In these turbulent times of pandemic, there is one industry that thrive – eCommerce. More consumer going online, contactless purchase and large and rich offering of products, make it ideal choice. in this article we will look at the best AI products and tools for eCommerce shop and what should be strategy to succeed.
 
 
There are many articles that talk about AI in eCommerce, but they are all ‘inspirational’ nature and not providing concrete steps what to do and where to start with AI tools that can improve your business. This is the main reason for today’s article – how-to guide for AI in eCommerce – as I am person that love to see action and results. Therefore this guide is about applied AI, and for inspirations, I will write another articles to give you range of moon-shot ideas how you can develop amazing AI product in the future. Now, let’s look how we can apply some “AI-magic” today.
 
 
Artificial intelligence in eCommerce have a strong roots, as online shop rely on data and fast protocols. We will separate article in four areas to consider:
1 – Where to start and sections for growth to look for
2 – Products and tools you should look at
3 – Where to start depending on your current stage
4 – My opinion on hottest trends in online shopping
 
 
 
Why to use artificial intelligence in eCommerce?
 
Pandemic pushed eCommerce into huge increase – 71% growth in online sales year-over-year was recorded for the second quarter of 2020 (Source: Salesforce). This mean more work. more people, more deliveries, returns, responses to customer – more stress one could say, but fear not – some AI could improve processes for you. All you need to look for are bottlenecks created with increased demand and than search for the products that can improve efficiency. Remember that demand will continue, therefore efficiency in your process will pay itself very quickly.
 
 
It was also a chance for traditional retailers, such as Target to find their mojo and focus on online shopping, with Target.com achieving an amazing 80% increase in profit for the second quarter of 2020. Therefore being a startup or established retailer, this is a chance to take digital transformation to the next level and go all in on online shopping.
 
 
Question is where to start? It’s a famous marketing change to say half a budget is wasted, but which half? Again, strategy is the most important step before starting your transformation project. Being informed, doing proper research, setting up goals and budgets and then laser focus execution separated in stages, so you can fine tune and optimize your process for the best results. Easy. Here is a breakdown and assessment of areas you can improve with links and suggestions of the products you may consider using.
 

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1.
 
Here are the several areas you should consider improving with AI:
 
– Marketing and Advertising
More consumers go online to buy products, if you improve efficiency in customer acquisition, you can reduce cost and therefore reach more customer without increasing budget. As acquiring new customers can give you good prediction of acceleration you can expect in the next several months, it’s good to start here and calculate if you serve more customers and reduce cost, how much more you can grow your business. On short terms, next 6 months, it’s easy to see savings and investing in tools that can pay itself in this period is easy sell. Don’t be afraid to change processes, and focus on that rather than experimenting with new processes, channels or ideas. As if you expect strong growth, your new experiment may not work and give you another things to resolve at already busy times, while improvement on current process mean, you will be able to bring more revenue in – and reduce workflow. Than once you feel that you reach coping well with current process and rate of growth, you will have time to dedicate to new experiments. Social media is great for connecting to customers and inspiring them, but look at your conversion rates well to make sure those inspired customers bring in dollars and try to focus on increase average value of purchase, so you know that your efforts in special media connect to customers who LOVE your products and services. Goal is always to connect to your most valuable customers.
 
 
– Customer support
I am big fan of chatbots. But most of them failed. Even Macy’s had virtual shopping assistant and its use was limited and rather showing their vision to grow int he future with new technology. When I find solution that can seamlessly integrate with your eCommerce platform and leads customer to purchase without one friction, I will update here. In meantime, don’t hesitate to contact me for more information and my experience leading marketing for eCommerce shop in USA with over $30 million in yearly sales. We where not huge as Amazon for sure, but we employed data scientist 10 years ago and automated many processes in marketing and customer journey.
 
