From Browser to Buyer: How Smart Solutions Are Transforming E-Commerce

Shopping: It’s not what it once was. Forget the long drive to the mall and countless hours of browsing. Customers now simply log in from the comfort of their own home to have the world at their fingertips.

The massive uptake of e-commerce is an unprecedented shift in consumer behavior, expectations and purchases. The evidence is in the numbers: Internet shopping is the most popular online activity. Revenues have doubled in the past five years, from total sales of US $1.336 billion in 2014 to an expected $2.842 billion this year.

Meanwhile, for traditional brick-and-mortar stores, patronage has continued to slide every year. Last year’s holiday season demonstrated the true power of modern, online shopping, as more U.S. consumers planned to purchase their gifts from the Internet rather than in stores.

To keep up with rapidly evolving consumer behavior and historic demand, online retailers need to be more efficient and reliable than ever before. One of the best ways to do so is by integrating tech-based analytics and artificial intelligence.

More than just a buzzword or sci-fi concept, artificial intelligence already has a multitude of applications to convert browsers into buyers. Things like user personalization, registered shopping habits, tailored advertisements and customer engagement can push the likelihood of purchase toward e-commerce retailers — and that is just the tip of the iceberg.

From Browser to Buyer

Consider the importance of the customer — the human element in this equation. Customers are the ones who need to be convinced that their decision to purchase is the right one, and tech-based analytics help to improve the likelihood that their decisions go in the vendor’s favor.

For starters, analytics tools backed by artificial intelligence have been getting much better at creating user profiles of each customer. These can reveal valuable information on each and every visitor — from age to gender to what they actually do on the store website.

This information then can be used by any given e-commerce store to influence other parts of the business, such as online store design and special offers. Is a customer a repeat visitor? Does the customer search for specific categories? What is the customer’s average spend? These insights and many more can help to segment buyers and improve appeals to individuals.

Back in the real, non-virtual, brick-and-mortar world, businesses also have been monitoring customers more closely than ever before. Artificial intelligence solutions are used to monitor facial expressions and emotional reactions as people shop.

While this may sound like some sort of dystopian surveillance scheme, the tech aims largely to combat shoplifting. It also garners some usable data for stores, though, revealing which areas of the shop attract the most foot-traffic or what elicits the strongest reaction.

In the end, these methods allow companies to know their customers better than ever before. Essentially it all comes down to better customer relationship management: Applications that streamline the entire process from person to purchase require less manpower to achieve better results.

The Best Store Possible

It’s under the hood of e-commerce stores where the possibilities of analytics and artificial intelligence really come to the fore. Smart systems are able to help businesses manage their inventory, automate indexing, instantly categorize, detect low-quality images, and flag objectionable content faster than ever before.

Humans no longer need to go through each post and every page manually. Instead, analytical tools can be used to maximum effect, making the online customer experience as smooth as possible.

Automated processes help to optimize a website, which in the world of e-commerce and online browsing is of the utmost importance. Some software operates like artificial intelligence with vision — essentially using advanced image and video recognition to see the world as humans do.

Machine learning then allows these systems to sort through huge volumes of data and customize Web pages for each shopper. It’s this personalization that is key to winning over buyers.

The more a website can appeal to individual needs, the more likely a browser will become a buyer.

This can take the form of anything from a simple website greeting to something more elaborate like a chatbot. Almost half of consumers who participated in a survey last year reported live chat as their preferred way to connect, and roughly the same number of shoppers said they would buy from a chatbot.

Evidently, high-tech solutions and relatively straightforward customer connections can live side-by-side in the online environment.

Market to Me

These trends all point to one simple aim for e-commerce platforms: Sell more things. No matter how much the world or technology changes, selling goods and services to customers always will be the paramount aim. So, the last — but likely largest — element to discuss is the impact these technologies have on advertising and customer experience.

The latest technologies herald a movement toward individual, tailored marketing. Unlike past advertisements, which aimed for blanket appeal, advanced marketing solutions can pinpoint customer desires and accurately foreground products for every single user.

This method can be incredibly effective, with the right ad in the right place allowing e-commerce stores to snag customers before they leave the house. An estimated 80 percent of shoppers conduct online research even when they plan to buy an item in-store. Therefore, when marketed with intent, e-commerce retailers can attract customers by the sheer benefit of being online and adjacent to information the customer requires.

All of these metrics allow analytical tools to retarget prospective customers with meticulous precision. For instance, these systems can recognize when a customer spends a notable amount of time browsing a specific product and store this information for the next time that customer visits. This knowledge can then be used to make special offers or promotions based on the previous user activity.

Tech-based systems effectively remove missed sales opportunities. In fact, the marketing opportunities using artificial intelligence are almost endless. Cart abandonment rates, ease of catalog navigation and customer engagement all can be improved through the implementation of smart, customer-based systems.

Just the Beginning

The e-commerce sector is ripe for collaboration with artificial intelligence systems. They can improve customer service, pinpoint marketing, and overhaul ineffective online stores — and that is just the start. There are many other elements of marketing and sales that can be improved significantly through the implementation of smart systems, and the uptake is expected to continue.

By the year 2020, 85 percent of a client’s relationship with a business will be managed without the need for human interaction, Gartner has predicted. The message seems to be clear: join the revolution or get out of the way.

E-commerce has been generating historic demand, and failure to integrate smart solutions that convert browsers to buyers ultimately could hurt a company’s bottom line.

Abhijit Shanbhag

Abhijit Shanbhag is the president and chief executive officer of Graymatics, an artificial intelligence company that classifies images and videos to provide customer-centric solutions.

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