well (eg by topping the ‘best sellers’ list on different e-commerce sites) at any given time.
This will be particularly useful over the Black Friday period because it allows online retailers to see instantaneously which products they should be promoting front and centre as part of the Black Friday sales, as well as which products they could offer a discount on to stimulate an additional surge in demand.

AI can also be used to analyse data across social media sites – quickly spotting what customers are talking about in order to identify the most exciting emerging trends. This also allows brands to lead the pack by offering the most popular products ahead of their competition, which is crucial for a growing retailer looking to attract customers away from more established e-commerce brands such as Amazon and Ebay.

How will we see AI tech implemented moving forwards?

AI has been tipped by many to be the ‘next big thing’ set to transform online retail as we know it, from providing automated assistants, to providing previously unheard of levels of personalisation, to giving customers innovative new ways to shop and search for their products.

One such example of this would be voice search – the ability to search for products online using nothing but your voice.

Since the explosion in popularity for voice-activated virtual assistants such Amazon’s Alexa and Google Home, more and more shoppers have been doing their shopping via voice search. In fact, ComScore forecasts that by the year 2020, half of all web searches will be carried out using voice.

AI technology is used here to help voice activated devices ‘understand’ what is being said to them, as well as to help them learn how to better recognise words and phrases over time.
Considering the convenience this shopping method potentially holds for customers, as well as the rapidly rising popularity of such devices, retailers should be looking to take advantage of this emerging technology, which we predict is only set to become more popular as time goes on.

AI can also be used as an incredibly valuable customer service tool. Whilst there is no replacement for the human touch in customer service, adequately responding to every single query from every single customer – particularly over the notoriously busy Black Friday weekend – is nigh-on impossible, particularly for growing retailers without the resources others may have.

AI’s benefits for smaller companies

This is where AI could be hugely beneficial for these smaller companies. By providing a new way for brands to engage with their customer base online, AI technology creates an innovative way for businesses to be present for their customers all over the world 24/7, while still allowing them to focus their efforts on other important areas of the business, as well as saving money on dedicated customer service staff.

In terms of preparing for this paradigm shift and implementing an AI strategy, growing businesses need to begin to make arrangements now. The most important consideration will be in looking at current staff and seeing where skills can be instilled throughout the workforce which will complement the abilities which AI will bring. This will allow companies to harness AI to its fullest potential as a tool to support growth, rather than completely replacing current employees and potentially disrupting the business.

Overall, advances in emerging technologies such as AI could be set to revolutionise online retail as we know it, forever altering the way we both buy and sell. Particularly for forward-thinking businesses looking to stand out from the pack ahead of this Black Friday weekend, AI presents a tremendously exciting opportunity, and one that should not be missed for growing businesses looking to stand out in the increasingly competitive online marketplace.

David Duke is chief operations officer at Visualsoft

Further reading on artificial intelligence

Ben Lobel

Ben Lobel

Ben Lobel was the editor of from 2010 to 2018. He specialises in writing for start-up and scale-up companies in the areas of finance, marketing and HR.

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