AI Shopping: Improving and Personalizing the Customer Experience with Cognitive Search

A human hand reaches up to touch a touch screen with three pieces of apparel on it. There is also an image of a shopping cart on the touch screen.

The very first online purchase was on August 11, 1994. The product? A CD of Sting's "Ten Summoner's Tales." The cost? $12.48 plus shipping.

Fast-forward 30 years, and online shopping is a $1 Trillion business in the U.S. alone, with projections that global e-commerce sales will top $58 Trillion by 2028.

In 1994, when Dan Kohn was selling his Sting CD, his competition in online shopping was minimal, if not nonexistent. As we head into 2024, online shoppers are more impatient than ever, with nearly two-thirds of shoppers going to a competitor’s website if they cannot find what they are looking for after just one search.

Enter AI.

The integration of AI and cognitive search technologies is revolutionizing the way retailers of all sizes engage with their customers, personalizing each search and each interaction, leading to a customer experience that is targeted, efficient, and beneficial to both the buyer and seller. AI can offer an unparalleled personal touch to any online customer interaction, ultimately leading to a satisfied buyer.

AI Retail: A Synonym for Personalization and Efficiency

In AI retail, cognitive search has become a pivotal tool in delivering a personalized shopper experience. This technology uses advanced AI techniques like natural language understanding and machine learning to analyze customer data, enabling e-commerce platforms to grasp and predict customer needs with unprecedented accuracy.

Why Is Personalization Important?

Consumers want and respond to personalized experiences online. 70% of online customers spend more with companies that offer personalized experiences. However, less than half of companies are delivering, as 62% of shoppers think companies could do better tailoring their customer experience.

Personalization increases conversion rates by up to 8% and makes shopping more convenient—when 87% of millennials say that convenience impacts their purchase decisions, the benefit of offering a highly personalized experience is obvious.

Beyond Traditional Search: The Advent of E-Commerce AI Search

The evolution of AI in retail transcends traditional search methods. E-commerce AI search, powered by AI-driven chatbots and conversational platforms, reshapes how customers interact with online stores. Imagine having a tool that understands your customers' needs and predicts them.

With customer AI search, AI technologies can suggest relevant products or information based on the customer's conversational searches, significantly enhancing the chance of a successful result. It's a friendly personal shopping assistant for every customer who visits your site and caters to them with unprecedented accuracy.

Real-World Examples: Amazon, eBay, and Walmart

Many retail giants have been using some form of cognitive search for years. Businesses like Amazon, eBay, and Walmart use cognitive search to return the most relevant results to customers.

  1. Amazon: Amazon's product-recommendation algorithm, powered by AI, suggests items based on previous purchases, browsing history, and ratings. Their AI also enables voice shopping through Alexa, interpreting and predicting customer needs. By the way, Amazon will introduce an even more robust search experience in the coming months.
  2. eBay: eBay uses AI for customer advice and recommendations, improving its search engine to handle complex queries and rank results based on relevance and popularity.
  3. Walmart: Walmart uses cognitive search to improve its online grocery shopping service, understand natural language searches, and provide relevant product options, as well as dietary and nutritional information.

Customer AI Search: Not Just for the Retail Giants

So it’s great that cognitive search is helping global companies improve their customer’s search experience, but what if you’re not a Fortune 500 organization? Recently, HBS created a unique solution for a customer who wanted their customers to be able to search all their databases using plain language using Azure AI Search. Allowing customers to search all your products and, in effect, “chat” with your data using everyday language can be hugely beneficial as customers can find exactly what they are looking for without spending unnecessary extra time.

Marketing Reinvented: Personalized Customer Experience AI

Personalized customer experience AI takes marketing to new heights in the retail sector. By analyzing customer behaviors and preferences, AI enables brands to craft marketing materials that resonate personally, ensuring that customers receive timely and relevant information.

AI shopping isn't just about reacting to customer queries but anticipating them. Think of it as being one step ahead, always ready with the right product or information your customer wants. This increases sales and builds a deep, intuitive connection with your customers.

E-Commerce Cognitive Search: A New Pillar of Modern Retail

E-commerce cognitive search represents a significant leap forward in how online retailers understand and cater to their customers. This technology ensures that every search is an opportunity to provide a personalized shopper experience, making each interaction unique and highly relevant.

The Future of Online Retail is Personalized and Data-Driven

Incorporating cognitive search into your business isn't just about keeping up; it's about leading the way. It's about embracing a future where every customer feels understood and valued. Cognitive search is transforming the landscape, offering optimized and personalized experiences that ultimately result in higher customer satisfaction.

Every customer is unique; their online shopping experience should be, too. Let HBS help in building a better search experience for your customers.

author avatar
Nate Freidhoff