Like every industry, ecommerce often finds itself buffeted by fads — the new shiny thing, the flavor of the week — pick your cliche.
But there are reasons some ecommerce themes stick and become almost a mantra among those trying to push online selling forward into the 21st century and beyond.
The latest is “artificial intelligence,” which we’ll get to in a minute.
But first, some history. Remember when omnichannel was all the rage? Sure you still hear about it, but not nearly as much as you once did. Is that because omnichannel no longer makes sense?
The reason the word “omnichannel” appears to have checked into the witness protection program is because it has become so widely adopted as a business goal and practice in ecommerce that it doesn’t need to be called out any more. It’s the way that language reflects the world in which it’s used. When was the last time you heard someone talk about a “high tech” solution? The phrase sounds ancient precisely because what was once considered high tech is now just considered technology — or just the way things are done.
As I said, ecommerce’s latest buzz phrase is “artificial intelligence,” or AI for those in the know. AI holds tremendous promise and has already significantly changed the face of retail. It relies on data— and lots of it — and smart algorithms that can act faster and across a far broader set of data than humans ever could.
But with the wonders of AI come the same dangers that accompany each leap forward in ecommerce. The challenge retailers face is the trick of embracing artificial intelligence without falling victim to the urge to deploy AI for the sake of AI.
I recently met with Justine Santa Cruz, of Satisfi Labs, a company that uses artificial intelligence to build retail chat bots to provide customer service. She had an interesting way of framing the contrast of the potential and pitfalls of AI, which she lays out in the video below.
At Shop.org earlier this year, Santa Cruz told me that retail was being upended in part by Amazon and other pure play ecommerce companies because those internet-first retailers know the true value of data and the tools that can tease insight from it. Some retailers are struggling, she said, because they’ve made the mistake of focusing too intently on increasing revenue at the expense of focusing on customers and what they want and need.
Obviously, making money is important to every retailer — and every business for that matter. But to put a fine point on Santa Cruz’s argument: If you genuinely focus on your customers and their needs, the revenue will follow.
Contact Mike Cassidy at firstname.lastname@example.org; follow him on Twitter at @mikecassidy.