Regards customer support chat software Crisp is really nice choice, with elegant design and good list of features at low price. They do have option of automated chatbot which can co-work with human customer service for the best results – and this is really good options, as many customer questions are simple, like how i track my order or where to find certain product range and chatbot can help here. Also can pre-screen customer and tag  conversations so they can be answered by appropriate person. Savings can be great for reducing workload on your customer support team and if you carefully craft your automated responses, it can also delight your customers. My recommendation is to plan i t thinking from customer point of view, not your, so focus on problem customer can have, not on products or services you offer. We are coming back to conversational marketing. Goal is to connect to needs, not just sell.
 
 
– Operation and fulfillment
This is where Amazon made name for itself and that should make you think – well there is a many places to improve. Solutions depends really on per case basis, depends on you company structure, where are your warehouses, most of your customers, are you planing on expanding to new markets where you want o wow customers with fast delivery times and similar.
 
For whorehouse automation and those adorable AI robots that move packages themselves, you should look at 6river who are the leaders in space. You should really plan for the future and look at the long term savings you can achieve. Ask 6river for presentation and do your math with your accountant and think about it as strategic move.
 
Faster improvement – and ta the lower cost – can be brought-in by improving your fulfillment software, without changing any hardware. As mentioned above Edited is good for ordering and trends setting, while Fabric is company that can build efficient software for your stock and fulfillment management.
 
 
– Up-sell and cross-sell
We always say that selling to current customer is much more cost effective than reaching a new customer. You should look at your customer life-cycle and where and at which point you can sell them other products or services. Also it is great area where to look for partnerships, and wow your customers.
 
Two of below tools – Drift and Appier are both focused on helping you improve relationship with our customer – and therefore up-sells or cross-sell.
 

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2.

AI products for eCommerce 

Here are campaniles i can warmly recommend you. Lot of products or tools built with AI are still customer. And you can find companies in your local area which can help you build custom solution. In that case most important is that you have feeling they understand your needs, not their products, same as you will understand needs of your customers, not just sell your products.

DRIFT
Drift.com

One of my favorite products around is Drift – platform is well designed and brings very smooth experience in starting conversation and acquiring new customers. Its focused more on B2B customers, but I love it as tool for eCommerce too, from that side could a bit pricey, but if you calculate increase in your conversion and how much valuable would be to connect to your most valuable customers, its very worth.

Drift is famous for conversational marketing, which present simple yet powerful concept that selling is connecting to your customer needs, not talking about your product. It’s conversation that lead to understanding needs and finding a solutions that lay within the reach of each customer. Check video below.

Appier
Appier.com

Appier is focused on increasing conversion through your marketing and advertising efforts. From that stand point its easy to see it as a part of your suite or main tools, as it can bring savings at the front of your process, at point of customer acquisitions, and also can increase conversion, which is kind of magic of eCommerce, as each small percentage of increase in conversion mean that your WHOLE company process is more efficient as you getting more revenue for the same effort. Therefore I warmly recommend you to look at Appier and measure your conversion rate. Appier have an amazing suite of products and good resources too, check this one-hour webinar on how to respond to changing customer behavior.

EDITED
Edited.com

If you are in fashion segment, selling clothes or shoes online, EDITED is one of my favorite platforms. Edited platform is used by merchandisers, monitoring and optimizing products in your store. You can monitor needs of your customers, marketplace trends and your competition, which allow you to really granularity make decisions what to stock at which level and price, prepare future trends and make sure you are in front of your competition. I would call it essential, as while you need to focus on getting customer to door and increasing your conversion, both won’t work unless your offering is correct.

Video presentations are great for getting overview, also check their article on emerging trend of face masks, as they are in-demand products that changing rapidly with new features and designs coming up all the time.

Edited is amazing platform that comes with well designed suit fo tools and really give you seamless experience in working on your products and stocks. If you are interested just in price comparisons, there are a few simple and affordable options such as Prisync.

Visenze
Visenze.com

Visual search is another topic that is closely related to AI. For now I heaven’t see any real-world examples where it works smoothly and being really useful, but there are several interesting options. Yes, I am visiting startups and technology conferences in USA, Europe and Asia for years, and see ‘magic AI mirrors’ that should dress you up and similar presentations, but none really had good products choice or UI and UX that could create experience better than just using your mobile to shop while laying on sofa. Still, it’s early in Ai industry and in 5-10 years we will see real implementations.

