As is the case with brick-and-mortar stores, running a successful ecommerce business is about more than just your store’s products and prices: it’s also about the customer experience you offer.
The ecommerce customer experience (ECX) is a key determinant of whether or not people buy from your store, whether they make repeat purchases and whether they tell their friends and family about your store. Indeed, 80% of consumers indicate that they’re more likely to buy from brands that offer a customized experience.
Why? Because customers want to feel pampered. They want you to ease all the burdens associated with buying online. Thus, you can’t afford to overlook your store’s ECX if you want to stand out and thrive in this competitive space. The good news is that advancements in Artificial Intelligence (AI) have made it easier than ever before to provide a high-quality ECX. Let’s understand this in more detail.
What makes an ecommerce customer experience good or bad?
Effectively every step that a potential customer goes through on an ecommerce store plays a role in determining their overall experience with your brand. Thus, it’s not enough to simply have a gorgeous website, high-quality products or professionally-shot photos: while these are important aspects of running your business, they’re unlikely to lead to too many conversions if your store visitors face any hiccups along their purchase journey.
Some of the key determiners of your customers’ experience are:
- How easy it is for them to find what they're looking for
- The quality and accuracy of product pages
- The shipping, return and refund policies
- The overall customer service
If your store is lacking in any of these areas, there’s a good chance you’ll lose out on many potential customers.
If you’re providing a good ECX, your store visitors will quickly get to what they’re interested in, take a look at its photos and specifications to make sure they’re okay with them, add the products they want to their shopping cart, and quickly check out and get the delivery process started.
In addition, a good ECX will probably involve you sending some kind of email confirmation to your customers stating that their purchase was successful, potentially along with a live status of their package. Lastly, in the event that they’re unhappy with the products they received, it will be relatively straightforward for them to return or exchange them.
A bad CX, in contrast, will leave your store visitors scratching their head (or worse, yelling at their screen) at each of the steps mentioned above.
Understanding the role of AI in ecommerce
One of the biggest trends in technology over the past decade or two has been the rise of extremely powerful AI-based products that can support businesses in a plethora of ways. Such products have been transforming how ecommerce works in the digital-first economy, while finding novel ways to enhance customer experience.
AI is an umbrella term that refers to a collection of algorithms, systems and techniques that can carry out complex tasks or reason about situations. There are several subdomains that fall under this umbrella, such as:
- Data mining, which deals with gathering and storing data in such a way as to make it useful for making predictions,
- Natural language processing (NLP), which aims to enable people to communicate with computers in as natural a way as possible,
- Machine learning (ML), which refers to a set of techniques that aim to enable computers to “learn” to detect certain patterns by analyzing large amounts of data.
Given all this, it should come as no surprise that the global AI market is expected to grow at an average annual rate of 38.1% between 2022 and 2030.
The upshot of the increasing use of AI in ecommerce means that businesses can now provide their potential customers with more personalized recommendations, improved search functionality and many other kinds of convenience, as we will see in more detail below.
6 ways in which AI is revolutionizing the ecommerce customer experience
Let’s now take a closer look at various ways in which AI is dramatically improving the customer experience for online shoppers, and get a better idea of why online store owners can’t afford to sit by the sidelines any more as far as AI-based ecommerce tools are concerned.
1. Improved search performance
Visitors who use a store’s search functionality are more likely to have a specific product in mind, and are hence more likely to convert. However, a poor search experience means that such visitors will probably just leave upon being disappointed by irrelevant or missing search results.
This is why augmenting your store with an AI-powered search engine makes a lot of sense. An NLP-based search engine can go beyond mere word-matching and actually understand the “search intent” behind a visitor’s query. As a result, the results it produces are extremely relevant. In addition, store owners can configure such engines in such a way as to promote certain products that tend to convert well, which can result in greater revenue.
2. Forecasting and decision-making
By analyzing past search, conversion and purchase data, AI-based predictive analytics can provide insights to ecommerce store owners as to which products are likely to be in demand at a particular time of the year, in a particular geographical location or among a certain cohort of customers.
Such insights can be used to anticipate customer needs, forecast sales, build marketing strategies and optimize inventory levels.
3. A better omnichannel experience
An “omnichannel” experience is one that blends into a seamless whole, the various ways in which customers can interact with a brand: through their website, on their mobile app, through call centers or through a brick-and-mortar store.
By ingesting data from every channel that a customer interacts with, AI can better build customers’ personas and define their preferences. By doing so, online sellers can optimize prices for different channels, thus improving the odds of a sale happening.
4. Advanced personalization
Personalization refers to various kinds of strategies that a store can employ in order to provide each visitor with a unique and relevant shopping experience. Some examples of personalization include: social media retargeting, targeted emails, dynamic product recommendations for cross-selling/upselling and showing shoppers a relevant landing page if they abandon their shopping cart.
All such instances of personalization depend on having a robust number of data points on each visitor and then analyzing them to create a profile: clearly a task that AI excels at! AI tools can automate such usually-complicated personalization-oriented tasks for you so that your customers can enjoy an experience tailored to their needs.
5. Deeper customer engagement with chatbots
More and more online stores these days are equipped with chatbots: AI-based conversational agents that can address customers’ questions autonomously. Chatbots may be able to work with both voice and text, depending on how advanced the AI behind it is.
The global market for conversational AI is booming, and is slated to grow at an average annual rate of 21.9% between 2020 and 2025.
From a customer’s point of view, chatbots offer a much more natural and simple way of getting information and assistance (as opposed to hunting for the appropriate links on a store), and a customer is more likely to make a purchase if they have had their questions answered. Moreover, a chatbot can greatly lower the costs of providing 24/7 support for store owners, as they might have had to hire multiple support personnel otherwise.
6. Smart merchandising
In an ecommerce context, ‘merchandising’ refers to the ways in which a store’s layout and structure can be optimized so as to provide the best possible visitor experience and thus maximize the chances of purchases. It includes aspects of the store such as the products that are displayed most prominently, pricing, promotions, banners, etc.
AI can help with merchandising in many ways. For instance, it can ensure that visitors only see items that are in stock, thus eliminating the annoyance of selecting a product only to later learn it’s unavailable. It can also tweak prices and discounts in such a way as to optimize conversions.
Understand your customers’ evolving needs with AI-assisted ECX
Thus, with technology- and growth-driven ecommerce brands increasingly adopting AI to take their ECX to the next level, it’s becoming increasingly important that smaller stores also start looking into such tools in order to ensure that they don’t get left behind. Thankfully, there’s a large number of relatively inexpensive AI-based ecommerce tools in the market today.
One such tool is Zevi, a powerful NLP-based search engine. Not only does Zevi recognize your customers’ search intent and provide them with highly relevant results, it can also be used to support your marketing efforts with customizable search result boosts and personalization. Try out Zevi’s Shopify App, or get in touch with us for a free demo!