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7 Things eCommerce Merchants Need To Know About AI

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To stay competitive as an online seller, you need to keep up with the latest trends and strategies. After all, the eCommerce world moves extremely fast. New technologies filter into the mainstream, shopper expectations shift, and any merchant who fails to adapt inevitably gets left behind by their competitors.

One of the technologies that’s providing the most influence in this field is artificial intelligence (AI). The biggest brands in the world are investing heavily in it, and anyone with the ambition to grow their business should consider doing the same. If you’re running an eCommerce business and are curious about what it could offer you, give some thought to these 7 things about AI:

THE NAME IS SOMEWHAT MISLEADING

When you think of AI, what springs to mind? For some, the term conjures up images of sentient robots. We can blame the world of science fiction for this.

In truth, AI — at least, as we talk about it now and implement it for business purposes — isn’t real AI, which is to say that it doesn’t actually involve artificial intelligence. Instead, it consists of hardware, programs, and processes designed to mimic certain practical elements of human decision-making. Why do you need to know this? Because you must understand that “AI” isn’t a magic bullet — it’s all just math, and merely a tool like any other.

IT’S ALREADY OPTIMIZING PPC

When you create a PPC campaign and set it live, you’ll no doubt have options about how to achieve iterative improvement, with one of the options being to allow the system to automatically optimize. You may have never thought about it, but this is AI at work.

On top of those built-in functions, there are various pieces of third-party optimization software on the market like Optmyzr’s PPC toolkit, for example. What they all have in common is that they use machine learning to steadily yield better results: whenever a change is made, the consequences are logged and used to determine the next change to make.

IT’S ALSO CHANGING ORGANIC SEARCH

PPC isn’t the only digital marketing traffic source being affected by AI, of course. Organic search — chiefly Google, though Bing and other options like DuckDuckGo have their moments — is being hugely affected by machine learning technology, all enabled by the same understanding of natural language that drove chatbots to their current capabilities.

Think about how the much-discussed rise of semantic search has changed the role of keywords in SEO (something exceptionally important for marketing). No longer do you need to rigidly stick to a small set of keywords. Instead, search crawlers can identify the connections between worlds so you can use whichever terms you think are most applicable and have a chance at ranking well.

DYNAMIC RECOMMENDATIONS ARE POWERFUL

Anyone who wants to sell more online can learn a thing or two from Amazon’s retail dominance, and something it does particularly well is using AI to dynamically recommend relevant products (even while shoppers are looking at other items). This can be cross-selling—recommending products that are often bought alongside what you’re looking at—or upselling—recommending products that serve the same role as what you’re looking at but are more expensive (and assumedly better).

This is something you can use to your advantage quite easily using tools like Monetate or Barilliance. Integrate a tool of that variety with your eCommerce CMS and you can immediately put it to work using customer activity and preferences to pick out the recommendations most likely to drive fresh conversions.

CHATBOTS ARE VERY CAPABLE TOOLS

Chatbots used to be gimmicky toys that could barely go two messages without getting confused, but developments in natural language processing have allowed them to become enormously more sophisticated. Today, the digital market is full of viable chatbots of many different varieties, and many of them are perfect additions to eCommerce stores.

Consider what a simple chatbot can do for you. Added to your store, it can offer product details, provide order information to customers seeking updates, and even answer common queries: all on a 24/7 basis without needing manual intervention. And, you’ll find it easy to find a suitable chatbot if your store runs on a popular CMS (for instance, the app store for Shopify’s eCommerce storefront lists numerous viable options such as Gobot).

AUTOMATION LETS YOU FOCUS ON GROWTH

Growing a small business certainly isn’t easy, and unless you’re relying exclusively on drop shipping to fulfill your orders, you’re going to need to build business relationships with suppliers, business partners, and potentially with B2B customers. But building professional relationships takes time. To nail the biggest pitches, you’ll need to put all your energy into getting to know prospects and learning how you can effectively impress them.

To that end, AI isn’t just about making your marketing and sales efforts more sophisticated: it’s also about taking work and stress away from you so you can put your time towards the tasks that truly demand your attention. For the sake of efficiency alone, it’s worth using.

IT CAN’T REPLACE HUMAN STAFF

No matter how broadly or ingeniously you apply AI tools to improve your operation, you’ll never be able to completely remove the human component—nor would you even want to. Take the use of chatbots, for instance.  A well-designed support chatbot can reliably recognize and answer every one of the most common queries, but it isn’t intelligent, so it can’t converse. When it can’t resolve (or understand) an issue, it needs a human to step in.

The same goes for all the other automation-friendly parts of your business. Allowing machine processes to handle the work is sensible, but it will always need human oversight.  Lose it, and when someone goes awry, you’ll have no way of knowing what exactly happened. Today, the smartest sellers are those who know when to let AI tools get things done and when to take over.

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