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Editor’s comment

“Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get”. So said Winston Groom, author of Forrest Gump. The same can be true of customers since every one is different and at best can be grouped into a few segments. Retailers have tried to compartmentalise customers even going so far as to have cardboard cut-outs of ‘the customer’ or a number of ‘customers’ arrayed around their offices making it easier for the team to associate with the 18-25 year old fashionista or 30-55 year old DIYer.

These personas extend online too with campaigns written to match each grouping. There is only so much that can be achieved in a working week and scaling these personas to cover every possible customer type, journey and end result is not a 5-minute task. Artificial intelligence though has been taking a lot of the laborious processing out of the task and meant that content and campaigns can be served to customers at the right moment in the best channel – and down to an individual basis.

In this issue of InternetRetailing magazine, we look at how artificial intelligence is moving on from being an intelligence and processing tool for retailers into providing a more human connection with customers. Apptus is aiming to be the UX for fashion with its search and merchandising solution which understands that a customer searching for a light blue dress doesn’t want to see table lamps, while the latest release from RichRelevance incorporates natural language processing. This means that it can understand unstructured data such as ratings and reviews and use the content to better inform the resulting products served to customers.

Voice – the big thing of 2018 – continues to impact on retail and it’s another area in which retailers can not only connect with customers but need to do so in a way that is more human than mechanised. With shoppers talking in full sentences to Alexa, Siri and Google’s Assistant, rather than scrubbing out extraneous words as they would with a typed keyword search, natural language processing becomes even more important. As does an understanding of context and how one search leads on to another.

This is impacting on search on ecommerce sites as retailers vie to be ‘the’ search result spoken by the smart speaker. This ‘intelligence’ is leading on to customers getting closer to a product which they are likely to purchase faster and with fewer interactions. Visual search, recently introduced on, makes product searches even more intuitive.

As Paul Skeldon, InternetRetailing’s Mobile Editor, says in his article on connecting with customers, the hyper-connected consumer is now looking for the brands they like and trust to be part of their lives, not just something that pushes things at them as and when a marketing campaign kicks off.

This means using the data they give you to fully understand not only what they look at and what they buy, but what they are doing in the wider world, why they like what they like and why they might be interested. “Understanding their social media presence, as well as their wider habits is key to unlocking this in-life marketing concept,” he says.

The majority of shoppers are happy to share information – and the younger the shopper the more likely they are to divulge information about themselves and their purchases to retailers and to other shoppers. Furniture design company, for example, has access to more than 10,000 pieces of user-generated content as its customers share images of their purchases in their home across social media and in particular on Instagram.

The company was set up with the ambition to be the number one destination for home design across Europe and for the past year it has been focusing on “building a brand for the millennial generation who are confident to buy a big ticket item online”. Annabel Jack, the company’s Chief Commercial Officer, spoke to me at length about how the company is connecting with millennials online and through its expanded showroom. She also features on the cover of this issue of InternetRetailing.

Also in this issue, Grant Coleman, of Emarsys, examines why omnichannel marketing engagement is more than an e-receipt, while Craig Summers of Manhattan Associates explains why it’s time to put the supply chain at the heart of the business.

As every customer is different, so too is every retailer but there are common trends that are impacting on every business. The InternetRetailing Expo is taking place in April at the NEC in Birmingham. With more than 100 speakers and 300 exhibitors I hope there is something in the assortment to tempt you. Whatever segment of retailing you operate in, the team at IR Towers looks forward to seeing you there.

Emma Herrod

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