AI-assisted virtual live sales associates are improving the bottom line for brands, while helping to make the online shopping experience more personable and also reducing product returns. While more brands invest in AI chatbots, human-AI collaboration is having more positive effects.
Amazon is one of the biggest companies integrating AI into the online shopping experience. Last week, tipped off by a job post, it was reported that the company is looking for a senior software engineer to “reimagine the interactive conversational experience” of its shopping platform.
However, the U.K. Institute of Customer Service found in 2022 that customers still lack trust when using services like AI chatbots. Two in five people (42%) avoid chatbots when making a complex inquiry, and 15% lack confidence in using technology to contact organizations, according to the report.
Some brands are adjusting their AI customer service strategy to incorporate a human touch. That includes New York-based womenswear brand Ruti, founded in 2009 by former tech executive Ruti Zisser. From day one, the brand has integrated technology into the shopping experience. In 2010, it developed a system to track customers’ purchases to establish a more intimate connection.
Although the brand had a strong relationship with its customers in-store, based on AOV and sales, replicating the experience online proved a challenge. Its typical over-45 customer demographic consistently chose simple, classic items online, even after shopping for more unique pieces in-store. The brand started working with sales platform Feel in 2020 to integrate virtual associates. Customers can talk to a “virtual stylist” in an appointment-based video session that takes them through the brand’s product assortment.
“Sometimes online, a customer can go to the site, look around, add to basket and not check out. Then they get an email, and then it takes them a week to purchase,” said Zisser. “But when you have someone to talk to you, you can basically close the deal immediately because people can tell you if it works for you or not.”
This year, the brand’s three virtual sales associates have been assisted by ChatGPT from Open AI. In the first half of 2023, the brand has increased its conversion rates to 57.2%, up from 54.3% in the second half of 2022. It increased average order values from 54.4% to 59% in the same period. The customer service is assessed through a data analytics tool from Feel.
The AI from Feel is initially trained on standard customer queries from its brand partners. Once it is integrated, it starts learning from customer interactions. An example question could include, “Can you recommend a purple evening outfit?” The virtual assistant answers the style queries, with the support of AI suggesting fitting items from the product database.
“For sites with a lot of inventory, this [setup] provides very good, fast answers, compared to someone going through the product catalog manually,” said Oren Harnevo, CEO of Feel. “It can make the seller so much more efficient. The model is also connected to purchase data: brands sell more through a conversation with a sales associate than through AI.”
One of the consistent themes in conversations around generative AI is how it is set to be a helpful tool for SMEs that can’t spend on expensive e-commerce tools. “It doesn’t take huge teams of people to pull off using generative AI,” said Roger Roberts, partner at consultancy McKinsey and co-author of the December 2022 “Generative AI is here” report. “Because these technologies are based on this notion of a foundation model on which they run, you can build on that model and fine-tune it for your own data and context in ways that are pretty powerful, with relatively small teams of technologists as support.”