September 26, 2015 by Varnana Choudhury
eCommerce is one dynamic sector that has revolutionized the way a consumer shops for goods and services in a mobile world. The basic goal of every eCommerce company is to bring the best of offline shopping experience to the online space, by offering the consumers a seamless way to discover the products they are looking for.
The avenue is taking a big leap towards becoming the facilitator of a more efficient, personalized, even automated customer journey with the introduction of cognitive technologies and the employment of ‘smart data’. Today, the most important area of focus in eCommerce is hyper personalization which could be facilitated only by learning consumer behaviour and making predictive analyses with the help of the huge amount of data collected from user activities on smartphones, tablets and desktops, and intelligent algorithms to process them.
Machine learning and artificial intelligence are no more restricted to personal assistance technology, smartphone companies are creating. They have flouted these conventions to disrupt a much wider space with limitless possibilities. One of the areas radically transformed by AI is eCommerce.
AI in eCommerce is Already Moving Forward
Following are a few key areas in eCommerce which can be transformed by the application of Artificial Intelligence, some of them are already in existence-
Visual Search and Image Recognition
It is an AI driven feature that enables users to discover what they want at the click of a button. All one has to do is, take a picture of what one likes and put it on the search bar of the eCommerce platform. The engine would then search through all the possible matches, rank them and prioritize them before placing the options before the user.
Recommendation is widely practiced by eCommerce companies to help customer find the best of what they are looking for. Recommendation algorithms work in multiple ways. For example, Amazon.com recommends its users depending on their activities on the site and past purchases. Netflix recommends DVDs in which a user may be interested by category like drama, comedy, action etc. eBay on the other hand collects user feedback about its products which is then used to recommend products to users who have exhibited similar behaviours. And this continues to evolve with several permutations and combinations in place.
At present, Intelligent Agent negotiation system has become a popular tool used in eCommerce with the development of artificial intelligence and Agent Technology. The three main functions performed by this automated agent are:
- matching buyers and sellers (determination of product offerings, search of buyers for sellers and sellers for buyers, price discovery)
- facilitating transactions (logistics, settlement, trust)
- providing institutional infrastructure (legal, regulatory)
These agents are fully automated and have control over their actions and internal state. They interact via an agent communication language. Further, they not only act in response to their environment but are also capable of taking initiatives like generating their own targets and act to achieve them.
Assortment Intelligence Tool
Consumers are forcing retailers to alter pricing strategies, so it is imperative for multichannel retailers to be flexible with their price structuring in order to retain their customers. To do the same, they are employing Assortment Intelligence, a tool that facilitates an unprecedented level of 24/7 visibility and insights into competitors’ product assortments. Retailers can keep a tap on their competitors’ product mix, segmented by product and brand, percentage of overlap, which gives them the ability to quickly adjust their own product-mix and pricing with high accuracy.
Voice Powered Search
In December 2014, Baidu unveiled speech recognition technology dubbed “Deep Speech.” Although the technology is still nascent, once it is developed optimally, it can make shopping literally interactive, enabling the customer to have a real time seamless voice conversation with the virtual shopping assistant on the eCommerce platform.
Employment of AI in Indian eCommerce
In case of India, eCommerce biggies like Flipkart, Snapdeal and Amazon are proactively investing fortunes in AI research and development. Apart from intelligent chat facilities, these companies have introduced image recognition feature to their platforms which is attributed to deep learning.
According to Sachin Bansal, CEO, Flipkart, artificial intelligence is a key differentiator in the fiercely competitive business of online retail. He believes, “the big disruption that is happening across the world is the rise of artificial intelligence.” Therefore, by combining social, mobile, big data analytics and AI, Flipkart attempts to build human brain-like capabilities to sell smarter to its more than 45 million registered online buyers. Recently, the company launched its messaging service on its app, called Ping. It serves as a shopping assistant embodying artificial intelligence, to help users easily discover the item they are looking for on its platform.
Likewise, Flipkart has just announced that it is working on automating its supply chain to reduce shipment time and increase accuracy to ensure zero customer complaint. Confirming the news, Adarsh K Menon, VP, Business Development said, “We want to use data smartly and intelligently at our backend for personalisation in customer offerings, service offering, supply chain offerings. We have regular customer base of 45 million. We will use technology, look at buying behaviour and preferences of customers and then personalized our offerings. If we use data, which is available with us, intelligently, we will be able to give best shopping experience to customers”.
Further, Flipkart owned Myntra is too is reportedly set to introduce apparels designed with the help of data science and artificial intelligence. The company has developed a smart bot that accumulates fashion-related information from across the online world by crunching a large amount of data centered around consumer demand in real time. Commenting on the same, Ganesh Subramanian, head of new initiatives at Myntra, maintained, “There is a big, emerging trend among internet companies which have accumulated tons of data to use it for personalization. Our platform is disrupting the current way of expert-based fashion forecasting as it is 100% tech-backed.”
Snapdeal is reportedly investing $100 million into a new multimedia research lab in Bangalore. The company’s app- findmystyle employs image recognition technology and machine learning algorithms, to make search results faster, accurate and tuned to the specific consumers.
The Way Ahead-
It would be an understatement if we say, “Artificial Intelligence is the next big thing”, for it is already here, and of course, with a bang!
Tech juggernauts across the world are advancing at an incredibly impressive pace towards the crux of this technology. Google for example, is conducting a highly advanced research on AI called Thought Vectors, in an attempt to infuse common sense into machines. Similarly, Apple, Facebook and Microsoft are working on their respective projects on AI development.
Expressing himself on the future scope of Artificial Intelligence in eCommerce, Navneet Sharma, Co-Founder & CEO of AI-linked startup Snapshopr, maintains, “Not very far from today, eCommerce apps will know in advance know what you need and will order them automatically for you.” Adding further, he stated with conviction that nothing is impossible with AI. It’s only limited by time and computing resources.