Real innovations in e-commerce, which primarily affect conversion, are not easy to identify, given the degree of maturity of online Commerce. It is particularly difficult for new online retailers to establish themselves in a new and highly competitive environment. In addition to using mostly expensive innovations, many shop operators rely on the continuous and complex optimization of the sales and conversion funnel and the check-out process. But that’s almost exhausting. The use of AI to automate and personalize content, on the other hand, is a conversion lever.
Two years of a pandemic have massively accelerated digitization efforts in various areas. In the collaboration of distributed teams, participants – wherever – work remotely on projects. Schools and universities have to maintain their educational operations via digital interfaces. For digital check-ins, online orders, and in-store or restaurant pick-ups. Or long-standing innovations from augmented reality solutions for sales to chatbots in customer service or intelligent assistants that do work, sales, and deals more efficiently – we have been able to follow all of this in a time-lapse over the past two years.
At the beginning of the pandemic and the associated restrictions up to the lockdown, retail had to experience first-hand how difficult it is to make up for lost time in a short space. And not all have made the timely leap into e-commerce. This is not the least because online trading has reached a level of maturity that is not to be despised over the years. The saturation level of providers, but also of opportunities to make significant improvements in their online shop from the dealer’s point of view, has been reached.
Where Online Retail Invests In Optimization
For many, the question arises as to what has a positive influence on the performance of their online shop in the crisis, which is worsening with delivery bottlenecks, the Ukraine war and its consequences, inflation, and energy price increases. Many online retailers are in crisis mode. Every investment in improving one’s offer is questioned even more critically. Almost all providers are performance-oriented. With tight margins and fierce competition, that’s understandable. What is more or less clear to everyone: Above all, the funnel and the check-out process must be continuously optimized.
In the so-called sales or conversion funnel, i.e., the process from addressing customers and the availability of certain offers to being able to be found, to substantial interest in buying and the “buy ability” to the actual purchase, there was (and still is) a lot of time and effort money invested. This applies to the “lower sales funnel,” such as campaign planning and initial contact, which has become even more diverse thanks to Social Commerce. We continue to invest tirelessly in optimizing the check-out steps, such as auto-completion functions for registration forms or delivery addresses, and simplifying payment processes. As a rule, however, the effects are comparatively sobering – not least in comparison with the budgets provided.
Where Online Retail Should Invest In Optimizations (and AI)
Given the maturity of e-commerce, it is, therefore, necessary to give fundamental thought to what customers want. From a strategic point of view, there is another important aspect: How do online retailers manage to make themselves less dependent on large e-commerce marketplaces such as Amazon, eBay, Otto, or Zalando? This is simple: Only with your shop can you shape the customer relationship yourself. Only here do you completely influence product presentation, pricing, and all processes critical to success, such as customer relationship management. This is where artificial intelligence comes into play. Because if you want to make a difference here, you need the support of machines and self-learning software. The order of the day is:
Experience shows: Personalized product texts are a real conversion driver. While – as described – in the design of the funnel and the check-out process, every seemingly unimportant detail is scrutinized with great care, and all possible variants are run through with A/B tests, there is another homework of the Online trade, namely the optimization of the product pages, almost broke. From my practice and working with online retailers, I can report that conversion uplifts in the mid-double-digit percentage range are more the rule than the exception.
AI Strengthens The Customer Relationship And Makes You (More) Independent
Why is that? Product texts that respond to the situational context of the online purchase with automated detailed descriptions or – if known from registration in the shop or purchase history – to the personal preferences of the respective customer bring noticeable advantages on several levels. Because they are always up to date, they increase visibility when searching for products; they create proximity to the respective customer, and, as experience has shown, they also reduce the return rate – especially about standard texts, which often do not take into account the detail that is crucial from the buyer’s point of view.
But the most important advantage lies in the strengthening of the customer relationship. Meeting customers with individual attention and tailor-made advice – both in the description of products and after-sales communication – creates exactly the closeness they are often used to from stationary retail but mostly miss in online retail
AI Is Automatic, But Not Mechanical, An Enterprise Solution
If you talk to online retailers about content automation and personalization, the answer is usually dismissed: too expensive, too tedious, too time-consuming. Unfortunately, it is overlooked that we will be further ahead in 2022:
- Artificial intelligence does not have to be costly.
- Artificial intelligence is also Software-as-a-Service.
- Artificial intelligence can be used thanks to “Plug & Play” and API interfaces quickly.
The three aspects mentioned should not be underestimated because they sometimes contradict the experiences of e-commerce operators who have previously dealt with the automated personalization of their content. The start-up costs were in the past – and unfortunately still are in the present – in the six to seven-digit range. This applies above all to technologies in the so-called enterprise segment. The internal costs for the conversion of the infrastructure, the training, and the deployment of the staff were (and are) not even considered.
In addition, the supposedly vague idea of basic personalization, without specifically focusing on conversion, ultimately also obscures the view of the effect. It is hardly possible to identify the return on investment in this way. The months of onboarding such technologies alone do not seem compatible with an agile approach geared towards quick wins. Optimizations are carried out step by step during ongoing operations. Planning, tendering, evaluating, testing, rethinking, analyzing, and re-tendering – none of this brings any results and ultimately only serves as preparation. Such an approach is counterproductive, especially in times of crisis! I’m inclined to say that the current situation is only sealing the age of enterprise software even faster.
Little Effort, Big Effect: AI In 2022
Starting with content automation and personalization can already be done today with a small four-digit investment. Above all, the short-term effect that results from the automated optimization and personalization of many text modules on the product detail pages of the online shops alone should further increase the motivation of the shop operators. And to put it bluntly again: it cannot be done by human hands. Although it takes the experience of the e-commerce makers to set up the relevant criteria and the basic setup for the automation of texts and other content, artificial intelligence is required for the implementation. After all, in online trading, we often talk about several thousand products and a corresponding number of product versions, which are then ultimately displayed individually.
Low entry barriers to onboarding AI technologies for text and content automation can be identified from the provider’s perspective based on the initial costs, the required training effort, the adjustments to the infrastructure, and the so-called time-to-market range. In my opinion, there shouldn’t be any real barrier here. However, a natural language generation solution only really helps shop operators if it does not automate purely rule-based texts but also indirectly helps them to understand their customers better. For example, the solution allows conclusions about how the customer interacts with the product text and how this can be further optimized. The automation and personalization of content are real conversion levers.
In summary, it can be said that a maximum impact can be achieved with a comparatively small investment in AI. Personalized Commerce not only helps to increase sales but, above all, improves the customer experience – before, during, and after the purchase. In this way, online retailers emancipate themselves from the e-commerce marketplaces and remain independent.