In order to maximize holiday sales, retailers must provide customers with 24/7 access to product information, mine data to identify the most valuable target customers and ensure their systems will scale to handle peaks in online shopping volumes and customer service inquiries. Here’s how artificial intelligence can help.

Timothy Carey, general manager, Cognitive AI, IPsoft

Timothy Carey, general manager, Cognitive AI, IPsoft

As families around the U.S. prepare for the Thanksgiving holiday, retailers around the world—of both the virtual and brick-and-mortar varieties—are gearing up for the days that follow. The weekend between Black Friday and Cyber Monday represents the unofficial opening of the holiday shopping season when retailers stand to make billions.

In order to optimize this relatively brief period, retailers need to utilize all the tools at their disposal—channels to provide customers with 24/7 access to product information, data mining to identify the most valuable target customers, and systems that will scale to handle peaks in online shopping volumes and customer service inquiries. To do this efficiently requires the power of Artificial Intelligence (AI).

Robust automated pre-sale customer service

Researching purchases is an important part of modern commerce—especially when access to so many competing products is only a few clicks away. According to a report from the eCommerce Foundation, 88% of consumers pre-research products online before making a purchase in-store or virtually. High-quality access to information allows consumers to feel comfortable with their purchase decision, and provides vendors with an edge over the competition if they make information easy to find.

The flood of Black Friday numbers and data points would be completely unmanageable without AI.

Hiring an expansive human-powered customer support operation that can offer quality, 24/7 omnichannel response is an expensive proposition for most companies. However, this type of investment is becoming less necessary as AI-powered technologies become increasingly capable of conversing with consumers in a robust human-like way. Whether it be Alexa or Siri on the consumer side or IPsoft’s Amelia on the enterprise side, AI can provide ubiquitous and powerful customer engagements at scale.

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In fact, conversational AI—be it through chat, voice, or smart speakers—isn’t only a nice-to-have tool to offer, but is increasingly valued by consumers. According to a report from Gartner Research (PDF), by 2020 customers will manage 85% of their relationship with the enterprise without ever interacting with a human. This trend is particularly notable among the younger demographics where 60% of millennials have reported using chatbots, and 70% of those report the experience positively.

Personalized Digital Marketing at Scale

According to a 2016 Statista report, email with personalized messages achieve an open rate of 18.8% versus only 13.1% for those with no personalization. While it would be wonderful to write each potential customer a tailored note about what amazing Black Friday deals your company is offering, this is obviously far from practical. This is where AI’s ability to communicate at scale can be particularly valuable.

AI can be used to target messages and offers to specific customer segments such as, for example, recently married couples who are suddenly searching for baby clothes can receive an email with photos of babies and links to relevant products. Targeted segment messaging has proven to be a particularly lucrative strategy. According to a 2015 report (PDF) by the Direct Marketing Association, segmented and targeted emails generate 58% of all revenue, while Campaign Monitor reports that marketers have “found a 760% increase in email revenue from segmented campaigns.”

Not only can AI assist with crafting Black Friday messaging to targeted groups, it can target down to the individual. AI can be used to recommend relevant holiday deals based on individual’s profile (e.g., demographics, purchase history and other behaviors). Data shows that personalized recommendations chosen by AI are uniquely persuasive. A 2013 report from McKinsey found that 35% of what customers purchase on Amazon and 75% of what they watch on Netflix are due to recommendations guided by algorithms.

AI as Ad Campaign Manager

Of course, the world is full of potential customers who may have no prior experience with your brand. In order to inform all these consumers about your company’s holiday deal, you need to tap a sophisticated marketing campaign.

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By leveraging AI, advertisers are able to better understand the customer journey and increase efficiency for their messaging. Marketers are increasingly reliant on AI solutions in which they simply issue high-level commands while the system takes on the bulk of the cognitive workload. Today’s high-end AI platforms are able to recommend strategy specifics (channels, content and audiences) and then automate A/B testing at scale. This functionality allows brands to determine the efficacy of their campaigns or initiatives in near real-time, which allows them to boost their brand’s signal through the Black Friday noise.

Data is the New Oil

As commerce becomes an increasingly digital pursuit, there has been an accompanying increase in data that can be used to optimize brands’ strategies. All of this data can help retailers identify and message potential Black Friday customers. However, the flood of numbers and data points would be completely unmanageable without AI. As these technologies evolve, they will help marketers take some of the guesswork out of the calendar’s most lucrative weekend.

IPsoft specializes in automating business processes through the use of artificial intelligence.

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