There is no exceptional difference in shopping offline and online today. You just navigate from one online portal to another in search of better deals and discounts, comparing their prices and values, also getting overwhelmed by the sheer complexity of it. After all, shopping shouldn’t be as hard as splitting an atom. Should it? In addition to that is the bombardment of e-mails, messages, notifications, social media promotions, etc that constantly pressurise the consumers to make a purchase thus, exploiting the internet and social media and turning them into advertising minefields.
However, this advertising blitz and bombarding of messages is a major tool for e-commerce companies solely to drive their sales. They take advantage of the fact that online shoppers are highly scattered in their pre-purchase behaviour. This pre-purchase period is when the customers navigate between different websites and compare price points hence, abandoning/forgetting about their filled carts, this hunt may go on for as long as days or even weeks for that matter. It is at this time that an online retailer can swoop in with just that perfect deal breaking idea or suggestion that can catch the eye of the customer and win the sale. While many online retailers are applying personalisation of some sort, while what they actually need to do is provide consumers with a personal assistant to help break through the clutter and take that purchase decision more quickly and wisely.
Personalisation and visual search tools
A highly muddled organisational structure has proven to be a nightmare for online retailers, with the inventory on these platforms constantly increasing and no efficient cataloguing methods being adopted. As a result, e-commerce companies are facing diminishing returns and margins, with no signs of being profitable.
Moreover, consumers are constantly flooded with suggestions for irrelevant products and no easier search options. On the contrary, e-commerce portals expect consumers to act like keyword-searching experts, further complicating an already flawed search engine and discovery process. The future of personalised shopping lies in creating advanced search tools that allow consumers to look for their desired products through a simplified image search on the portal. Platforms driven by Artificial Intelligence allow consumers to upload an image through advanced visual search capabilities which then look for similar products based on elements such as colour, brand, shape or design. Search friendly and easy-to-find content can translate into higher revenues while offering a highly satisfying shopping experience to consumers. Adopting visual search tools will be inevitable for the online retail sector, helping e-commerce companies to drastically reduce the search and discovery time for the consumer and in realizing their ultimate goal – which is sales.
Emergence of the digital shopping assistant
The introduction of virtual personal shoppers as well as digital assistants has been parallel to the development of powerful and intuitive search tools and their continuing evolution. The lack of human intervention to assist shoppers is not a problem for the e-commerce companies anymore. While chatbots initially played a vital role of virtual salespersons on e-commerce portals, online stores are beginning to look towards more advanced forms of AI-driven assistance. These AI-driven virtual assistants help customers find the products they want and provide them with useful information that helps in effectively turning a unique visitor on the portal into a paying customer. Such enhanced customer service capabilities also help build valuable experiences for customers and significantly raise the number of recurring customers on the e-commerce portal. Moreover, virtual, interactive shopping assistants collect data from consumers in the real-time market which includes their purchase and search history and process the information and forthwith deliver key insights to create far more effective digital campaigns. This also gives them a significant edge over their human counterparts, allowing them to make useful recommendations to customers based on their extensive knowledge of the store inventory.
Currently, AI-driven virtual assistants like Amazon’s Alexa or Google’s Assistant dominate the e-commerce and online retail domain. While these tools are platform-agnostic, they are programmed to interact and inevitably lead consumers to their home channels, in this case Amazon and Google does the following. Hence, investing in the development of an in-house virtual shopper or digital assistant can be the path to follow for e-commerce platforms who could offer a highly value-driven and simplified shopping experience for customers. An example of this is Fynd, an e-commerce portal that launched Fify, its own AI-based virtual shopping assistant that interacts with customers to not only answer basic questions on products, but also offers useful styling tips and provides them with suitable recommendations. However, the evolution of platform-agnostic and brand-neutral digital assistants will continue to evolve and provide personalized assistance to consumers.
While the future of e-commerce and online shopping experience is anyone’s guess, the trend of personalised shopping in e-commerce is a veritable indicator that virtual digital assistance along with advanced contextual understanding will continue to revolutionize the way we shop, on both platforms online as well as offline.
(The author is Co-founder of Fynd, a fashion e-commerce portal)
Disclaimer: The views expressed here are solely those of the author and do not in any way represent the views of exchange4media.com.