How artificial intelligence fits into e-commerce

Three elements of artificial intelligence—data mining, natural language processing and machine learning—can help online retailers improve results.

 

According to the recent Forrester report, Predictions 2017: Artificial Intelligence Will Drive The Insights Revolution, AI will grow 300% in 2017, and “will steal $1.2 trillion per annum from their less informed peers by 2020.” Numbers like these are behind the surge in retailers betting big on AI. Particularly for retailers looking to gain a leg up in e-commerce, AI is hard to ignore.

Still, while retailers have generally recognized the importance of AI, there is also plenty of confusion when it comes to relevant terminology and real-world applications because of the marketing noise around the technology.

 

So, what exactly is AI?

Market confusion on what AI is and what it’s capable of has in large part been driven by the simple misuse of the term AI.

AI is not a singular technology. It’s comprised of multiple components, such as machine learning. These component technologies that make up AI each have their own inherent value—but as with many things when it comes to marketing cutting-edge technology, the nuance is lost for the buzz-worthy.

This is one reason AI has become a catch-all word for multiple technologies. To move AI forward, we need to embrace the nuance of what it actually is.  Here are three important aspects of AI that e-commerce businesses need to understand:

  1. Data Mining – Often also referred to as Knowledge Discovery, this includes the technologies and methodologies for identifying useful and meaningful patterns in data. This is often based on extremely large data sets.
  2. Natural Language Processing (NLP) – This is the process used to assign meaning to human sentences. In the parlance of the industry, it provides machines with the ability to understand the languages that humans speak. Within the context of the e-commerce, it allows computers and software programs to understand the sentiment of a consumer’s written word—whether it’s email, online, social media, etc.
  3. Machine Learning – This is a specific process within AI, and refers to the science of self-learning algorithms. At its core, Machine Learning is about the use of statistics to solve problems using the data from the knowledge discovery process. The driving concept of machine learning is using technology to help humans think better.

Beyond these three components, AI also encompasses Neural Networks (computer systems modeled on the human brain and nervous system) and Robotics. However, neither of these fields are relevant for e-commerce at this time.

 

Depending on your goals, find the gaps in your data and fill them

 

AI Applications in E-commerce

By better understanding the technology underpinnings of AI, you can better view the world of possible applications and the specific impact it can have on retailers. A few examples include:

  • Dramatically Improved Search Capabilities – Although retailers have made significant gains over the years, today’s search algorithms still lack the ability to understand a given search query with the nuances of language, as a human would. It just takes a look at Siri to see we have a long way to go. Machine Learning combined with NLP capabilities, which fall under the AI umbrella, can improve search engines’ ability to learn from each new interaction, better understand what a customer is querying for, and deliver more relevant results—even if the wording isn’t exactly as programmed.
  • AI-Fueled Personalization and Predictive Recommendations Drawing on all three aspects—Data Mining, NLP and Machine Learning—retailers are now able to combine data gathered from transactions across all channels with actions taken by the consumer throughout the day, even those that aren’t necessarily related to shopping, to gain a deeper understanding of consumers’ wants and needs. For example, say a consumer tweets about it being cold outside. A brand may know from purchase history that she recently bought a winter hat, and that many hat buyers also like to purchase gloves. They could then respond to the consumer with some glove recommendations, or a discount offer. Beyond the “personalization” of the past, e-commerce companies can now understand what drove individual product purchases, and use that information to predict which products customers might be interested in, and even how those products could be customized to fit their personal preferences.
  • Improved Customer Interactions63% of consumers are highly annoyed by the way brands continue to rely on the old-fashioned strategy of blasting generic ad messages repeatedly (Marketo). Retailers can avoid this customer fatigue and drive e-commerce sales today by using Data Mining and Machine Learning to understand how each customer wants to be reached, and how often.

As an example, marketers already measure open rates on email, so they know if they’re getting customers’ attention. They also measure website clicks as a gauge of customer interest. If that click is on the “thank you” page on an ecommerce site, they know the customer has already purchased something, and likely even what that item is. Using this data, enriched with other data about the individual, purchase history and other factors through Data Mining and Machine Learning, allows marketers to communicate with consumers in real time with the right offer at the right place and time. They can understand when each customer will be most receptive to and offer, and what that offer should entail in order to capture their attention.

