Do believe the hype: How AI Is crafting the future of ecommerce and beyond

Do believe the hype: How AI Is crafting the future of ecommerce and beyond
Partner Content

Spark Foundry’s Marcos Angelides shares his thoughts about the opportunities of generative AI in commerce, from scaling content to the role of product recommendation to the implications for media planning, with Publicis Commerce partners Justine Kroll and Stuart Johnston.

As with numerous innovations that have rippled through the advertising world — from 3D TVs to blockchain to Web 3.0 — AI has been met with significant fanfare concerning its potential to revolutionise, not only within the confines of marketing but also in everyday consumer experiences. However, the reality often is that the fervour surrounding these shiny new trends tends to eclipse their actual, practical applications.

AI, however, distinguishes itself from its fellow hype companions. This feels different.

On a practical level, Stuart is currently leveraging custom AI to curate weekly menus and shopping lists from his extensive recipe collection, while Justine is enhancing the experience of discovering unique holiday destinations. The advantages are evident, improving both the efficiency of routine tasks and the depth of insights into specific areas, thereby offering both tangible benefits and enriching experiences.

Acknowledging the transformative potential of AI, it is imperative for media and commerce practitioners to sift through the excitement and identify the most impactful opportunities where AI can deliver substantial value to both clients and the industry at large.

While AI isn’t new in commerce — having driven personalised recommendations, predictive analytics and chatbots — we’ve arguably reached an inflection point as its use cases expand and it becomes more democratised.

Unleashing creativity

“Generative AI shines when it comes to whipping up, scaling and reviewing product descriptions and imagery,” Marcos Angelides, co-managing director at Spark Foundry, suggests.

It’s no secret that product content plays a crucial role in ecommerce settings — something that is essential for digital commerce success. Yet brands frequently encounter significant challenges in obtaining and implementing high-quality product photography on their pages. This shortfall not only hampers organic visibility in retailer search algorithms, but also diminishes the chances for conversion, ultimately affecting sales. Plus, keeping on top of it takes up a lot of time because of all the manual work it needs, Angelides notes.

Generative AI, provided it’s applied within appropriate boundaries to safeguard brand identity and meet retail standards, offers brands and retailers the capability to generate content at the rapid pace required by the retail sector. This adaptability allows for a more dynamic response to market trends, seasonal shifts or overarching brand campaigns, enhancing creative relevance. For brands, particularly those with small ecommerce teams, this innovation could be revolutionary.

“The impact extends beyond merely boosting production volumes,” Angelides elaborates. “AI facilitates an environment for hypothesis-driven creative experimentation, enabling efficient testing and learning at a reduced cost.”

Despite the enormous opportunity, a significant gap remains to achieve full automation. While generative AI can produce impressive results, it often struggles with fine details, such as accurate anatomy (eg. the correct number of fingers), and adhering to specific brand guidelines. Human intervention remains paramount to the creative process.

From clicky to chatty

The interaction paradigm with retail websites stands on the cusp of significant transformation.

Marcos points out: “We’re essentially anchored to a point-and-click user experience that has dominated for over two decades. The advent of generative AI, however, introduces the possibility of engaging with models through conversational interfaces and unstructured language, enabling retailers to dramatically reduce the friction in online shopping.”

This evolution promises to not only refine the customer journey by offering bespoke recommendations and streamlining the shopping process, but also to extend its benefits to direct-to-consumer brands.

A notable advantage of embracing this conversational model is the rich influx of first-party data it invites. Far surpassing the depth of insight gleaned from mere click-based interactions on a website, this data provides retailers — and, by extension, brands — with a nuanced understanding of consumer preferences and needs.

The end result? A foundation for more informed strategic decision-making that’s closely aligned with customer desires.

Personal shopper

Considering AI’s role in retail, its application in product recommendations prompts a revaluation of brand visibility and positioning within AI-generated selections. As an example, we could see a world where consumers can simply upload images to AI to receive a plethora of shoppable fashion recommendations that match that style or get help to create a complete outfit.

Retail media has traditionally offered brands a means to surpass organic competitors in search results. However, AI’s role in suggesting products could potentially bypass these established paths; the challenge lies in how brands can maintain their influence and ensure discovery in an increasingly personalised shopping environment.

Despite this, with retailers now reliant on the revenue from retail media, it’s unlikely they’ll abandon such profitable strategies easily and will undoubtedly devise methods to integrate retail media within this evolving landscape. Nevertheless, this introduces a nuanced challenge that requires thorough deliberation within the strategic planning realms of retailers.

Jazzing up media planning

Angelides underscores the static nature of media planning in recent years and the transformative potential of AI in this domain. “Media planning has seen little transformational change over time. More incremental adaption and the advent of AI, particularly through the use of large language models for sophisticated data analysis and scenario planning, marks a pivotal shift,” he remarks. Angelides further emphasises AI’s unparalleled data-processing capabilities, positioning it as a critical tool that could redefine media planning within the retail sector.

This integration of AI promises to enhance collaboration across creative, sales and media teams, paving the way for a more unified and agile approach to campaign planning. The impact of AI means a smaller team could potentially deliver the productivity of a much larger one, not by reducing headcount but by making each role more impactful and strategically focused.

“AI will facilitate a level of media planning intelligence we’ve yet to see, leveraging historical data and insights to shape future strategies,” Angelides continues. “Campaigns will benefit too from being grounded in the lessons of past successes and challenges.”

Publicis Commerce has recently been leveraging AI in proprietary tools to refine retail media budget planning and activation.

Publicis Groupe chairman emeritus Maurice Lévy’s ethos of “No silo, no solo, no bozo” illustrates how AI could dismantle the barriers that traditionally segment teams within an organisation. By harmonising insights from various departments, AI fosters a cohesive strategy that elevates decision-making and optimises the creative process. This symbiosis enabled by AI not only enhances efficiency but also drives more nuanced and effective marketing initiatives, firmly rooting future campaigns in a culture of informed collaboration and strategic foresight.

Time to get moving

Angelides champions a proactive and hands-on methodology for incorporating AI into organisational operations, highlighting the criticality of engaging directly with the technology to unlock its full potential. He suggests the appointment of AI champions within organisations to spearhead this initiative.

“Now is the opportune moment to embark on the AI journey, whether as a brand or retailer,” Angelides asserts. In an era when the application of AI is still being decoded for enhancing customer service or optimising operations, the pace of advancement is brisk. Early adopters who build their AI capabilities now are poised to lead the charge.

Furthermore, Angelides recommends applying AI to personal or non-work-related projects. Such practical engagement allows individuals to experience AI’s benefits first hand — from meal planning to itinerary organisation — and provides valuable insights into how AI could be integrated into business strategies.

One certainty, according to Angelides, is the impending disruption of commerce by AI akin to its impact across other sectors. This underscores the urgency for organisations to begin their AI exploration, positioning themselves to navigate the changes and leverage the opportunities AI presents.

This article has been edited, perhaps fittingly, with AI GPT-4.

Justine Kroll squareStuart Johnston squareJustine Kroll (far left) and Stuart Johnston are commerce partners at Publicis Commerce

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