Retailers Talk : How they are Leveraging AI to Build a Brilliant Customer Experience

Product Discovery has been one of the hottest topics of discussion among retail brands with the advent of the COVID – 19 pandemic. With website traffic skyrocketing, the interest among retailers on product discovery has picked up steam.- Online Retailers across verticals are figuring out ways to provide a seamless customer experience, tailor-made to a consumer that has a direct impact on revenue. This mega onslaught of consumer traffic has never been more. 

To get to hear from the horse’s mouth, Unbxd organized and moderated a 90 min long roundtable discussion, in association with Digital Hive Week CX with some of the top retailers from Europe.

With this deep-dive discussion, the conversation flowed from implementing product discovery for personalization at an execution level to a larger sentiment of brands embracing personalization as a key value. The symbiotic role of human decision making and AI and the feeling of ‘one cannot do without the other’ was widely echoed across all participants. 

 

What does Product Discovery mean for a brand at a realistically strategic level?

 

We asked the retailers about the pressing challenges that prevent them from providing a seamless search experience to their customers. The results of the poll among the retailers were really interesting with a good percentage leaning towards having just basic merchandising controls to having a lack of resources and tools to implement a perfect product discovery strategy. This props up another question about the biggest hurdles for implementing product discovery.

One of the biggest issues that brands face while designing a robust product discovery strategy is understanding the intent of the shopper. While shoppers with high intent know exactly what they want to buy and what to search for on an eCommerce store, shoppers with low to medium intent end up making not so refined search queries. Combined with the fact that they do not know the exact products which they need, confuses the underlying system. For example, DIY and Craft eCommerce stores can face a huge challenge and add a layer of complexity to the onsite discovery experience. 

Keeping these challenges in mind, to start building a rudimentary execution strategy, retailers should use listing tools to aggregate search results onsite over a sustained period lets say. 30 days to help them segment the top trends, popular search queries, and key areas to focus upon. This helps them drive improvements over a period of time, graduating to produce better results, and at the same time drawing valuable insights from a future perspective. 

But if you plan to do all of this manually, it is going to take you months and maybe years to understand the shopper intent, collate data and make meaningful insights out of that data and optimize the experience for the shoppers in real-time. Plus, it will rarely be in real-time. However, AI and ML technology can be immensely powerful to process huge amounts of data and search results and arrive at key areas to focus on. 

Implementation of technology is essential, but human intelligence and decision-making abilities can be refuted out of the mix. The ability to form hypotheses on customer behaviors,  enabling  deployment of testing across top category pages assortment  will drive incremental improvements rather than having to rely solely on technology to see results.  This also becomes of paramount importance when we look at another basic key aspect – breaking down the key steps to personalization into different workflows and algorithms to drive results to deliver key improvements in focus points like Product Discovery, Personal Product Recommendations, On-site personal category experience, and integrated inspiration. 

These strategies tie all in together to deliver an enhanced experience through correct product description, images, and other product-related information. Visual guided autosuggest experience, fields and facets for efficient filtering of products, landing banners and redirects for specific marketing campaigns are critical to building that seamless shopping experience. 

 

Why  personalization is key for a successful Product Discovery strategy?

               A quick poll the participants voted for led to a really interesting line of discussion! 

 

When you discuss personalization, one of the key focus points for personalization should be replicating the in-store interactions and service. Most consumers are comfortable with the offline store experience, so without disturbing their inertia, if the offline store experience can be imitated – it works wonders. To do that, brands need to understand fully the customer motivations and behaviour patterns. 

There are a plethora of solutions available pertaining to solving personalization challenges – but which one of them ultimately makes a difference? Ultimately it is about the relative value they drive. This in turn connects with what exactly the purchase journey of a consumer is. Using a smaller set of SKU’s and options, refining the decision is easier for customers so that the relative value is on par. 

Rules-based algorithms offer a very controlled environment for product discovery but letting the algos run enhances the opportunity for customers to not just buy what they need but discover what they dream. 

