The lead up to Black Friday can be a challenge for any online seller – increased demand for products, ensuring your business has the resources to process these orders quickly, as well as maintaining a high level of customer service. This demand for high-quality items for a low price is growing every year - buyers feel more in control when they aren’t fighting off others for products, they much prefer to be shopping in the comfort of their own home, rather than standing in line for hours.
Fortunately, the advance in technology can help you overcome these potential challenges and, most importantly, help you sell more and delight your customers. Here are five ways you can use artificial intelligence to help you prepare for Black Friday.
Artificial Intelligence has been around for years; however, it’s only more recently that it’s becoming widely used as a marketing tool to aid online business.
So, how does AI work in eCommerce and more importantly how can you use it in preparation for Black Friday?
AI can pick up your customers’ buying habits, by using the information they search for and the pages they visit, then storing this information as data. Think about some of the large online retailers you buy from; almost all of their websites will now recommend similar products that may be of interest to you, therefore personalising your user experience (example shown below).
A key example of a company using AI for a more personal customer experience is the use of apps that companies use to interact with their customers, and create a more personal experience. An example where this is exerted well is tyre company Sears Auto Centers use of artificial intelligence. The launch of their Digital Tyre Journey app allows customers to identify the best tyres, to fit their driving preferences.
According to the app, there are six driving preferences:
- Comfort Warrior
- Value Seeker
- High Performer
- Safety Seeker
- Winter Warrior
Using the IBM Watson Natural Language Classifier, they can understand the intent behind a form of text, to then respond with correspondence followed by a score of where you rank.
Questions are asked to the customer such as: “when it comes to driving, what’s most important to you?” Whatever answer the user gives, the app will tell them what kind of driver they are, then (after receiving a licence number) the driver can make an informed decision on which tyres suites them.
Brian Kaner, president of Sears Auto Centers, says this feature cuts straight to the point, "The Digital Tire Journey” is an innovative service that helps customers to get straight to what they want while integrating digital, mobile and online with in-store shopping.”
Calculating the preferences of a customer’s needs provides personalisation of the customer’s experience in your business. For the Black Friday rush, this will eliminate possibilities of returns, because (as we all know) returns are costly. Black Friday costs UK retailers £180m in returns, so personalisation will reduce chances of a return.
The use of the tool gives customers a more personalised experience, larger businesses usually have a bigger budget for research in order to understand their customer's buying habits. But no matter how big or small your business is, you can apply this too, by taking customer surveys and filtering their search bars down to the finest detail. By saving these options your customer will know exactly what they want, therefore the chance of them returning the item is reduced (to save the other nightmare of the returns process). You can then recommend similar items, to aid your customer in the decision process when it comes to buying, for a better shopping experience.
- Remarketing (also known as retargeting)
Another way this is exerted is by using the tactic of remarketing, where adverts of products users have previously viewed on one website, appear on another website. One example of this shown below is when you search for the shopping site Shein and browse the website:
Then - for example - you decide to go to a news site to browse:
You’ll see an advert for Shien comes up, therefore tempting you to click on the image and return to the website to continue shopping. What’s even more enticing, is the offer of £3 off customers first order, or the choice of free shipping. This is a key form of AI which draws customers back to your website, which increases the chance of a purchase.
One way you can incorporate this into your business is by using online tools, here are just a few that can get you started:
Perfect Audience works on mobile, web and Facebook for retargeting.
Its website contains a getting started guide for total beginners, by teaching you the basics of creating adverts, creating a custom retargeting audience, and launching your first advert on a website. It then offers a 14-day free trial to see how you get on with the tool. It’s great for sellers who are totally new to the concept.
Google Remarketing is another handy tool for creating advertising campaigns, however, this tool allows you to track your campaign's performance, and see if it's working or not. It also allows you to set personal advert goals, to ensure your business gets the most from the tool.
These online tools are just a few of the many options out there, bear in mind, your business is individual, so it’s worth checking out a few tools before you settle for one. In terms of preparing for Black Friday, this concept is perfect for boosting sales, and ensuring your deals are as visible as they can be, but finally, (most importantly) your customer’s needs are met.
- Voice Recognition
Voice search is an extremely interactive way of buying, searching, or simply asking a question, without even touching a screen.
Personalisation is also in the form of companionship, for example; Window’s Cortana, Apple’s Siri and Amazon’s Alexa, and the newly released Google Home Mini. Take a look at what these incredible products can do.
