E-commerce brings together several themes that relate to our current fascination with artificial intelligence, machine learning (ML), bots, mobile technology and the like. It’s actually more than that, because it represents an underserved part of CRM.
Until fairly recently, there were few tools that retailers could use to reach online customers for marketing and sales. Certainly there were development tools for building websites, but that’s not the same.
The standing conception of e-commerce is that it’s technology we access to make online purchases. The paragon and exemplar of e-commerce is Amazon, which went public 20 years ago and continues to define the possible, along with Apple and Alibaba.
Any vendor will want what Amazon and the others have — such as the ability to know past purchases, suggest new offers, and provide a streamlined process for purchase, order management, check out and delivery — and that’s where Salesforce, Oracle and other vendors come in.
The customer experience was awful when things like AI and machine learning weren’t in place, as I note in my book, Solve for the Customer.
Early, crude self-assist systems for service and commerce were not much more than behind-the-firewall apps meant for employees to use — but with a nice veneer slapped on. When customers went off script, as we all are wont to do, there was precious little assistance available. Customers often found themselves unceremoniously dumped on the street.
Those were the bad old days. However, the industry has moved light years in a positive direction. Salesforce this week is unveiling the latest iteration of its e-commerce solution set, Salesforce Commerce Cloud, at XChange, a conference in Las Vegas that demonstrates many important commerce capabilities for retail.
This is the year that Salesforce is inserting its Einstein AI functionality into all of its products. Salesforce Commerce Cloud Einstein now has its share of technology innovations that enable retailers to provide shoppers with personalized, AI-powered experiences that span Web, mobile, social, in-store and more.
There’s a hierarchy of needs that applies to retail commerce customers, noted Dwight Moore, senior director for retail and GTM at Salesforce. They can be summed up as, “know me, remember me, make it easy for me, surprise and delight me, and make my life better.”
That sounds an awful lot like “engage and delight me, and you can make a friend for a long time” — a sure recipe for loyalty and repeat business.
There’s a big role for AI and ML in all this. Personalizing interactions means capturing customer data, supplementing it with additional information — and using it not to browbeat customers into buying things, but to be there with relevant offers.
Using order history and Web behavior, the Commerce Cloud generates a predictive model for each shopper. To do that, in addition to adding Einstein, Salesforce has brought to market a suite of capabilities that include a mobile site reference architecture, a prototype mobile app, and a data model that retailers can modify, rather than starting from scratch when building a commerce site.
Also in the kit are features to help manage orders through a retailer’s ERP system and Google Android Pay, complements to Apple Pay, which already was available.
The timing is very good, as 86 percent of retailers plan to implement a unified commerce platform in the next 10 years, according to the National Retail Federation.
While this is believable, it makes you wonder what shape the tardy retailers will be in if they wait that long.
Fifty-five percent of product searches now start on Amazon, Moore pointed out, and a very high percentage of them end up as sales. So the challenge retailers face today is to figure out how to make it as easy as possible for customers to search and transact at their sites before leaving for Amazon, never to be heard from again.
Commerce Cloud is in a good spot, with more than 2,000 commerce sites in 53 countries having used the product to serve 400 million shoppers last year. Another fun fact: Salesforce Commerce Cloud generated a staggering 15 billion emails on last year’s Black Friday alone.
Combining e-commerce with AI/ML is powerful. It lowers the barriers for AI acquisition, and in the process democratizes retail for all.