Machine Learning and Ecommerce: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Welcome the Robot Apocalypse

Posted on October 24, 2018

Let’s discuss the mythological figure Prometheus. Humanity was miserable and tortured according to Greek folklore, yearning for some kind of direction or sense of hope. Enter Prometheus, a titan who felt great pity toward humans. Prometheus knew the gods of Olympus held a precious gift that humans did not: fire. In a daring attempt to aid humankind, Prometheus snuck into Olympus, stole fire from the gods, and gave it to us, sparking industry, art, culture, and all other things that make us uniquely human. Since the invention of the world wide web, A.I. used to be reserved for industry Olympians like IBM or Microsoft. Now though, the ubiquity and connectivity of the internet have served as a Promethean distributor this generation’s fire: A.I. and machine learning. From there, we can expect an explosion of industry, art, culture, and yes, e-commerce.

Odds are your store is already implementing basic machine learning. Does your site feature best selling products being automatically filtered to the top? That’s a machine learning what sells best. Do you have an automatic chatbot? That’s a machine learning how best to respond to customers. Do you target lookalike audiences on Facebook advertisements? A machine has learned who responds to your ads and finds similar people. Things have changed. These changes, while drastic when considering how briefly the internet has existed in the grand scheme of things, are just scratching the surface of the potential for machine learning and e-commerce though.

According to a Gartner Summits study, “over 80% of all customer interactions will be handled by A.I.” Yes, you read that correctly. 80%. Why is that though? What are these machines learning that will shake the foundations of e-commerce to its core? It’s simple, really. The machines are learning how to be more human, and sometimes, they’re better at being human than we are.

One of the first steps to starting an e-commerce business is to identify a brand and hammer it home in a personal way to potential customers. People like special treatment, and are flocking to brands that make them feel as if they are personally wanted. Enter machines. By studying what individual customers want, at a fraction of the time that their human counterparts take, robotic sales representatives can curate personalized ads to every single customer of your store. Machines know the potential pain points before you do, and can eliminate them before they’re even a problem. You know all those customer service emails you’ve been putting off answering? They’re taken care of instantly. Finding it difficult to create curated email flows for specific customers? The machine has already learned what those customers want. This eases the customer process, resulting in fewer abandoned carts and more conversions, which means you’re one sell closer to that European vacation you’ve wanted to have since you studied abroad freshman year. Simply step back, relax, and let your robotic drones do the hard work for you.

Another great feature machine learning can offer is that of price adjustment. With the plethora of stores on the internet, it’s hard to know when the price is right. With A.I., you don’t have to know, because your robot comrades will know for you, and adjust site prices accordingly. You don’t have to worry about other stores’ prices. Your site will be there for you 24/7, 365 days a year, monitoring and updating prices to keep you competitive.

Having a hard time finding the exact scarf Kelly was wearing at the Halloween party? A machine has learned that you and Kelly have the same taste, and based on your similar search patterns, has found that exact scarf and ten more like it. Perhaps you saw a wonderful credenza, and think it would look great next to the chaise in your living room. Pinterest has already developed a lens that works “like a Shazam for real-world objects: you just point your camera at the desired item and the algorithm will find it online.” Snapchat and Amazon have recently announced a marriage made in e-commerce heaven. Snapchat users can take a picture of an object, be directed to it on Amazon, read reviews, and buy it right then and there. It’s mind-boggling how connected the world has become.

So where does that leave your business? Is all lost to automation? Do we have any choice but to crumble under the iron fist of the machine? The short answer is: not yet. The longer answer is that you can use these potential robot overlords to your advantage. Implement smart email flows through services like Klaviyo. Get a chatbot that’s worth a darn and start implementing some automated responses to increase your response rate. Start advertising on Snapchat (even though we’ve told you not to sell on Amazon). Keep up with technology, and implement it as often as you can.  It’s better to be a pioneer and have issues than to be cautious and end up too late to the party.

This article only scratches the surface of what wonders await us in the age of A.I. I can’t predict where we’re going, much like Michael Aldrich couldn’t predict that plugging his television into a computer in 1979 would lead to the internet commerce revolution. The point is to be aware that change is coming, and by staying on top of it, you can increase your customer experience, and therefore profits, tremendously. Before you make Siri take a Turing test, or begin conspiring against your Alexa, consider the fact that they might just be your best friends in an increasingly automated online world.