As shown in the video above, voice recognition was first introduced by Apple in 2010 so, even though it’s not exactly a new concept, other brands are starting to evolve voice recognition, to create an all-round helping hand around the house. For customers, this creates the perception that your business appears at the top of the search results. For example, when customers ask where the best place to purchase handmade vintage jewellery is, you’d want your business to come up as the first result. Here’s how you can use voice recognition for your own business:
Keywords are the phrases used to search for something on a search engine, for example, if you were looking for handmade jewellery, you may search something like this:
This is an example of a keyword; however, voice search keywords are slightly different, spoken language is formatted differently to written. Try to think about how spoken words would change the way your business would appear on a voice search. Say the keyword out loud, is it too robotic? Does it make sense?
Frequently Asked Questions (or FAQ’s) are a great way to see what customers are searching for. Find patterns or questions that crop up a lot so Google will group these and if asked in a voice search, your website will rank higher on Google. If someone is searching for something quickly spontaneously on Black Friday and seeks an answer there and then, voice search is a way customers get the options they want, and your website gets more traffic, and - ultimately - more sales for Black Friday.
A key way to enhance the speed and efficiency of your warehouse system – which many companies have already started using – is the use of robots. Although this is expensive, this concept makes health and safety a thousand times easier for your staff, and ultimately, your business. These magnificent creations featured at the Linn Academy 2017 conference, their venue was home to these machines, demonstrating their power and agility whilst carrying heavyweights.
They perform in movements of geometric choreography, which is pre-programmed. These robots move around stationary storage units to the appropriate place. They also have laser sensors at the front so they have special awareness. Better that, they increase efficiency and save time by speeding up the picking and packing process ready for dispatch.
The robots in Amazon’s warehouse (in the picture above) are capable of carrying 340kg and has a laser and camera that detect obstacles, such as fallen items, humans or machinery. Training will have to be given as only trained technicians can operate these machines. The system also runs 24/7, apart from an hour’s ‘rest’ every day for maintenance.
Time-saving and safe, what more could you want?
But where are the humans?
In a perimeter around the robots ensuring everything runs smoothly. While you cannot totally eliminate humans from this process, it would dramatically reduce the costs of manual labour, and get the job done in half the time. Similar operations are being carried out around the globe, with countries such as the UK, China and Japan getting on board.
This tip might as well apply to all busy periods in the year to help grow your online business. Safety and saving time is definitely worth the investment, over a long period it will slowly reduce costs.
Companies who use facial recognition will infer information based exclusively on customer emotions and behaviour memory like colour and design, which helps us better understand the inventory on their specific platform, and in turn, provide clearer options to their customers.
Nowadays almost every single online retail store recommends similar items that their customers have just purchased, giving them the choice to browse and shop again.
Why does this help your business for Black Friday?
Let’s break it down.
- What is Facial Recognition?
The human face is the most accurate way we can understand how a person looks and how they express emotion. Algorithms measure your facial expressions and calculate a way of responding to this face. An example of this form of reality in its simplest form is seen in the social media platform ‘Snapchat’ (take a look for yourself).
- Recommendations and Trial and Error
An example of this would be using facial recognition as a way of personalising your customers shopping journey. Your customers will use facial recognition to unlock your account online, then a list has been made on their account recommending items that are similar to their previously purchased items. This is a classic example, which allows the customer to have an easier time shopping. For Black Friday, it will also provide a smoother transaction process for them, which allows you to process orders quicker and knowing what the customer wants.
Popular make-up chain Sephora have created a Virtual Artist that allows customers to try out make-up on their faces in the comfort of their own home. Customers can see what lipstick shades or eyeshadow shades suit them, without trying them on. This creates a very easy and personal (see point 1) transaction for the customer. For larger companies, you should definitely consider creating an app. Here are other ways that facial recognition can benefit customers experience when shopping for Black Friday:
- Pay with Your Face
An incredible use for this tool is easy payments online. Let’s be honest, it’s the most irritating part of a transaction online. Creating an account, adding your shipping and billing addresses, putting in your credit card. Not to mention how nerve-wracking it can often be to give up such personal information to a website. But companies like Alibaba (and its affiliate payment service) is working on a system that will allow you to simply scan your face and pay. MasterCard has plans to launch something similar called “Selfie Pay”. This Virtual Reality concept makes the transactions much simpler to deal with as a seller, as it reduces the chance of a return, or a decline in card information, expiry dates or fraud.
This would eliminate problems with card expiration and identity theft. For smaller business, you should offer Apple Pay to start, then when it's booming, see what companies offer facial recognition.
Kairos is a tool which offers customers an all-round face identification experience, it can detect age, emotion, face verification, and gender.
This free tool offers everything you need for creating an easy, quick experience for your customer and better customer service. This ultimately means customers will be more inclined to return to your site, which increases your traffic for Black Friday.
- Detecting Fraud
The typical organisation loses around 5% of revenues a year to fraud. Facial Recognition will detect someone similar looking to the original buyer, and disallow that person from making payments if it doesn’t look exactly like this person. The bank that’s registered with this person will use machine learning algorithms to detect fraudulent behaviour. Therefore, having the person’s face encrypted in the system certainly helps, and - by eliminating any chance of these types of problems - makes their (and your) Black Friday experience easier.
