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How Technology Helps Small Retailers Fight the Big Guys

How Technology Helps Small Retailers Fight the Big Guys

Imagine the most efficient salesperson at your favorite store and how well they predict just what you would like to buy. Now imagine the same efficient salesperson, except it’s not just you she knows about — she knows about thousands like you and helps each of those yous with just as much precision.

That’s an exceptionally watered down, oversimplified version of what personalization and AI mean to the ecommerce world. And if you’re competing with the Amazons of the world, that clever algorithm is your best friend.

How Technology Helps Small Retailers Fight the Big Guys_AI in retail investments
Image Courtesy: www.businessinsider.com

It isn’t good enough to be the one with the best products. Not anymore, at least. You also need to ensure that your products are easily discoverable as well. Advanced machine learning and intelligent algorithms capable of understanding and predicting shopper behaviour make this possible. But the challenge lies in incorporating that intelligence while understanding that you’re dealing with real human beings just like you, who think like you and shop like you.

How can we ensure machines are clever enough to be just the right amount human?

The Real Deal About Personalization

Brands that create personalized experiences — through AI and other advanced technology, see a six to ten percent increase in revenue as per research conducted by Boston Consulting Group.

1:1 personalization akin to what Amazon and the other big players boast of require heaps of data about each individual customer. However, such targeted personalization only works for under 25% of the shoppers. And even for those shoppers, a simple change in behaviour or device would impact the recommendations they would see.

What is possible — for the remaining 75% and a vast majority of online shoppers, is personalization based on segmentation. Understanding aspects of shopper behaviour such as where they are located, their device preference, number of visits to the site etc. help understand what products would make most sense to them.

Help Shoppers Find What They’re Looking For

I’ve often heard the word ‘intent’ pop up in marketing discussions. It made me wonder about intent in the context of ecommerce and what it would mean for an online retailer. After some soul-searching and stares-out-of-the-window, I arrived at an interesting analogy.

Strong search is the clever merchandiser’s attractive window display, relevant recommendations are the capable salesperson’s suggestions, and easy navigation are the broad comfortable aisles you amble through in a brick-and-mortar store.

Successfully recreating that experience online is what decoding customer intent is all about.

Online retailers need to ask themselves two questions:

    • How well can I gauge intent when a customer lands up on my site?
    • How well am I able to cater to the perceived intent of the customer?

 

Answering these questions with some level of confidence is what defines a good online search experience. Retailers that spend time to understand what their customers really want, and deliver the closest simulation of a good offline shopping experience through intelligent search, relevant recommendations, and ease of navigation are the ones that successfully understand customer intent.

They’re also the ones that rake in the moolah.

Be Accessible Everywhere

Your customers are no longer shopping on one single channel or through a singular medium. They might see your ad on a billboard on their way home from work, do a quick price-check on their mobile, and proceed to buy it two weeks later from their laptop. It is imperative that brands make it just as easy to browse and shop across devices. In fact, purchases made on mobile accounted for 31% of total sales in 2017.

Brands vying for customer attention need to ensure that their sites are optimised across all devices — desktop, tablet, and mobile. Understanding that the expectations of the customer, especially from a design perspective, differ from mobile to desktop is a key differentiator in sites that are a pleasure to shop on and those that present a nightmare for shoppers.

Here’s an interesting article covering all the important aspects that need to be covered while designing a mobile UX for ecommerce.

Ensure Customer Delight

How well do you know your customer? Posing this question to the modern retailer bodes an answer that ventures beyond the realm of customer satisfaction. Daniel Pink’s book on the changes in the sales landscape discusses how the economy has shifted from being seller-driven to being buyer-driven. Rise in customer expectations as a result of an unprecedented increase in available choices and information to evaluate those choices necessitates that customers are right up and center in any product conversation.

Quoting the author, “In just about every market for everything, we’re in a world approaching information parity. Add to that the huge number of choices buyers have, along with their power to talk back, and we’re now in a world of ‘seller beware.’ Now, it’s the sellers who are on notice.”

Visual recommendations are a simple example of how AI helps enhance the shopping experience for a customer. Here’s how Ashley HomeStore incorporates visual recommendations in their site search making it easier for customers to find what they’re looking for.

How Technology Helps Small Retailers Fight the Big Guys_Ashley

An additional point to remember is that customer delight indicators in the context of ecommerce are largely dependent on the kind of industry you operate in and the products you sell. For example, the experience across search, navigation, and recommendations would be a lot different for fashion when compared to groceries. Ensuring that your site intelligently tackles these nuances of shopper behavior goes a long way in managing customer delight.

Combine Man and Machine

We started this article with a simple premise — how can we build machines that are clever enough to be part human? While AI and personalization have helped in the evolution of online shopping, brands trying to make a mark and stand out in the minds of the customer are the ones that tie together the precision of AI powered suggestions while retaining the uniquely subjective experience of offline shopping.

The win-win situation is to build machines that intelligently study patterns and refine their understanding of shopper behaviour but also allow some level of business control. In other words, successful AI guides you to the products that should get the window spot, but leaves the decision making upto you.

Competing in the Buyer Economy demands that brands adapt to new technology in order to stay relevant. Research indicates 72% of retailers plan on investing in cognitive computing and machine learning by the year 2021. AI has transformed the world of commerce — both online and offline and changed the way we shop. It goes without saying, brands that successfully infuse AI-powered personalization to create shopper experiences that evoke delight in every stage of a customer’s purchase journey are the ones that will win.

Wondering what will power the future of commerce? We vote for Man or and Machine.

 

Find out how AI and personalization can help you serve your customers better through strong site-search, category pages, and accurate recommendations. Get a free, custom-made report that shows how Unbxd can enhance the shopping experience on your site.  Sign up, today!

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