AI and Mobile Is the Winning Formula for D2C Brands

Shopping shouldn’t feel like a chore. It should be fun and convenient, delighting the customer at every turn. The next generation of AI will anticipate your needs before you do. Imagine the perfect blazer arriving to your doorstep just-in-time for your cocktail reception. This may seem like a hi-tech fantasy, but thanks to the powerful combination of artificial intelligence and mobile technology, seeing is more than believing, it is a mechanism for brands to drive value-based shopping experiences.

Today, consumers have to navigate multiple touch points which delays the path-to-purchase. When a consumer doesn’t clearly articulate intent, it becomes even more difficult for the brand to cater to customer needs. AI removes these friction points by making the purchase process seamless when a consumer has a clear intent but also when a consumer is not looking for a specific product.

Artificial intelligence uses computer systems to perform tasks that normally require human intelligence. Brands and retailers have been using ‘AI lite’ for almost a decade, leveraging machine learning capabilities to offer customers benefits such as product recommendations.

However, brands are now learning just how much more powerful AI can be when combined with mobile technology, this is allowing brands to engage with customers in ways never before seen.

What Is the Driving Force Behind This Power Couple?

The magic behind the combination of AI and mobile is the input mechanism. Until recently, a keyboard was required to perform virtually any function. Searching for a pair of jeans, entering your user ID or locating a store all required the user to manually type information via a keyboard. Humans were not born with keyboards as extensions of their bodies; this is the most unnatural way for people to interact with machines. Instead, with AI, using voice and vision to interface with machines will become the norm.

Computer vision is the concept of creating sensors and image processors that simulate the human eye’s capabilities. Brands and retailers are beginning to integrate this technology into their store associate and customer-facing native apps – and it is having a profoundly positive impact on the way brands and consumers interact.

For instance, computer vision can be used to recognize a customer when they walk into a store. This facial recognition can instantly provide the store associate with a wealth of information on their mobile device about the customer, such as preferences, past purchase history, loyalty status, available promotions and product recommendations. Rather than approach a customer in a impersonal way, computer vision empowers sales associates to provide a more tailored and personalized experience to the customer.

Computer vision can be used in numerous other ways to enhance the customer journey, such as self-checkout and payments. As an extreme example, consider Amazon’s (OTC: AMZN) new grocery store, Amazon Go. Customers enter, select their items, then place items in their cart or bag and walk out. Visual sensors know exactly what is placed in the customer cart and payment is seamlessly integrated through their Amazon account.

Similarly, other brands and retailers are now using computer vision to complete checkout without having to scan individual items and facial recognition to connect with a customer’s virtual wallet. AI allows an image of a customer’s face to be connected with wallet information stored in the cloud to allow for checkout without ever having to remove a credit card, debit card or cash from your wallet.

Computer vision is creating a user experience that is markedly easier and more efficient than the current purchase experience.

Voice recognition is another technology that leverages and enhances AI and that is causing a seismic shift in the way consumers interact with brands and visa versa.

Devices such as Amazon Echo, Google Home (OTC: GOOGL) and the soon to be released Apple HomePod (OTC: AAPL) are examples of intelligent personal assistants that respond entirely through voice recognition technology.

As brands and retailers develop digital assistants, consumers will be able to interact directly with brands from their homes using nothing more than their voice. Rather than typing requests, users can simply ask, “Where can I get a bottle of raw water?” Or, “I’m going to a launch party tonight, can you recommend a red dress under $500?”

And this functionality isn’t restricted to the home. Imagine walking into an Apple Store and simply asking a HomePod, “Where in the store will I find a wireless charging base?” The speed and efficiency afforded by these assistants, through the use of voice, is a quantum leap forward.

How Does The Combination of AI and Mobile Actually Help Brands and Retailers?

There are two important ways in which this powerful combination can significantly improve the purchase journey, enhance the shopping experience, deepen engagement between brand and consumer, and ultimately drive conversions.

The first is personalization – which is not a novel concept for brands and retailers.  Think about the last time you bought a shirt online. After you selected an item, the site may have listed additional products that you might be interested in. Using a technique called “collaborative filtering,” websites use a simple form of machine learning to make these recommendations based on what others who bought that same shirt, also bought or were interested in.

These recommendations, however, are not specific to the consumer’s preferences or past purchases but rather are based on aggregate users. New applications of AI let retailers take this concept to the next level.

Retailers can now offer truly personalized, one-on-one product recommendations based on the actual user’s tastes, size, preferences and purchase history. These recommendations are based more on the consumer and less on simply the product or the purchase habits of others.

A mobile experience that harnesses AI can also provide users with a highly customized, dynamic user experience when interacting with a brand’s native app.

Unlike most apps and websites, which have a “one size fits all,” static strategy where all visitors see the same thing and interacts in the same way, new technology allows each consumer to have a custom experience on an mobile app and website, that enables stronger engagement between the brand and consumer.

How AI and Humans Can Work In Tandem

Imagine opening an app and feeling an instant and personal connection to the brand – like it actually knows you? Perhaps there is live access to a stylist who can make informed product recommendations based on your specific needs. Or there is a fully customized homepage, navigation bar, copy, inbox and digital wallet for each person using the app that reflects buying habits and preferences.

Why should a consumer in Alaska see the same product images as a consumer in Florida? And why should a teenage girl have the same navigation options as a parent?

AI takes personalization one step further by advancing the brand’s ability to cater to – and anticipate the consumer’s needs.

Where Does Augmented Reality Fit In?

Augmented Reality is proving to be incredibly useful, particularly in the home and beauty spaces.  AR allows users to “try on” products, or “see” them in their home, before actually buying them. Using just a phone camera, users can easily place a virtual coffee table in their living room or apply a virtual lipstick shade from anywhere at anytime, before ever actually committing to the purchase.

Brands that incorporate AR functionality in their apps are enjoying deeper engagement with their customers, higher online conversions and fewer returns.

There is no doubt that AI is taking the mobile experience to new and never-before-seen levels of innovation. Brands appear to be embracing the tools available to them and consumers are craving the novelty and convenience.

AI Without Data Is Meaningless

The first step towards personalization and leveraging AI is brands having direct connection with the consumer and having a proper CRM with a 360-degree view of the customer, which includes loyalty insights. Without data, AI is meaningless.

Loyalty programs provide tremendous value to the customer and help brands to get to know the customer preferences and behavior better.

Privacy a Concern

Of course, to continue on the current trajectory, brands and retailers must have a well-established privacy policy and approach to managing consumer data – one that clearly articulates to users how they are going to use and store the data collected through artificial intelligence so that it remains secure. And perhaps more importantly, companies need to provide a failsafe way for users to opt out of the collection of privacy data if desired.

There is a fine line between delighting a user with highly personalized, convenient interactions and shopping experiences and delving too far into their personal space. The tools currently exist for brands to offer consumers advancements that unquestioningly enhance the purchase journey and customer satisfaction. The companies that can do so in a secure, relevant, and responsible manner will lead the pack.

Nitan Mangtani is CEO of PredictSpring

 

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