12 Mar 2018
Why AI in ecommerce is the partner you’ve been looking for?
Cheryl  Joy
Cheryl Joy
Content Writer

AI is touted as the next big thing in almost every industry. From agriculture to transport, there's barely any industry yet to explore at least an aspect of artificial intelligence and how it can enhance it in some way.

In the context of ecommerce specifically, the applications of AI go from bots and virtual assistants to its most widespread application—assisted product discovery. But what is product discovery, and what role does AI play in simplifying it?

Product discovery is a process that allows you to locate the products you wish to purchase with ease. In this discovery process, shoppers express their intent to search for and buy a particular product through search or navigation, or recommendations — where the shopper is shown the appropriate product suggestions that correspond to who they are and what would appeal to their tastes. Traditionally, this mapping of products to phrases was a manual process. Online merchandisers are much like their retail counterparts, figuring out which products to promote, the display layout, and sort order, as well as planning and executing many seasonal and promotional campaigns. The advancement of AI has made this process a lot more scientific.

If your catalog is a maze, AI-assisted product discovery is like finding a map that makes it easier to maneuver.

Role of AI in Product Discovery

To the uninitiated, Daddy's Car sounds a lot like any other song created by a pop band that's had an overdose of the Beatles. The interesting bit is that the song, which has over 1.9 million views on YouTube, was composed using a system of machine learning algorithms called 'Flow Machines.

Daddy's Car: a song composed with Artificial Intelligence - in the style of the Beatles

After we're done being amazed by what AI has made possible, it is worth noting that even in the case of Daddy's Car, a human composer put together the melody created by the algorithm. This brings us to a pertinent question — is AI, as it exists today, a creator or more of a collaborator? There was a time when Goodreads helped me find the books I'd enjoy reading. That was before Amazon got this smart. Almost every time I purchase on Amazon, it shows me a set of books that I can't resist looking at. And though we've had a few misses, I've enjoyed most of those reads. One of the pioneers of hyper-personalization, Amazon has understood its shoppers over some time and now offers each one of them product discovery experiences that are unique to who they are. This personalization isn't limited to just recommendations. Personalization is essential across search and navigation journeys as well. You wouldn't walk into a store and expect to be greeted by one single store associate to herd the entire set of shoppers through the store. Why else would a static experience make sense in the online space?

The future of online commerce is hyper-personalized and focuses squarely on delighting the customer.

The power of human insight

As a sophisticated algorithm programmed to cater to a consumer's particular tastes and preferences, it would be impossible for me to predict the sudden resurgence of Ugg boots in 2017. Despite their unappealing, shaggy exterior and undeniable comfort, these boots experienced a surprising comeback, largely due to the endorsement of celebrities such as Sienna Miller and Rihanna. Fashion websites took notice and began featuring them prominently.

Human insight enables us to uncover hidden trends, ideas, and potentialities that may not be immediately apparent. While artificial intelligence has made great strides in processing and analyzing massive data sets, it is still limited in possessing this type of insight. In the realm of online merchandising, human insight is crucial for identifying relevant trends at the optimal moment and effectively promoting them to a receptive audience.

One example of how human insight can surpass AI in merchandising is promoting new products that have recently been added to a catalog. Without prior performance data, it can be challenging to determine the appropriate position of these items in the overall product order. For example, AI might default to featuring only popular, trending items and neglect to highlight newer additions. By incorporating a layer of human insight, rules can be established to aid in discovering these novel products.

At Unbxd, we accomplish this by implementing a "freshness score" for each product in the catalog. This allows new products to receive ample visibility in the beginning, with feedback from shoppers helping to determine their overall popularity and ranking, among other items.

In addition, AI-assisted merchandising can vary the order and display of products during seasonal promotions and encourage diversity in the product display order for specific search terms.


No more static experiences

Research suggests that 88% of shoppers prefer retailers that offer personalized experiences. With hyper-personalization becoming a common feature, courtesy of bigwigs of the ecommerce world, personalization is now a must-have for any site. An oft-ignored but necessary way of incorporating personalization is through category pages. Making each individual's online browsing experience reflect who they are and what works for them is a way of personalizing their journey on the site. Personalization can be two-fold — 1:1 personalization customizes the individual's experience based on past purchase behavior and stored data, while segmentation and targeting-based personalization target shoppers with similar preferences and characteristics and offer them a browsing experience specifically tailored to them. Irrespective of whether it is done through search, browsing, targeted recommendations, or a combination of all three, what stays constant is the need to offer thoroughly personalized shopping experiences to new and repeat customers on the site.

Do away with the mundane

The advancement of AI in ecommerce is testimony to the fact that machines and AI are not replacements for human perspectives and inputs. Instead, AI in ecommerce acts as a means to reduce human effort, incorporate a more efficient way of doing previously manual and time-intensive tasks, and, most importantly, augment human insight in a way that makes it more scalable. So how does ecommerce AI help improve the product discovery journey of millions of shoppers who visit online sites daily? First, it hands you the map. The future of online retail belongs to intelligent collaboration between man and machine. Our latest product, Browse, combines the intelligence derived from more than 50 shopper signals and extensive merchandising controls to personalize all category pages, at scale, for each shopper. Book a demo to discover how Browse and Search can help you personalize the browsing experience and enhance the product discovery journey for shoppers on your site.