- Personal Shoppers
AI is the perfect fit for retail shoppers, as we saw earlier, facial recognition gives the illusion that you're in a store, when actually, you could be anywhere in the world. AI allows the customers to be competely submerged in the online store, but not just by creating a companion (like we saw in section 1) but a personal shopper. Customers get reccomendations for new trends, as AI implemented into fashion companies can now spot upcoming trends from luxury fashion websites, faster than a human just looking through the luxury fashion catwalk for Summer.
AI can also help online retailers guarantee cheaper prices than other sites. Using AI software retailers can track their competitors stock numbers, deals and discounts. You can then compete with this data and guarantee you sell something for 10% less than Amazon for example.
One way to do this, is by downloading or paying for price optimisation software, here are a couple you can try:
This software optimises prices to make sure you have the best prices for your products, with over 5,000 customers and offers a free demo, there's no harm in trying.
Very reliable, this AI software can track competitors prices and stock intake on a global scale, and can update competitors product prices 4 times a day.
With facial recognition and the choice to guarantee your prices are cheaper, for you and your customers, it's certainly a good use of AI for your business.
Chatbots are an artificial conversational entity, they work around how a human would usually behave. Their purpose is to communicate to customers online, and offer the most practical solutions to their problems. Naturally when something goes wrong, customers want quick and easy responses to their questions.
Did you know that 1.2 billion people in the world use Facebook messenger, and these users send an incredible 1 billion messages a month to businesses alone. Companies have jumped on this new means of communication by using systems called chatbots to instantly connect with customers, and help then with whatever they want, whenever they want, with whoever they want. They provide snappy answers to FAQ’s most often asked by customers, perfect for busy periods such as Black Friday.
An example of this (above) can be found on our website; www.linnworks.com where the option for a live chat with staff is open for customers and non-customers. Online support for your business is a great way to use AI as a way of making your business flourish, and ease the stresses of the Black Friday sales.
To incorporate this idea to your business, start off with a messaging system – like Facebook Messenger – and give customers the opportunity to message your company directly. It’s quicker than emails and gives you the comfort to answer efficiently, rather than being put on the spot over the phone. If you don’t wish to use Facebook Messenger, there is WhatsApp, and Apple have recently opened their iMessage app to businesses, so there’s plenty of options for your business.
Phone systems will still be needed for customers who do not have access to internet, but it will certainly make a huge difference, whilst keeping those broader options for your customers. This will also improve user experience, and provide great customer service, and will create a delightful customer experience.
As a business owner, you’ll be familiar with the hassle of costly shipping. It’s not a surprise that the costliest part of the transaction is shipping. The pace of your system needs to keep up with the demands for faster shipping, but how do you do this whilst making the shipping cost-effective? Remember, Black Friday rushes mean fast shipping and lots of orders to keep up with. Seems impossible, right?
Making sure you have the right technology software to optimise your shipping process to the one that fits your business’ needs. These are just a few reasons to why this will work.
- Machine-savvy algorithms make shipping easier and cheaper
Packaging your items with the most cost-effective packaging will mean that you do not drop profits before you’ve even shipped the item to your customer. Manual labour means there’s more room for human error. Busy periods also mean the decisions your workers make are rushed and they could just grab the first thing they see.
They may pack items into one box, or choose to pack items individually. Regardless, there is no consistency, which may cost you money. With calculations that are 100% effective (which are programmed into the software), data-driven shipping automation can reduce your costs by more than 20%.
- Management systems provide the right couriers
Most businesses tend to stick with one courier service, but when it comes to costs, this isn’t always the best strategy because certain couriers will be more cost effective for certain product types i.e. weight, size dimensions.
There are, however, certain providers such as GFS, that work closely with a very diverse network of couriers, and can use technology to identify and select the optimal courier for every shipment. Every customer is different, therefore, every order is different.
Over time if a business continuously makes mistakes in shipping, customer service or returns, its reputation erodes away like its customers. But if you are fast with system management, it will allow you to create a wider range of options for the customer as well as perform better service.
This will then allow you to create a delightful experience for your customers, who will then give great feedback to your business, which drives more sales. This cycle is the drive your business will need.
Black Friday sales are continuously growing, in sales and gross profits for businesses around the world, so these tips will provide great, fast services for your customers. The use of AI will allow you to make sure your business is run smoothly, as well as make your customers happy. Shipping management, returns, customer service and ease of ordering are all factors that are challenged when the demand for cheaper products is higher than ever. If using Artificial Intelligence will make these factors easier for your business - and more importantly, your customers - what are you waiting for?