Customer First in 2017: moving from mobile to AI

In December, the Ecommerce Club held a wine and cheese tasting event at Clerkenwell London. While the drinks were delicious and the conversation fun, what stood out was Visualsoft’s insight into the evolution of the ecommerce environment, with mobile and the impact of AI (artificial intelligence) and other innovations.

Ed Harries, Director of Enterprise Marketing at Visualsoft reminded us that whatever the technological innovation, the important thing is to keep the customer first. Success is about understanding how clients and suppliers create the perfect balance in reaching and converting more of a site’s visitors/consumers. He says, “What matters is that you have to have a vision, and you have to understand how to get there.”

Given the conversations in the media today, it seems accepted that the future is AI and bots. It’s certainly true that in ecommerce mobile is increasingly becoming the device of choice. In the UK, people check their phones 150 times a day and globally, over 1.8 billion photos are shared daily.

What’s remarkable is the amount of time it took us to get here:
• In 2005 there were a few mobiles
• In 2015 nearly everyone has mobile and 66 per cent of UK consumers have a smartphone – a number which is projected to rise to 77 per cent by 2020

We have accepted that retail has gone digital but instead of replacing shops, online provides an extension of the customer experience. What digital does is provide that starting point for the customer journey and it’s vital that we understand what’s going on.

There is a great deal of focus on targeting the customer but its more complicated that tracking what customers are looking at – for example, 40 per cent of customers buying baby products don’t have a child in their homes [editors note – when I had my sister and niece staying with me for a month, it took nearly a year before I stopped being targeted with baby related advertising]. We need to focus on where the consumer actually is.

Harries suggest that we look at mobile first, with targeted advertising and an understanding of the customer funnel to ensure that we reach consumers at the right point for maximum ROI – this is the continual evolution of ecommerce.

He also provided some tips for those exploring the customer funnel:
• 98 per cent of users move between devices – you need to cater to individual sized screen and that means responsive
• For mobile you need to think about home page and site navigation, the ability to connect and usability – keep the customer in the forefront of your mind
• Site speed – slow load frustrates visitors
• Use tools (analytics, Adwords, data) but understand touchpoints – consumers need the same experience wherever they are
• Make form filling easy
• Where you can make your site seasonal: respond to the environment such as Christmas, or Google’s changing search box every day
• Search is crucial – a user is 6x more likely to convert on a site where they use search

And it is search, and how search will be integrated into an AI future that is of most interest. Basic machine intelligence is on its way, with Siri, Google, Echo, Cortana and Alexa.

According to Harries, the future lies in personal assistants and that’s what Visualsoft is now working on – a personal assistant called Cody. It’s a platform retailer based voice assistant, and Visualsoft is trialling it now.

As Harries says, “If everyone’s going to mobile – human speed is a lot better than mobile load times. An asssistant allows people to engage seamlessly. The question is whether it’s a gimmick or a new category of service.”

There is certainly a great deal of investment going into this area. Cody itself is mixed AI, combining voice and text. It has a conversational attitude, is self learning and allows a greater understanding of the customer. This in turn should reduce cart abandonment and reduce returns – a major goal for any online retailer.

There are issues to be resolved. How many people today use a personal assistant for actual assistance, rather than asking silly questions? How can such engagement be tracked and ascribed? The development is in its early stages, although Harries hopes to have a case study to share later in 2017. The big thing as that this is clearly the next stage in technology innovation for ecommerce – while mobile first has been the cry over the last few years, undoubtedly we’re looking at an AI first future.