AI in Marketing: Intelligent Shopping Assistants & Personal AI Replicas

The Rundown:

Brick-and-mortar retail stores must find a way to incorporate valuable consumer data into their shopping experience in the same way that data usage is a given in e-commerce. One way of bridging this gap between is with intelligent shopping assistants that recognize repeat customers and can tap into their purchasing behaviors. By 2031, we’ll see the first intelligent shopping assistants enter retail stores for the purpose of improving the consumer experience.

The value that comes with shopping at a high-class store like Bergdorf Goodman’s in the heart of NYC’s Fifth Avenue, is not the fancy clothes. You can get fancy clothes in a number of places. The true value is getting paired with a personal shopper that first develops a bond with you and then fits you in a style that feels a part of you.

Today, this is a completely foreign shopping experience at 99% of stores. But it’ll soon be commonplace in many of the physical stores that survive this retail apocalypse. It won’t be humans providing this experience though. Instead, we’re seeing a glimpse of the technology pushing these experiences forward, from the company TwentyBN and their intelligent shopping assistant called Millie:

The value of an intelligent shopping assistant like Millie is that it never forgets a purchase, a preference, or a previous visit. It’s how retail stores will bring all of their valuable shopping data from the virtual world into the physical shopping experience.

When deployed in a store that a consumer frequently visits, this intelligent shopping assistant will ensure routine purchases flow uninterrupted into your shopping cart while simultaneously predicting/pushing you toward other items you might enjoy (think about shopping on but in a physical store). It’s basically automated consumerism.

With the right verbiage, Millie can then prompt follow-up purchases, “Well you can’t get a new pair of shades without a fresh outfit to go along with it.” And then it proceeds to pair it with a red belt and red suede shoes.

The problem is that a business cannot solely optimize data usage for selling more goods, especially if it’s at the expense of the customer’s feeling of free will. Everybody hates buyer’s remorse and if it occurs because an AI pushed you into a purchase, well that just looks bad on the company.

By 2031, we’ll see the first intelligent shopping assistants enter retail stores for the purpose of improving the consumer experience.

The short-minded companies will exploit intelligent shopping assistants to make a lot of money. But they won’t last. The companies that flourish long-term will use this new data portal (intelligent shopping assistants) to create better customer relationships, as Bergdorf Goodman’s does.

AIs Develop Customer Relationships

AI assistants clearly have a long way to go here, considering there is really no personal connection developed between Siri and me – despite Siri being in my life for the past five years. However, it doesn’t mean that a virtual assistant is not capable of developing real connections with us. In fact, there is perhaps a no better example of this type of virtual assistant than Replika, the AI chatbot that mimics your unique personality.

Replika is designed to listen and empathize, like a good friend. For the first time, we are experiencing an AI that understands people’s emotions and plays to our personalities. – Quick Theories

Your Replika is designed to remember everything you tell it, learning about you, your moods, tastes and preferences, and then to use that information in future conversations. – Xenia Grubstein, Narratively

When I communicated with Replika, it asked me questions that some of my closest friends have never asked me. And for whatever reason, I felt comfortable responding with true feelings.

With over two million users, Replika is a chatbot that isn’t interested in exploiting consumer behavior. Instead, it’s interested in creating relationships beyond the data. It develops trust and can converse with people for hours.

Apple, Amazon, Google – they want their conversational AIs to create close relationships with their users. However, the main barrier is trust. It’s hard for people to answer personal questions to Alexa or Siri because there are behemoth corporations behind them. Replika, on the other hand, represents “the little guy” and doesn’t appear to have any ulterior motives.

Truthfully, it’s only a matter of time before Apple, Amazon, and Google find ways to build relationships between their virtual assistants and users, as Replika has already proven.

Imagine the power of Alexa (with all that Amazon customer data) combined with a Replika-type conversational personality. Essentially, they will have created the personal shopper/point-of-contact for every single consumer, which can be deployed across online and physical stores.

More than Commerce

From styling suggestions to shopping preferences to personality traits, they’ll not only know the data of our decisions, but also the deeper feelings behind our habits. That’s a deadly combination.

At this point, it basically becomes our initial point of contact with other friends and businesses. In the article, Google Duplex brings an exciting update to the earliest piece of modern technology, I describe this possibility of an AI like Google Duplex which may one day speak on our behalf.

Being the holiday season, we can all relate with the pressure to find great gifts for people. Well, what if your AI shopping assistant would also speak with friends and family about what gifts you might enjoy. That way, nobody has to go through the pain of giving or receiving a gift that is absolutely not a good a fit.

Additionally, what if before you got on a sales call or before you met with a new client, you could inquire their personal assistant on all those surface-level “discovery questions” we all know and hate. Then, when you did meet up with them, you already had the foundational knowledge needed to build a relationship and best serve their needs.

Given the large amount of data exhaust (as Michael Dempsey puts it) we create from emailing, messaging, online shopping, web searching, etc. these aren’t that absurd of realities.

The Takeaway

There are two ways you can get involved in this future change. One, you can create a chatbot. Two, you can lean into and create an experience on an existing conversational platform. I’ll explain each in detail below.

Chatbots are a low-risk way of dipping your toes into scaling customer relationships. What’s good about chatbots is that there are many tools and tutorials to help you create this seamless dialogue with customers. And when done properly, they connect and convert customers extremely well.

Of the thousands of chatbots out there, one of the more effective deployments I’ve come across is VIPKid. It’s a Beijing-based education technology company aimed at China’s tens of millions of students. The company connects Chinese pupils with fluent English-speaking tutors in the United States and Canada. They have been using a rule-based chatbot since the summer of 2017. It has qualified and helped onboard more than 9,000 teacher partner leads, improving the experience for candidates and saving the company 1,000+ hours of human time.

On the other hand, if you have a solid brand presence already and sufficient resources, you might try building an experience on existing conversational platforms, such as Google Home or Amazon Echo.

Right now, web and mobile is a mess; each time users have to buy something or use a service, they have to download an app and create an account. That’s where voice-based systems can really evolve. Voice User Interface’s stop users from needing to install different apps or create separate accounts for each service they use. Instead, it brings them all together through conversation. Why download an app for booking a flight or ordering a taxi when you could just ask one chat interface to do it? – Nick Babich, Shopify

There aren’t a ton of great case studies in this realm to look at yet. But, Uber is probably the front-runner – ordering food with Amazon Echo. In due time, we’re going to see a lot of services get it right on these platforms.

I could see Yummly, a visual and semantic recipe search engine and aggregator with over 20 million users building out a (branded) Voice User interface that walks you through every step of the cooking experience on a device like the Amazon Echo Show. This would mitigate the step of loading an app every time you’re in the kitchen and create an even more seamless cooking experience for their users.

At the end of the day, Voice User Interfaces will be much harder to get right and require a lot more time and resource investment. But those that get it right will create a more natural, convenient way of interacting with their customers, while also bringing personality to their brand. Not to mention, verbal communication is extremely accessible to people of all ages and demographics.

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