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Artificial intelligence is changing the face of online shopping

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is changing the way you shop online. Specifically, it’s driving a change in two areas – search and customer service.

Advancements in AI like deep learning and machine leaning combined with the rise in mobile commerce are now being put to use by retailers and e-commerce sites such as Amazon to improve the lives of online consumers. Both are software that learn to perform complex tasks without active supervision by humans.

How search is changing

Traditional search engines such as Google have been using algorithms that pick on a string of keywords to throw up results that they think are closest to what searchers are looking for. While this approach worked for those looking for news items and some such, it was not really ideal for online shoppers. With advancements in AI, online search has got that much more “cleverer”, with even “visual search” gaining grounds with retailers.

Retail companies are using a combination of analytics, machine learning, deep learning, computer vision and facial recognition to compete in online business. The latter, for example, is the same technology that drives self-driving cars. Amazon is already using these technologies in its new Amazon Go grocery stores. For now, it’s deployed this in one store in Seattle, but expansion will follow suit.

One of the biggest examples of visual search is ‘Pinterest Lens’. Launched late 2016, this service allows consumers to point their mobile phone cameras at any commodity, and then conduct an online visual search. Lens, thus, goes beyond words to include images from the real world.

How does it work? While image-detection programs identify an object, visual search digs up images similar to that object.

The other advancement in online search uses Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP).  This is a science that looks at the way in which human beings think (Neuro), the language patterns they use (Linguistic) and behaviors (Programming), and how these interact to effect human beings as individuals, both positive or negative.

Some retailers have started applying the NLP approach, which is based on AI enabling computer programs to understand human speech, to search, allowing shoppers to search for items in a manner which is similar to asking a store help in person for the same.

There are some retail companies that have claimed an amount of success in sales after deployment of advances in search. Well-known American luxury department store Neiman Marcus,  for example, has increased app usage and customer engagement after implementing visual search. Other retail brands that are successfully using visual search include Shoes.com, Nordstrom, and Urban Outfitters.

You are being serviced by a chatbot

A recent report by Juniper Research found that chatbots would “redefine” the customer service industry, and forecast that the technology would save over US $8 billion in operational costs by 2022. Another study by IBM showed that 65% of millennials preferred interacting with bots instead of talking to real human beings. Needless to say, the bots have truly arrived.

Bots have become popular with etailers because of the increasing reliance on mobile messaging apps and the need for 24/7 customer service as business goes global. Brands are using chatbots to offer recommendations and services, and even to automate the purchase process.

The most popular chatbot platforms are Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, WeChat, and Slack. Top brands like Uber and Burberry have successfully deployed chatbots to acquire new customers, while retaining the old ones.

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