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GUEST COMMENT Harnessing AI and data to supercharge growth in online retail

Throughout the pandemic, in order to function optimally many of us learnt how to take the daily in-person interactions we had come to take for granted as part of normal life online. The same applied to customer service. 

Online retail in the UK increased by as much as 46% in 2020 vs 2019, with ecommerce now comprising 1 in 4 of total retail transactions as COVID seriously accelerated the digital transformation that had already been building solidly over the past two decades.

Whilst many high street stores have now re-opened and some shoppers are returning to physical spaces for their shopping needs, certain habits created over the past 18 months are here to stay as more consumers have found their comfort zone in on-line shopping. This has happened for two reasons: firstly, consumers who may have found online shopping challenging. or had not yet built up trust in ecommerce prior to the pandemic have now become comfortable with the experience; and secondly, brands had no choice but to improve their digital proposition if they wanted to survive during this period, let alone thrive, meaning that browsing and buying is for the most part more seamless and intuitive than it ever has been.  

This strong increase in digital sales means that retailers now have more customer and trend data than ever before. Used correctly, this data can give business leaders a competitive edge and supercharge growth. It is important to bear in mind that data collection is not enough to build this advantage; the trick is to analyse the data, and put it to effective use. Over the coming years, I firmly believe that this is what will begin to separate the great businesses from the good.

The modern consumer of our age is time-poor, living a fast-paced life and seeking convenience in everything they do. To build trust, retailers brands need to prove that they can consistently provide them with what they want, when they want it. A personal purchase recommendation on what we need goes a long way towards improving consumer confidence in the brand, makes the customer experience more enjoyable, and is ultimately more likely to lead to a repeat purchase and long-term relationship with the consumer.

Investment in AI

In order to really harness the power of data available investment in AI technologies and initiatives is key – it directly impacts on business efficiency, brand recognition and customer satisfaction.

At NEOM, I have seen first-hand the benefits investment in technology has brought to our business. We take a holistic approach to customer data, using AI-driven recommendation engines and machine learning to power product and content recommendations, identify key customer segments, and to provide recommendations for stock forecasting. Data collected at all customer touchpoints is combined with a data lake approach to offer targeted, personal recommendations to increase engagement.

This has helped us build out our knowledge of our customers, and equipped us to provide our customers sensible recommendations backed up with serious data. This level of investment and integration of technology has enabled our business to increase the overall frequency of purchase and customer lifetime value, driving topline growth.

Being Human

For data-driven recommendations to work most successfully, there needs to be an element of human input involved, and this is where the touchpoints come in. This could be data points that may have been picked up through a customer services call, a brand survey or an in-store visit, all of which gives the data that extra edge, ultimately making for richer, more ‘human’, personalised recommendations. 

This more human element, used in combination with the mass data collected by your systems, will help your software get to “know” your customer and make personal recommendations on what products will work for them – in the same way a personal shopper knows what their client needs before they might even know themselves. 

The more data collected in the engines, the stronger the results. With the right approach, your systems will be able to identify repeat purchases and differentiate these from gifting or one-off purchases, driving better, more relevant recommendations to better meet your customers’ needs and provide them with a better experience. This can be supported by adding a real human touch to your systems – making individual personal recommendations based on insights into individual customers’ needs to deliver superior customer service.

For any consumer-facing business, the key customer touchpoint is the emotional connection retailers build with their customers – a connection that is more complex to build through the web. Quality data, when used in the right way and supported with a real personal touch, is the key tool to helping successful ecommerce businesses forge the same lasting emotional connections with customers and building the growth of a brand community.

Enhanced Agility

Most importantly, robust data helps us to stay agile and supports more accurate business planning. We can use the latest data to adapt to the latest market trends, passing automated feedback to product development teams, as well as to procurement and supply chain. 

By staying on top of the latest trends in real-time and harnessing tools in the right way, with superior data mapping and data-driven recommendations you will be able to adapt your business faster, meet ever-changing demand and, most importantly, keep those all-important customer relationships strong and ensure that you stay connected to your customers and can continue to give them what they need, when they need it.


Oliver Mennell, CEO and co-founder, NEOM Organics

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