The Power of AI in Digital Retail Sales
By Daniel Rodriguez, CMO at Simplr
Bridging the gap in AI-powered customer service
2020 has brought sweeping changes to the retail shopping experience, with the pandemic moving shoppers online and, at the same time, limiting call center operations. While that dynamic doesn’t bode well for success, AI-powered technology has helped fill the call center void and reshaped how brands engage with their customers.
Leveraging digital tools is critical for retailers, particularly those that previously focused on their brick and mortar operations. Recent data from Magento Commerce shows 64% of consumers who switched to online shopping in 2020 intend to continue. Shopping is more than just finding the right item and purchasing it, however. The overall customer experience plays a big role in brand loyalty. In a State of CX study conducted by Simplr, 27% of consumers said their brand loyalty had wavered during the pandemic due to long customer service wait times. It’s critical to ensure that the technology creates a seamless customer experience, personalized product recommendations, frictionless check out, and instant access to customer support with a human touch.
AI technology allows brands to connect with their customers where they’re at
Social channels like Instagram, which has one billion active users, provide an ideal way to reach shoppers, as they can “stumble upon” your ads as they’re scrolling through their feeds. Today’s sophisticated algorithms are giving brands the power to serve up ads to those most likely to click on them. Even better, AI can help create, in real-time, suggestions based on the visual preferences and personal styles of each shopper. With brands creating a style profile for each shopper to personalize product recommendations and content across all channels, it’s hard not to buy what we’re seeing in our social feeds.
An impressive 83% of Instagram users find new products and services on the site, making it an ideal way for consumers to discover a brand’s offerings. Brands from Prada to H&M promote through Instagram and, thanks to AI-powered technology that delivers ads at just the right time, the experience is often seamless, personalized, and instantaneous.
Advantages of Chatbots
Like most retail customers, I know the level of customer experience I want and I won’t purchase from brands that don’t provide it. My rules of engagement for an online shopping experience include an intuitive website, instantaneous response to my questions, easy check-out, and 24-hour customer service. AI is rapidly evolving the delivery of customer service operates, with intuitive voice-guided self-service options and chatbots playing a major role in how consumers get their issues resolved. For those who prefer not to go down the self-service path, chatbots can play a pivotal role in meeting many of our online shopping expectations. According to Accenture, 56% of businesses claim chatbots are driving disruption in their industry. Their presence has helped many retailers navigate the tsunami of customer inquiries resulting from pandemic-related inventory shortages and delivery delays.
While any company can install a chat widget or chatbot, that does not signal success, however. According to Forrester research, two in three consumers are skeptical of chatbots and their ability to provide just as great an interaction as a live representative. Simplr’s study mirrored this, as 41% of the brands earned a ‘high’ Relatability Score yet, when the data was isolated just around chat, the number dropped down to just 36%. It’s challenging for companies to execute chat in a way that goes above and beyond for consumers, and live chat is proving to be a critical component of a successful CX strategy.
24/7 live chat a much-needed component of the customer experience
With the world on a 24/7 online shopping cycle, what we call the “Now Generation” rightfully expects their brands to interact with them at the exact time they want to interact, and in the manner they want to interact. (I confess, I’m a card-carrying member of this “now generation.”)
For all the impressive ways chatbots can support a CX team, the technology falls short when the chatbot cannot address more complex issues – the issues most likely to turn a customer off if not handled properly. While many brands like Burberry have a standard option to start a chat with a human customer rep, many do not.
And it’s not just a matter of having live chat during certain hours. Simplr’s study was conducted during “off hours” between 5:00 p.m. and midnight EDT which, according to data from Shopify, is prime time for online browsing. However, only 32% of the brands in the study had a chat bubble available. Imagine all of the customers being neglected during these critical online browsing hours, or worse, imagine being one of those neglected customers.
While there are advancements in conversational AI there remains no substitute for human interaction, some who can offer a sympathetic ear, a quick resolution to an issue and, oftentimes, a revenue-generating upsell experience. Brand ambassadors who can share a humorous remark on what might have been a downer of a day for a customer. Just like Bruce Springsteen, many of us 5pm to midnight shoppers are “just looking for a little of that human touch.”
If staffing live chat 24/7 seems like a futile mission, it should be noted that, according to the American Marketing Association, customers who use live chat are three times more likely to buy, proving that, like so many things in life, it’s the bringing together of two powerful forces that works best: AI-powered human connections. This is the key to fostering revenue-generating brand loyalty.