“This inspiration of customers is especially important in the luxury sector.“, said a CXO of a high-fashion brand.

Personalizing services across large catalogs or luxury brands enables customers to buy alternate products or complete a look. Having a central hub of knowledge on customers that provides a single view of the customer – including interactions, transactions, preferences, what they have added to cart, etc – can add more data points to truly personalize the customer experience including through sales associates in-store and online.

 

What are the priorities that brands need to keep in mind while implementing Product Discovery

 

It is always better to build upon your strengths and then tackle the outlier cases. Often brands and retailers will have a core customer who shops in a certain way and they need to accommodate this in a proactive way. Various segments can be formed as each customer is different in terms of different demands, different attitudes, and different size of pockets.

Personalizing to this key focus group and building a commercial argument is highly imperative. Brands should focus upon the quick wins available to everyone through tools such as Google Analytics, retargeting audiences, and emails where there is a lot of information and data already present that can help steer what to A/B test and arrive at decisions which drive positive incremental results.  

10-15% of site traffic uses the search box usually with a specific purchase intention and this group converts 3-5X more, so if you can have a great search box experience this can present a worthwhile focus.  Search is all about customer intent and connecting the right product to the right customer, quickly.  Covid-19 customers can be transactional and want to find, buy, and get off the site as quickly as possible without friction while other customers want to explore and browse. Managing these varied experiences is the key.

To achieve this data, knowledge graphs and catalog links are compulsory. This helps to build insights across customer preferences on products and categories, which are highly actionable. 

As customer habits and preferences change the complexity grows. With complexity comes a lot of focus upon algorithms and rules, but heavy dependence on them stifles inspiration and opportunity. Algos need serendipity and the test and learn mentality – hence a blend of human instinct is essential to maintain core brand values. This right blend also allows us to reach faster results as hypotheses are made on human behavior and the correlations with statistical insights lead to quicker and more understandable results. 

 

How should brands embrace personalization as a key brand value? 

 

Inculcating personalization as a key brand value is essential and it’s easier said than done. It’s the same as an organization claiming that they are agile – if you declare that, you probably aren’t. Authenticity is really far-ranging and it doesn’t belong to a particular function. It needs to be your company philosophy and help drive all strategic and tactical decisions.  These beliefs need to live and breathe with the leadership team and go from the top down.

Most of the time brands are looking from the inside out. Often inspiration comes top down. The view needs to change to outside -in where customers will give you the direction you need to go forward to. There should be involvement of customer voice in making decisions. There has to be a factor of inspiration when customers look at brands. 

The increased level of communication that brands now have means that they need to share more with their customers about what they believe and what they’re doing.  In today’s scenario, it’s the least expected of brands. You need to listen in to the customers, their choices and preferences, from their preferred time of purchase to their favourite colors or preferred brand/make. It has to be a two-way communication, where the customer is primarily speaking.  

There’s a degree of educating your customers that needs to happen as sometimes  it might be the case that what they’re expecting of you may be unrealistic.  Naturally, with brand-level marketing, it’s difficult to be authentic because the message is wide-reaching. 

To deliver the right message authentically you need to segment your audience properly and understand what that group is looking for and expect you to be doing, again a key tenant of personalization as a brand value. 

 It is easier for us to understand and give a genuine authentic response to COVID-19 as opposed to other movements because we are all living it. It emphasizes that we need to listen to the customers who have lived the experience before articulating our response. The idea is to fill into the shoes of the shoppers to understand what they really need or want and what they came looking for and at the same time stimulating inspiration in them. That makes for a brilliant combination. 

As a brand, if you have understood the importance of product discovery at a strategic level, the need for personalization and refining the online shopping experience for your shoppers across various purchase journeys, and set your priorities right while implementing the product discovery solution; there’s nothing that can stop you from creating a powerful customer experience on the online store. 

If you are looking forward to create such experience for your eCommerce store, please drop a mail to sales@unbxd.com

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