As with all trade shows, sometimes it is hard to separate the hype from the real market advances. After our team at CQL spent a few days at the Internet Retailer Conference & Exhibition (IRCE), we wanted to net-out the best information we learned from this ecommerce community.
Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning are Now Real in Ecommerce
While AI has been promised for years, real tools are finally here, and ready to use. The ability to establish learning rules that guide users through the digital shopping journey, has moved from vision to reality.
Salesforce’s Einstein and IBM’s Commerce ‘version’ of Watson lead the way in providing AI tools to the ecommerce professional. Both companies have been invested in growing their ecommerce data modeling features. This is providing their customers the ability to better communicate with their consumer; with more targeted products and experience.
While some think this technology is only affordable for the biggest enterprise customers, this week it became more obvious that the real advantage is going to be for the mid-market.
Why? Well, if the heavy lifting of e-merchandising can be done by AI tools, then there can be serious ROI to the emerging modern ecommerce team.
Said another way, if a tool can be a more effective day-to-day merchandiser than a human, brands can focus their team on design and strategy rather than mundane manipulation of ‘those who liked this,’ modeling.
Reflektion, is another example of an AI company who is driving millions of incremental conversions for leading retailers like Disney, Marmot, and O’Neill Clothing, but also has a strategy for the mid-market segment. We like the simplicity they describe regarding what AI can do for commerce professionals – ‘Understand and influence the intent of each customer.’
It remains to be seen if a licensed machine learning tool can replace the hand-touch of human merchandisers, or if it will simply make them more effective. Time will tell.
Robotic Photography – Moving Closer to the Touch/Feel of In-Store Purchasing
We all know that customers prefer to see and touch products. (Advantage: Brick & Mortar). But ecommerce has just gained a leg-up with robotic photography.
This technology provides the mathematical accuracy of Computer Generated Imagery (CGI) with the ‘feel’ of seeing a product in real life.
Our Digital Marketing team sees this advancement as a huge step in providing compelling user experiences for retail products like apparel, home goods and hardware. It will work well for implementation of more technical applications, like replacement parts sold through the B2B channel.
The folks at snap36, demonstrated some real examples and case studies and have claims of higher conversion rates to back up their work. It’s worth checking this new technology out.
At CQL, we think the next logical step will be coupling Robotic Photography with CGI.
While yet to be proven, we foresee that the level of precision with which robotic photography can be integrated with CGI renderings will result in the best of both worlds. Take a second and imagine a 65-foot yacht rendered in CGI, and then zooming in to photographs of consoles, engine rooms or galleys for the ‘feels like’ experience. This is the near future.
Whether by Acquisition or Strategic Investment, ‘Unified Ecommerce’ Platforms Are on the Rise
At the IRCE conference, one of the speakers shared his challenging story of implementing a digital store. He outlined 19 technologies that were required to get his solution operational. While chuckles could be heard from the audience, it appears the industry is aware of this problem and wants it to be less ‘funny.’
This was easy to see standing on the trade show floor and seeing the new breed of platforms, mergers and brands everywhere you looked.
While Salesforce has been growing in capacity with acquisitions like Demandware, they have a solid vision for Unified Commerce and are making measured steps to integrate technologies into their vision and community.”
Others include Oracle, with its acquisition of Netsuite/Bronto and Kibo which is a merger of Mozu, MarketLive and Shopatron. Since these mergers have yet to demonstrate their vision, we will take a ‘wait and see’ approach.
There is a Battle Brewing in the Mid-Market Ecommerce Market
For years, if you had limited SKUs and volume, there were great choices. If your business was to grow, many of these platforms could not scale with you. (We’ve heard countless stories of security vulnerabilities and systems crashing with holiday surges).
But that is changing – many smaller platforms like Shopify, Woo Commerce, Volusion, and Magento are adding features to better support the mid-market business, and some of the big players are re-tuning their go-to-market strategies to be a viable option for this segment as well.
We continue to be impressed by the thought leadership of Weblinc in their ground-up development of Workarea – a truly modern commerce platform. This unified ecommerce platform was built specifically for the mid-market modern teams who need to move quickly and stay nimble. This platform has taken much of what would have required 5-10 disparate technologies, and put them under one modern tech-stack, making it a natural move for ecommerce businesses that are trying to scale.
And at the same time, it is also worth noting that IBM is moving down-market with its offering, making it more approachable. We were impressed by IBM’s re-commitment to collaboration with technology partners and feel it will change its market presence in the e-retail world.
While trade shows are always full of buzz (and buzzwords) this one was particularly interesting. We saw 20 years of promises made by technologists finally are coming to fruition and the opportunity to reinvent commerce is in the hands of those who want to leverage it.