The idea of gift giving is a great joy. But the joy often stops when you actually start looking for the gift. Enter: personalized shopping.
The sheer number of options and the pressure to get just the right thing can be overwhelming. The agony of finding the right gift for everyone, no matter the occasion, could use an upgrade.
Thanks to emerging technologies like artificial intelligence (AI) empowering personalized shopping, searching for the right gift is set to get much easier. In 2018, 35% of seasonal purchases were driven by AI-powered recommendations, and the ever-increasing availability of data coupled with algorithmic advances will make it even easier to find the perfect gift in the future. Goodbye, frantic trips to the mall at the last minute. Hello, easy clicking from the comfort of your couch. And maybe one day in the future, a personalized shopping AI will mean you don’t even have to lift a finger.
Three ways online shopping will get easier with AI:
1. Visual Search
How many times have you faced this shopping headache: You spot the perfect gift idea in someone’s house or walking down the street. ‘Dad would just love that hat!’ you think. The inspiration is great, but now comes the chore of finding that particular item.
In the past, the only solution would be asking around or doing some online keyword sleuthing, but now e-commerce companies are employing AI—computer vision, to be exact—to offer a better option. Just snap a picture of the item you’d like to buy and these apps use convolutional neural networks (CNNs) trained on huge datasets of product images2 to recognize the image content and point you to the exact place to buy it. CNNs specialize in detecting patterns in datasets and making sense of them—particularly image data—since the neurons in a convolutional neural network only share connections in certain parts of the image. That means they identify the pieces of an image individually (a nose or an eye for example) and before combining them to make sense of the whole.
Visual search is already big—and thanks to increasing amounts of visual data and more sophisticated AI tools like CNNs—it’s on its way to becoming huge. Research suggests most millennials and Gen Z are already interested in making purchases directly through social channels, which feature visuals prominently. As they become more active in the e-commerce market, these interests could propel visual search even further. So, too, could better technology: Beyond searching for a corresponding image, in the future, image search could work in tandem with text-search to answer queries like “What blouse would go well with these pants?”
2. Smarter Purchase Predictions
Go to any online retailer and start searching for products and the site will use machine learning (a subset of AI where the computer can learn from experience) to sift through item metadata and past purchase-data by similar customers to quickly suggest other products that might interest you. These sorts of AI-driven recommendations are old hat and already drive, as mentioned above, over a third of holiday purchases. But they’re about to get way smarter.
An online grocery store, for instance, might notice you cook tacos each week and suggest an ingredient list to buy every Monday.
What does this have to do with gift giving? The same technology could spot your need to purchase presents for upcoming holidays or birthdays and generate relevant suggestions: Ecommerce experts foresee a future5 where digital store windows could connect with your phone and allow the AI to troll through your calendar and social media activity. It would not only discover a gift-giving occasion is coming up, but also offer specific suggestions for friends and family based on the data that makes up your (and your loved one’s) online persona.
3. Personal Shopping Assistants
Simply finding the perfect gift is just the first stage in the gift buying hassle. Then comes choosing the right size and ensuring on-time delivery. AI will soon make these customer service headaches easier too by powering smart chatbots that can respond to your queries and improve your shopping experience.
First generation chatbots followed simple scripts, but the next generation of shopping assistants actually learn a site’s content, respond to each individual customer’s preferences, and use natural language processing to allow a comfortable dialogue between shopper and bot. With advances like this it’s no wonder analysts expect 25 percent of customer support teams to utilise chatbots by 2020—and it will save retailers tons of money. When you think gift giving, you probably think of an overjoyed recipient, not neural networks, machine learning, and natural language processing. But thanks to these emerging technologies and the rise of personalized shopping, gift giving is set to get a whole lot more awesome.
This content is produced by WIRED Brand Lab in collaboration with Western Digital Corporation.