Propelling e-commerce growth by adding the ‘Human Touch’

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The rising trajectory and stellar performance of e-commerce on a global scale has been phenomenal, making it one of the biggest internet success stories of all time. Having evolved into an efficient and formulaic framework over the years, it now bears little resemblance to its offline peers in the physical world. While online shopping scores highly in most ways over shopping in traditional brick and mortar stores due to its functionality, it leaves one box unchecked and shoppers nostalgic over a crucial aspect in the purchase cycle – the human interaction. This calls for a middle ground that marries the successful features of e-commerce with the human elements of retail stores, transitioning the shopping event from ‘consumption’ to ‘experience’.

What are some of the human elements of shopping?

Shoppers in a physical store seek assistance and expect the attendant to be knowledgeable, to communicate well, and quickly gauge what they want, while bearing in mind that they will likely be willing to compromise on some features and prioritise others. The assistant engages in asking, understanding, recommending, and selling.

Additionally, consumers are influenced by the people whom they trust, such as friends and family – as well as celebrities or Instagram influencers. They seek their advice and recommendations before making decisions.

So, how well are these human elements being reflected in e-commerce?

Human advice and recommendations: A study reveals that 97% of consumers read product reviews before making purchases. E-commerce sites have boldly embraced the user-generated review and rating system, which provides users with candid and credible opinions about products. Sites like Lush lay huge emphasis on testimonials, reviews and ratings, which, through their web layouts, take precedence over other product information – it’s an approach that their A/B testing reveals to have succeeded. Taking this a step further, Guuru enables e-commerce sites to allow their shoppers to connect directly with other consumers for their first-hand feedback.

Human influence: Brands are becoming increasingly conscious of the desire for human interaction, and are using social media in a fun and human way. An example is that of Facebook Shops, which allows anyone from a sole trader to a large brand to sell products, end-to-end, via Facebook, Instagram, and soon Messenger and WhatsApp. In its endeavour of combining e-commerce with more human interaction, it allows brands to tag their products to images, videos and even live broadcasts, encouraging them to connect with their followers using their personality, knowledge and insights to boost sales.

Shopping assistants: The trickiest human element to emulate in e-commerce is perhaps the knowledgeable, helpful shopping assistant. Human assistants can naturally communicate and understand both simple and complex language. They can also pick up subtle cues and nuanced phrases that help them understand consumers better. Many of them have a good understanding of the products they are selling, and can use their broader knowledge to guide consumers to make informed choices. However, the investment of deploying human assistants for one-on-one interaction on an e-commerce website is prohibitively costly.

This is where an AI-based shopping assistant can come in to fill these roles. However, as discussed in an earlier article, AI personal assistants currently seen in the market are far from human in their approach when it comes to helping consumers shop.  This, however, need not stay that way – but how? The AI shopping assistant must be re-imagined from the perspective of the human touch.

How can an AI shopping assistant provide the human touch?

Advancement in Natural Language Understanding (NLU) is making it possible for AI assistants to correctly interpret more nuanced and subtle phrases. Through complex understanding of the language, an AI assistant can ask the right questions and understand consumer search in a more human way, for example, knowing the difference between saying “Bluetooth would be nice” and “I need Bluetooth”. It can also use the product data contained within the site to offer consumers insights into products, such as price differences and product comparison based on several features, as well as making intelligent recommendations and suggesting alternatives.

The agent can work in a human-like fashion, assimilating information from internal and external sources. For example, if someone were to look for a tent for a trip to Scotland in August, the agent could find the local weather and suggest the right kind of tent for the shopper. Furthermore, it can also use assumed logic to ask the right question or make suggestions. So if a potential house buyer has looked at a 4-bedroom house and is asking about nearby schools, the agent can assume the user owns a car, and based on this, it can ask the buyer about their preferences regarding parking.

Summing up

Adding human elements into e-commerce is resulting in greater marketplace success, and this will continue to be a driving force in the years ahead. While we become increasingly detached from physical stores, the need for specialised knowledge, helpful information, interesting insights, and real-world experience is still something that shoppers crave. For a meaningful interaction, shopping assistants must ask questions, as opposed to just finding answers. Only those e-commerce sites that embrace the human touch will get the best of both – the online and offline worlds. According to customer service expert and keynote speaker, Shep Hyken, “The greatest technology in the world hasn’t replaced the ultimate relationship-building tool between a customer and a business – the human touch”. While it may seem unrealistic for technology to replace the human touch altogether, more can be done to bring human elements into the online shopping experience.

At Traverz, we have developed an AI shopping assistant that takes a Conversational Recommendation approach. The smart assistant asks relevant questions, remembers user preference, and offers contextual advice and suggestions — almost akin to a human shopping assistant. Click here to learn more about how we’re humanizing the product search experience.

To find out how you can build an e-commerce platform that delivers better insights and greater brand loyalty from customers, get in touch with us.

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