  • Concierge as a Service – Chatbots give marketers the ability to interact with the customer in real time and learn on-the-fly what the customer needs and deliver specific prescriptive guidance and results. Though the idea of bots has been around since the ‘50s and ‘60s when Alan Turing and Joseph Weizenbaum invented the first “chatterbot” program, Eliza, AI has given the technology new teeth—enabling conversational commerce.

As an example, a customer may be shopping for a particular brand of mascara on a website. Using Data Mining on past information about the customer and others like her, and Machine Learning to react to this new data about the customer, a bot agent could pop up and give her exclusive personalized offers that meet her needs and are relative to her color preferences, demographic, time of year, price triggers and sense of style. Given the amount of data to create a personalized interaction, a mere decision-tree logic would not work. Deep-learning customer models must be created in order to “react” to the consumer in real time, and NLP is needed to interact with her in a conversational way.

 

First Steps to Implementation

The list of applications for AI could go on, but the first steps for implementing the technology are similar regardless of how you choose to employ it.

First, get a comprehensive view of your existing data points. This could include CRM data, transactional data from online or mobile, demographic information, third-party sources—any and all context you can gather on your customers and their preferences can be relevant.

Second, determine your goals. Do you want to increase sales among your existing customers? Bring in new customers? Determine when you should have sales? Figure out which products you should be stocking? Having a specific goal will help you determine the best route to get there, and gauge the effectiveness of your efforts.

Next, depending on your goals, find the gaps in your data and fill them. The power of AI is that it can uncover correlations that aren’t readily apparent, and no company has access to 100% of the data they need on their own. For example, Starbucks may not know how heavy traffic is today or what the weather is in your current location, but there could be important correlations between those pieces of data and whether you are buying a coffee because you’re tired or because it’s cold outside.

Finally, it is important to understand that the Data Mining and Machine Learning process takes time. It is still a form of A/B testing, just done much more rapidly and on a massive scale. You can’t expect immediate results as the system needs to learn from successes and failures. For those that get a head start now, however, there is an incredible opportunity to grab a larger slice of that $1.2 trillion pie in the years to come.

Grey Jean Technologies provides personalization technology to retailers.

 

Digital Entertainment: The Next Step in the Grey Jean Journey

Earlier this month, we had the honor of being named the winner of the 2017 Digital Entertainment World (DEW) Startup Competition, which recognizes innovation in digital media. As one of twelve competing startups, we introduced a room full of leading investors, venture capitalists and digital media executives to our recommendation engine Genie, and explained why artificial intelligence and machine learning have an important role to play in the multimedia industry.

The thing is, although we at Grey Jean are often talking about using AI and machine learning for retail, the goals and application can be mirrored across industries. Publishers fundamentally want the same thing as retailers – but instead of targeting current and prospective customers with relevant products, they want to target current and prospective readers with relevant content.

In today’s crowded media world, relevance has become more important for publishers than ever before. The staggering volume of content saturating the internet gives readers easier access to more choices, meaning individual publications’ readership and subscriber levels are dropping to all-time lows. To combat dwindling subscribers, publishers must capture readers’ attention and connect with them through targeted content that is delivered at the right time and in the most appropriate channel.

Today’s consumers not only expect this, they prefer it. It’s no secret why Facebook is the most engaging site on the internet – every piece of content is tailored for each individual user.

AI can help publishers to identify and deliver content tailored to individual readers across all of their digital and print properties, creating more meaningful interactions. Genie, specifically, helps publishers better understand reader behavior across all publications and channels by creating a unique “fingerprint” for each reader. This fingerprint gives publishers new insights into each reader’s behaviors and preferences, enabling them to create more targeted editorial content. With Genie’s AI-powered insights, publishers can:

  • Deliver messages from a publisher that are relevant to individual audiences;
  • Create better digital marketing experiences that drive engagement and brand affinity;
  • Personalize call-to-actions across digital channels; and
  • Provide publishers with actionable data analytics and reporting.