Visenze is one of the companies that work on real-world solutions for visual search and I do think they are good option to consider, but previously make sure that you have clear understanding how new features will improve your process and influence your growth. They have great list of clients such as UNIQLO, Rakuten, Zalora, Urabn Outfitters – therefore it’s worth talking to them.

Shelf
https://shelf.ai

I mentioned my love for chatbot. I do think that most of communications and shopping will be done through chatbots int he future, it’s just case that they are still not as ‘smart’ as we would like to, so they can help us shop and order without any issues.

Well Shelf.ai is different story, this is the only company I know to offer almost out from the shelf solutions for shopping through voice chatbot and it actually works. You can watch demo below and I am looking forward to see more integrations and exciting news from Shelf team in Portugal.

There are other development companies that can build custom solution similar to Shelf, but it would take a long time and big budget. If you know for another company that offer good of-the-shelf chatbot, please let me know. I think Dialogflow is technology that can offer closest solution, but again you will need agency or a few developers to help you build AI solution with Dialogflow (which is Google products by the way, which is another value to it).

Check demo of Shift.ai shopping app on YouTube

 

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3.

Advise on where to start with optimizing your online store

You can not expect to start all at once, therefore you must prepare good plan on how to evaluate prospects, apply and implement, measure success. I recommend you to take time and do this preparation carefully before you start. As Einstein said, he would think 55 minutes about possible solutions for problem and work 5 minutes on actually resolving the problem. The right solution can really improve your business quickly, but solution that is not suitable for your company – at this stage – can bring more workflow and rather burden on already busy departments.

Fact is – if you have fast growing positive cash-flow, you can sort almost everything in your company. Even if you want to rely on funding for start and not your cash, showing that you can generate fast cash-flow will help you raise funds at much better conditions. Its kind of showing that you plan, but also fight. Therefore I always recommend looking at how to increase your cash flow first.

If you have a huge number of orders right now (A), you may choke at some bottleneck in the ordering process and this could be the first thing to tackle and unlock more sales coming in and getting that revenue. Look for tool that cover fulfillment or customer service if bottlenecks are there.

If you don’t have a large number of order right now (B), you care better in focusing on marketing tools first, as there is evidently more demand for online products and services, therefore you need to get out and promote your products. Marketing automation and social media, email marketing are your friends there. Remember that paid advertising is the fastest way to reach new consumers, but you have to be careful that your budget won’t overdo your ability to operate with increased sales – you still need to fulfill all orders and make sure that new customers are satisfied, therefore making them into your evangelists who will recommend your service. Try marketing and adverting automation AI tools such as Drift and Appier mentioned below are for you to consider.

If you consider that you company have enough customer coming in, so marketing is not your main focus now, and you fulfill all order perfectly, therefore you sleep quietly at night (and we all in eCommerce envy you) – than you can look into improving your operations and open your company to expansion (C). There are new channels (such as TikTok which will become American apps soon) and new ideas how to impress your customers and give them feeling they are part of the future and be proud of using your brand (something Apple did well in smartphone market). Remember – if you don’t change your business, someone else will. This world is constantly changing and to keep your company relevant – you MUST change.

“Ironically, in a changing world, playing it safe is one of the riskiest things you can do.”
― Reid Hoffman, entrepreneur, investor and co-founder of LinkedIn

If you need above innovative solution, something to show you are at the forefront of industry, you really looking at building customer AI solution for you. This is something that many agencies offer. There are also tool from big name companies, such as Watson AI from IBM, which was sued to build several smart solutions for eCommerce. Yet, working with AI startups can be more satisfying for a start as you will help them shape their offering and process will be more cost effective for you too. Before you start – think where your company will be in 5 years. What will your customer LOVE to do in 5 years that you can help them with? Focused on trends of changing your customer behavior before expanding your business.

 

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4.

 

– My opinion on step to eCommerce success in 2020. and 2021.

