How AI solutions are helping online retail thrive in the new normal

Aparajeeta Das, CEO of Cloudhiti Inc., explains how integrating AI into online store not only provides a seamless experience for users, but the delivers crucial data insights so you can keep on building your business based on data-driven decision-making.

As a result of the pandemic, thousands — if not millions — of retail stores across the globe were forced to embrace an online-only model. In fact, by April 21st, there had been a 146% growth in all online retail orders compared to the same time the year prior, and with consumers realizing the benefits and convenience of online shopping, it’s likely that this trend will stick. Yet while this transition to online-only may have been easy for those businesses that already had a comprehensive digital presence, e-commerce is still a relatively new domain for a lot of smaller players.

At the heart of a successful retail strategy is customer experience, and here’s where artificial intelligence comes in. Often seen as an unattainable technology for smaller e-commerce businesses, leveraging AI is a lot more accessible than you might think thanks to pre-built solutions that can be integrated into your online presence. Here are our top ways that AI solutions can help your retail business thrive in the new normal.

AI-powered chatbots

Chatbots have come a long way since their early days of rule-based pathways and impersonal communication. Now, enhanced with natural language processing technologies, AI chatbots help retail businesses with sales, marketing, operations, and customer relationships.

AI chatbots are able to interact with customers in a natural, conversational way, while providing immediate answers to complex customer queries, 24/7. Not only this, but chatbots with machine learning integrated continuously learn from customer queries to become more efficient and accurate when responding to future questions.

When it comes to customer experience, AI chatbots have the power to solidify customer relationships and build brand loyalty due to their accuracy and reliability. In fact, 66% of customers in this Microsoft survey prefer to use self-service first before dealing with a human representative, while this report shows that customers want instant support that’s available at all time.

A great example of an online retailer leveraging AI chatbots to enhance customer experience is H&M. H&M’s chatbot responds to information that the user provides with relevant outfit choices, totals up the price of items, and interacts in a conversational tone to connect with younger generations — even using emojis.

When imagining the time and resources that would be required to provide that same level of service with a human customer service representative, AI chatbots for retail websites are simply a no-brainer.

Recommendation algorithms

Another way that AI can help retail businesses boost sales and CX is by recommending relevant products to customers based on their previous buying history and ratings. By integrating an AI algorithm into an online store’s infrastructure, businesses can more easily upsell and cross sell their products as they target customers with only the most relevant items to suit their needs and wants. Not only does this heighten the chance for further sales, but customers grow more loyal to your brand as they feel you understand their choices and don’t bombard them with irrelevant suggestions.

A great example of an online retailer that nails this is Amazon. Amazon provides personalized recommendations using item-based collaborative filtering, making a unique homepage for every single one of its millions of customers and providing suggestions via email too. Not only this, but Amazon also utilizes the data of other customers to recommend “frequently bought together” items that could also be of use. An astounding 35% of Amazon’s sales come from these recommendations.

While Amazon’s technological power may be out of reach for the standard online retailer, there are still ways that you can leverage AI algorithms to provide a personalized experience to your customers. With no need to build out a data science team in-house, expert partners now exist to assist online businesses along their AI journey by providing ready-made solutions.

Semantic search

E-commerce websites that feature semantic search engine capabilities allow customers to find the precise information or product they’re looking for, saving them time and streamlining the buying process. Search engines enhanced with AI go further than simply responding to keywords, but actually understand the context of a query, even when written in conversational language. Semantic search engines also provide more relevant results based on the user’s historical data.

Let’s say your customer wants to buy some red men’s sneakers for under $200. A standard, syntaxic search engine wouldn’t be able to make sense of which words were descriptors or comprehend natural language expressions. However, if they typed that exact phrase — “red men’s sneakers for under $200” — into a semantic search bar, it’d understand exactly what they’re looking for.

Integrating AI technologies into your online store not only provides a seamless experience for users, but the algorithm also delivers crucial data insights so you can keep on building your business based on data-driven decision-making. Armed with clearer knowledge than ever before on the needs of your customers and the best ways to provide them, your business will be set to not only survive – but thrive – as we enter into a new normal of retail.

This blog was originally posted at Towards Data Science.

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