Insights on a reader’s preferences and behaviors also provides value to a publisher’s brand partners. With AI, publishers can design new advertising packages to help brands more effectively engage with target audiences in a personalized and meaningful way. This in turn delivers maximum return on investment on a brand’s ad spend.

At Grey Jean Technologies, we believe data-based insights have a place in every industry. Everyone from retailers to digital publishers can benefit from better serving their customers through more personalized marketing. DEW was the next step in our journey to improve the customer experience across a wide range of industries, and we’re excited to see how it unfolds.

 

 

 

The Changing State Of Retail In 8 Charts

Even as investors are pulling back on e-commerce, retail corporates are making big acquisitions.

From increased investment to in-store tech startups, to the development of next-gen distribution methods, to trends among retail corporates, we look at the most important developments shaping retail.

1. Investor excitement surrounding in-store technologies

Funding to startups offering technologies for use in-store is rising to an all-time high this year. These technologies, ranging from store management platforms, to wearables for store staff, to beacons for in-store analytics and proximity marketing, are on track to see over 170 deals worth nearly $800M in total this year.

In Store Tech Funding Slide

 

2. Smart money VCs lead the in-store investment charge

In an even more positive signal for in-store technology, smart money VCs are also ramping up their investment activity. Notable deals with smart money participation this year include a $19M Series B to Index, a software platform for offline retailers, and a $30M Series B to Zenreach, a platform that provides guest Wi-Fi systems and traffic analytics to retailers and cafes.

In Store Tech Smart Money

3. 133 startups transforming in-store retail

The market map below highlights the growth in diversity of in-store technologies. Categories including point-of-sale financing options, connected beacons and sensors, interactive in-store displays, robots and chatbots for in-store use, and even music management systems for retailers have become crowded with startups.

In Store Tech Market Map Slide

 

4. New distribution methods bring the transaction to the consumer

While technology can help turn stores into valuable data collection centers, other technologies are enabling a greater dispersion of the point of sale than ever before. Some of these separate the consumer from the purchasing decision. Personal styling services and subscription services, for example, curate selections of items for the customer, eliminating the need for a customer to choose a brand. Others aim to make purchasing as instantaneous as possible. For example, Kwik and Hiku produce connected at-home devices, similar to Amazon Dash buttons, that let customers quickly re-order items by voice or by pressing a button. Cargo, another next-gen retail distributor, helps Uber drivers sell packaged goods to riders from the backseat of their cars.

Distribution Market Map Slide

 

5. E-commerce sees investment slump

While in-store tech is seeing a rise in investor interest, the much larger e-commerce category is in a slump. Investment into the space has declined dramatically this year. Deals to e-commerce startups are on track to fall below 2013 levels in 2016.

Ecommerce Funding Slide

 

6. Smart money VCs have pulled back even more on e-commerce

In contrast to the increased excitement we saw among smart money investors toward in-store tech, smart money VCs are pulling back on e-commerce even more dramatically than investors in general. They began turning away from e-commerce earlier than other investors, as well, with deals falling in 2015 even as total deals among all investors reach an all-time high.

Ecommerce Smart Money Funding Slide

 

7. Corporates opening their wallets for top e-commerce players

On the other hand, corporates look like they’re becoming more active. Three of the six largest e-commerce acquisitions in history took place in 2016: Walmart’s acquisition of Jet.com, Alibaba’s acquisition of southeast-Asia-based competitor Lazada, and Unilever’s acquisition of Dollar Shave Club. Alibaba’s bid for Lazada may have been more indicative of a strategy of geographic expansion, while Walmart and Unilever used these acquisitions to expand their e-commerce footprint.

