Digital shopping assistants and bots impacting the online shopping journey
by Julia Pott
Development in e-commerce never stands still. Microsoft provides proof with its new AI functions for the Bing search engine, which are soon to be rolled out. The Buying Guide is a shopping guide tailored to users within the Bing search results page.
With the help of artificial intelligence, personalized product recommendations are to be issued in a table, prices and product features compared and reviews summarized. The AI will even be able to suggest the best times of day to take advantage of good deals. Consumers will also be able to apply coupons and cashback features and track their orders.
All of this will be possible without leaving Bing search. Clearly, this development will also be extremely relevant for retailers and brands.
This makes it a great time to talk to Neal Fairfield from Pattern about what this could mean for the future of e-commerce and for retailers.
Neal, can you share your perspective on this evolution of AI tools for online shopping?
Neal Fairfield: The relative advances in AI (used as a general term here) has allowed a number of companies to try and advance control in certain areas and also to try and add product improvements and features to give them an advantage to another product.
Talking about the search engine of Bing, what they're supplying now is a claim that they will bring forward the exploration phase of any shopper journey within the search engine. They claim to do that by giving consumers what is meant to be an independent and non-biased selection of products and services – including customer reviews and price comparisons – based around a kind of purchase task that you might want to do. That could be “back-to-school supplies” or “What do I need for the start of the new school year?” for example.
Microsoft’s goal is, to supply a shopper guide in order to help you complete general action-orientated shopping use cases in a more enjoyable way.
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So Microsoft wants to virtually eliminate the customer journey across multiple websites? In the end, shoppers should be able to find what they are looking for with just one click?
Neal Fairfield: In theory, yes. But it’s a little more complex than that. I think, as a provider, you have to think in a more nuanced way about what the search intention and the shopper’s needs are. You have to ask yourself questions like:
Is that shopper task enjoyable? Are people buying something that is a treat? Do they want to spend a lot of time investigating comparisons? Do they want to go to a showroom to buy an expensive luxury item like a car or jewelry? Do they want to have an intense brand interaction?
Or is that shopping essential? Is it a stock purchase? Do they want to have something delivered to the door within one day?
Based on the answers to these questions, each shopper journey would have to be different. At the moment, Microsoft’s shopper guide is walking a little bit of a middle ground: It's trying to use one blanket approach for everything.
I think, any purchase that is essential and unenjoyable, by human nature, will be automated as much as possible. But for other use cases there will be a solution that allows shopping to be as enjoyable through screens as it is within physical outlets.
How should retailers and brands react to this development?
Neal Fairfield: I see it as a phenomenal time for these kinds of evolutions and leaps in service offerings. It always comes down to trust, and especially trust in the data. At Pattern, we want to help companies successfully grow their e-commerce business. And what we see is: It's about how clean your data is. And how accurately you apply that data to give people the best possible outcome.
So brands and retailers have to make sure that they're in trusted positions in terms of their products: This concerns reviews, but also online selling points. I think brands need to be discoverable on large marketplaces like Amazon or with retailers that are aligned with their values, so that consumers purchase the products without any hesitation or disappointment.
Do you think this development will also boost other technologies such as AR, VR or voice commerce?
Neal Fairfield: People will be testing what is going to work for certain situations. If you look at the investments Facebook has made, for example, they are betting very much on alternate reality. I think there could be a great potential for mixed reality when it comes to physical in-store as well as online shopping. Nobody has all the answers at the moment, now is the time for experimentation and investment to find out what works. Let's see where that goes.
What is your vision for the future, what will online shopping look like?
Neal Fairfield: What excites me when it comes to the application of advanced technologies is: There will be a future where people have their own automated shopping bots, which will then negotiate in the background with brands’ and retailers’ shopper bots to get you the best deal without you even lifting a finger.
But I think at the moment the advancement is very much on the brand’s side, not so much on the human side. I was thinking the other day: Wouldn't it be fascinating if your whole community or neighborhood joined together behind the scenes to negotiate house insurance or car insurance? This way you actually give the power back to the people.
But for the moment, we've got this new development by Microsoft and also other companies, which is great. I think it's a journey and an evolution, it's definitely not the endpoint yet.