This may surprise you – but I won’t talk about social media or AI assistant. This article is ‘how to’ guide on taking steps that will result in intimidate increase in revenue. Creating Ai apps for social media or smart assistants is interesting and exciting, but it may take long time to pay off for the investment. For sure you should consider positive impact on your PR, customer satisfaction and brand value. They will all increase with interesting AI project – but than it all depends on how big budget you can dedicate without expecting immediate return.

Here are my A and B. Two areas where AI can automate process, improving your business in just few weeks and probably pay itself off in around 6 – 12 months. Well that’s what I love about AI and eCommerce. Results.

 

A

With over 10 years of experience in e-commerce and being addicted to AI and automation, I can tell you in a blink fo eye I would start with customer on-boarding. No matter at which phase you are, if you automate process which starting your customer journey with WOW – you will amazing customer, being new or existing, make them feel comfit able, secure and happy – and it will lead to the Holy Grail of eCommerce – conversion. Customer on-boarding is also are where you can experiment and measure results quickly – therefore learn more about your customers – again, new of existing. And if you innovate and at the first touch-point with your customer – your brand will appear fresh, exciting and grow in value (read ‘opinion of your customers’). Optimizing first touch-point also mean that you can improve  your conversion and bottom line – bringing in better cash-flow fast (those are the magic words).

 

B

This one may surprise you, but second is email marketing. Before most of your customers switch using one app exclusively for all purchasing and communication (which does happen with WeChat in China), email marketing is your best communication channel that can bring results fast. Your customers still opening newsletters, you stills ending transaction emails and after they meet your brand on social media or in some add – best bet to keep them connected with you is – yes, email marketing.

When I was marketing manager for a fashion eCommerce company in USA, we had huge PPC traffic coming in (annual budget in millions of dollars). My email campaigns were fully automated, welcoming customers from the first touch – visiting online shop and subscribing to email. You should show that you care about their needs and not only my promote products – the email campaign should contains offers, sales and product discovery – and then point to why and how those products can help you – “your new blouse is not a house, its your ticket to show your creative side and achieve success on your next Zoom meeting. Next to your new blouse, camera will show your surrounding, so popular choice is to setup shelf with books behind your working desk.” Customer understanding that we care about her/him and their success is our success. After purchase I was following with email checking how enjoyable new products are for customer If they have any issues – this is time resolve it before they get to product review process. Therefore send email after they receive package and put your contact details making sure your customer can call, email ro chat with customer support. Be personal. “Adele is here for you, every working day from 8am to 5pm. Not sure how to wash your blouse? It bit big and you would  like to exchange it – call Adele and she will sort it in a few minutes – we are at 800 …”. If all is good – engage your customers, give them money back. Yes, you heard that right. My campaign email said “Love your new product? Now review it for your chance to get your money back! – Each month we pick 3 customer reviews and refund their full order – just for writing the most useful tips for products they purchased.”  Works like magic – we get lot of reviews and new customers get lot of tips. We also announce winners in social media and on our online store to make sure everyone know they can win money back.

Again – Appier and Drift, can both help with using AI to optimize your process and build amazing on-boarding and email marketing campaign. Wow your customer. Excite them on every step of their journey.

 

How, we at Mission.ai help?
Dean (that’s me) helped several companies with their digital transformation strategy and execution. I started in 2006, when as Art director for a magazine publishing company, transformed it into a digital media powerhouse with eCommerce component and overall annual revenue of $60M. My love for eCommerce and automation never stopped and in 2016 I was chosen by Porsche Holding, retail arm of Volkswagen group with $25 bilion in revenue, to help them with digital transformation of purchasing cars online through AI chatbots and omni-channel experience. If you need help with your digital transformation and how to efficiently improve your business with AI, don’t hesitate to contact me, I do not charge for chat over a coffee (and maybe a cake too).

 
 

Below: In 2016. I presented AI chatbot solution to Porsche Holding at VW Group, as solution for the future car shopping in online or any point of sale environment. eCommerce can be applied to automotive market, move that Tesla proved with their business model.