Ecommerce Top Exits Slide

 

8. Retailers’ private market activity more focused on product than on tech

Walmart has been particularly innovative in acquisitions, with four acquisitions of digital startups since 2012. Most retailers have been less active. Furthermore, based on our analysis of all investments and M&A deals by top US retailers since 2010, most deals have been focused on taking on new product lines rather than investing in technologies that could more fundamentally impact business processes. Traditional retailers have yet to seriously leverage startups as “outsourced R&D,” but going forward, there is certainly plenty of innovation coming from startups, which could continue to transform retail in the future.

Product Process Slide

 

CB Insights: 45 Artificial Intelligence Startups Targeting Retail In One Infographic

AI isn’t all self-driving cars and chess-playing computers. There’s an emerging market for AI use in e-commerce.

Investors poured a record high $1.05B into artificial intelligence startups in Q2’16, and AI is already affecting more areas of our lives than many people realize. Even retail and e-commerce companies are increasingly integrating the technology.

Recently there’s been a rush of AI announcements and acquisitions by major retailers: Just this week, Etsy acquired Blackbird to enhance its search functionality through AI, followed the very next day by Amazon acquiring Angel.ai (formerly GoButler), another AI-powered searching tool. And earlier this month, e-commerce unicorn Houzz (see our full unicorn tracker here) announced a deep learning initiative to help users find and buy products by clicking on images.

Using CB Insights data, we dove into the wide array of AI startups focused on retailers and e-commerce businesses, including AI-powered personal shopping apps, natural language processing and image recognition tools for shopping websites, predictive inventory allocation tools, and more.

The area is emerging, and most companies focused on retail AI remain in the very early stages. However, we have seen several larger deals in recent months. ViSenze, which lets users search e-commerce sites by image or find visually similar items, raised a $10.5M Series B in September, while Trax Image Recognition, which visually tracks the performance of goods on grocery shelves, raised a $40M Series C in June. Several startups are backed by top investors from our smart money list, such as search optimization tool Zettata, backed by Accel Partners, and predictive customer targeting platform AgilOne, backed by Sequoia Capital.

While there are numerous other AI startups focused broadly on personalized marketing and ad targeting, we limited this market map to startups whose core focus is retail and e-commerce. The startups in this graphic have raised roughly $650M in total disclosed equity financing. Scroll down to view the graphic, category explanations, and a full company list with select investors.

 

Retail AI market map

See the market map below. This market map is not meant to be exhaustive of startups in the space. Graphic includes private, independent companies only.

final-retail-ai-market-map

Category breakdown

We divided our market map into the 12 categories listed below:

Real-time product targeting – Machine learning to present online shoppers with personalized product recommendations. These companies typically update e-commerce websites in real time to present product selections best suited to the individual shopper.

Real-time pricing & incentives – Machine learning to adjust pricing, sale options, rewards, and coupons in real time to try to push hesitant shoppers toward conversion.

Natural language search – Algorithms that use natural language processing to improve search functionality in e-commerce websites.

Visual search – Image recognition platforms that help e-commerce websites let visitors search by image, instead of text, and match relevant products to specific images.

In-store visual monitoring – AI-powered software that analyzes photo and visual content of store shelves to help brands track how their products are stocked and promoted in real time.

Conversational commerce – Chat software and chatbots focused on helping shoppers make purchases in a conversational text format using natural language processing.

Predictive merchandising – Big data analysis to optimize purchasing, allocation, and product assortment across stores and e-commerce. The aim is to better predict demand in different geographies to avoid waste and prevent inventory from going out of stock.

Sizing & styling – AI-powered software to help retailers integrate improved product sizing and outfit-building tools into their websites.

Multichannel marketing – Startups using AI to create targeted marketing campaigns across desktop, mobile, email, and other digital channels. Inclusion limited to startups focused specifically on e-commerce.

Integrated online & in-store analytics – Startups that combine both digital and physical store analytics to help retailers better understand their customers.

Location-based marketing & analytics – Startups that combine digital and physical store analytics, while also integrating beacon technology to track shoppers’ locations.

 

 

Originally appearing on CB Insights “Don’t You Look Smart: 45 Artificial Intelligence Startups Targeting Retail In One Infographic”: https://www.cbinsights.com/blog/ai-retail-smart-shop-startups/