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Voice search and AI the future of e-commerce

Glenn Ogolah
August 23, 2019

The future of retail is no doubt e-commerce. With the growth of internet and mobile, it has become simpler for consumers to purchase goods at the touch of a button. Most retailers are waking up to this possibility setting up their own e-commerce website or signing up their businesses on existing e-commerce platforms such as Sky Garden and Masoko.

Right now you need to get online or get eaten. However, there is more to being online than simply being present. Here are three big trends we see shaping e-commerce.

  1. Voice search

When Apple launched Siri in 2011 it was a novelty. Talking to your phone and having it understand and answer you seemed like something straight out of a sci-fi movie. Now, virtual assistants and voice search have become a part of almost every new device. Google assistant and voice search is accessible to anyone with an Android smartphone. Amazon’s Alexa is millions of homes today. Google assistant can even make and take calls on your behalf now.

According to a sales report, in 2017, 40 per cent of millennials in the United States used voice-activated virtual assistants to look up products just before a purchase. According to Google, 20 per cent of search queries on mobile in 2017 were voice. The world’s only (or was that largest) search engine expects this to grow to half of all search by 2020.

While global statistics may not immediately translate directly into local statistics they are an indicator of the future. As it stands, being voice search friendly affects the SEO ranking of your website and it is not unlikely that Google will continue pushing this. Optimizing for voice search will a little different from normal SEO. Searches tend to be longer and inform of questions. Remember, people are having conversations with their devices. Most voice search queries were for local content. “Find me a restaurant” or “Petrol station.” It will be even more important to list your business with Google.

  1. Last mile logistics

E-commerce is simply the business of convenience. I want to get exactly what I want when I want it and where I am. This needs two components to work: trust and efficient logistics. The way things are set up now both have been hard to achieve. It is one of the main reasons e-commerce in Arica is lagging behind.

Getting products to consumers’ doorsteps is a challenge for a number of reasons. . First, is the lack of an addressing system? Think about, for most people, the streets they live in have no name. It is just a road somewhere in the middle of a large neighbourhood attached to another road. Imagine trying to give directions to a delivery guy using schools and transformers as reference points. It is hilarious but not easy.

Logistics in Africa is highly fragmented and informal. More than 90 per cent of the market is served by informal providers. You probably have a few motorcyclists or pickup on speed dial when things need to get somewhere fast. For most people accompanying stuff with the pickup is entirely natural. However, you can clearly there is a lack of trust in such a transaction. It is not unlikely that the driver might disappear or damage your cargo. Being highly fragmented also means that it is hard to find good Logistics Providers. The ones you do find charge high prices to cover their downtime.

Logistics is inefficient and there is little trust as a result. Many e-commerce platforms have tried to work around this by having fixed hubs where consumers can pick up their purchases. This isn’t really convenience though.

Fortunately, technology has the answers. All smartphones come equipped with GPS making it a lot easier to locate customers. Instant communication also helps link customers and drivers who would have otherwise never met. Sendy is a great example of last mile logistics fixing this problem. The service uses smartphones and the internet to link customers and drivers. It provides real-time tracking and insurance just to take care of the trust factor.

You cannot build e-commerce without last mile logistics. In fact, you can describe e-commerce as the business of getting goods to customers’ doorsteps without them having to physically be present when buying. It’s a business of convenience.

  1. Artificial intelligence

You are probably familiar with the Netflix series, House of Card. The first Netflix original, the show has AI largely to thank for its success. Before a single episode of house of cards had even been shot, Netflix committed USD 100 million to buy right for two seasons of the show. I’m a big fan personally but it was also a hit for most users of the platform. Eighty-six per cent of users said they were less likely to cancel their Netflix subscription because of the show. Why was Netflix so willing to take the bet? A deep learning AI algorithm predicted its success based on an analysis of most-watched TV shows.

Artificial intelligence is sales new best friend. AI can give your sales team the ultimate cheat sheet on what customers want. Using artificial intelligence, you can predict what products the customer likes, what kind of discounts are likely to work. AI tools can also help you forecast your sales more accurately. Machine learning techniques can also help sales teams identify leads that are most likely to convert. Many modern sales tools such as Salesforce and nudge already employ AI.

You have already encountered recommendation engines in how you see ads on social media or google. Most e-commerce platforms use recommendation machines, to tell you what others with the same interests also bought.

Chatbots are artificial intelligence programs built to communicate with customers in a personalized way. E-commerce home pages and apps have been using them to improve customer service but with social media platforms jumping onto the bandwagon, chatbots are set to grow at an exponential rate. This will make the technology more accessible to small businesses and e-commerce entrepreneurs doing running completely on social media. Telegram was one of the first to offer chatbots on its messaging app, enabling businesses to automate parts of their customer service. Zuku bot is a great example of this.

However, with most Kenyan e-commerce businesses east Africa relying on Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp, Facebook’s entry into the space will have a more significant benefit for local businesses.  Already, Facebook Messenger’s chatbots are making inroad but many still are not so familiar with WhatsApp chatbots. Bots reduce the number of people you would need to man customer service lines, respond immediately to customers and help with fairly predictable queries.

Of course, e-commerce is still expanding rapidly, especially in Africa and it will be interesting to see how it shapes up in the coming year.

Article by Glenn Ogolah

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