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How bots will change the way we shop

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If you’ve used the internet or interacted with Alexa lately, you’ve come in contact with some form of artificial intelligence (AI). And if you’ve chatted with Pizza Hut via Facebook Messenger, you’re interacting with a bot. While it may seem strange, chatbots and AI assistants are integrating into our personal lives faster than we might believe.

So what does this mean for you as a marketer? Not only will AI affect several industries, including health care and marketing, it will also change the overall shopping experience. According to Google, 20 percent of mobile queries are voice searches. For retailers, this opens up an opportunity to target and connect with consumers in ways that appeal to them.

Using AI to create customer satisfaction

Consumers spend an average of five hours per week making online purchases; over 96 percent of Americans shop online, allocating an average 36 percent of their shopping budgets to ecommerce. With the shift to online shopping, retailers need to figure out how to connect with their consumers and still create a meaningful experience in order to continue to drive store visits.

AI-powered assistants can also infuse personality into the shopping experience. As traditional brick-and-mortar shopping transitions online, consumers are losing out on the personal touch of store associates and friendly faces. Instead, they search a website on their own, often having to evaluate their purchases without a helping hand. Having a chatbot or AI-powered assistant on a website recreates the store experience for shoppers right in their living room.

A key challenge for retail is managing inventory levels, which is one place AI can be helpful. Ideally, you have the right amount of product available to meet consumer needs, both online and offline. If you are out of stock, there’s potential for upsetting and losing a customer. If you have too much inventory, money is wasted that could be used elsewhere. Letting customers know an item is in stock is beneficial for businesses, especially retailers, that carry items that have a high demand. IBM Watson is working with brands to analyze purchase rates and consumer behavior to help manage and monitor the right inventory levels and avoid out-of-stocks.

We’re not at the point yet where we have one ultimate virtual assistant. Marketers need to figure out which of the many AI assistants in the market they should commit resources and time to. Alexa, Google, and Siri all have their strengths and weaknesses, and there will still be a lot to play out in the year ahead.

Optimizing local search strategies for AI

It’s time for marketers to optimize their strategies for both local and AI-powered search. According to ComScore, half of all searches will be voice searches by 2020. It’s possible that we will have one ultimate personal assistant who can provide consumers with all the information they need without ever having to read a word or open a web search (“Hello Google, find me the nearest hair salon”). This creates a new set of challenges for local marketers, since businesses will need to rank highly enough in local search results to be selected by digital assistants.

To succeed, local marketers should focus on using conversational language — if you wouldn’t say it aloud, don’t use the wording in your strategy. Traditional web search has taught consumers to communicate with search engines in keyword-heavy, truncated phrases (i.e., “athletic sneakers near me,” “happy hour deals near me”) as opposed to natural speech (“where is the closest sneaker store?”). Voice search forces consumers to phrase questions properly when speaking with virtual assistants, as if they’re having a conversation with a fellow human.

Additionally, these marketers need to make sure their website incorporates natural language and not keyword-specific terms. Write with humans in mind first and search engines second. Since digital assistants often read web searches and results aloud in response to an inquiry, the website copy needs to read clearly and make sense across all platforms. From a keyword standpoint, shift focus to mining actual user query data to identify trends regarding longtail keywords and phrases, as those tend to be more representative of the user’s conversation language,

Check your location data and profile information to ensure everything is in order and consistent across your resources: website, social platforms, listings, etc. AI-powered voice assistants will rely on the accuracy of the data available to them. Make your Google My Business (GMB) profile as thorough and informational as possible. Include specific information about the attributes and key features for each location — free Wi-Fi, wheelchair accessible, outdoor seating, or workshops/classes available. Updating your GMB profile should be part of your routine maintenance.

One thing to remember is that artificial intelligence and voice search are constantly changing, and marketers will always need to adapt to the latest features available. It’s hard to anticipate what strategies will work best until we collect sufficient data on how consumers are interacting with and utilizing AI-powered personal assistants, including figuring out how to ask Siri, Google, or Alexa for what they want. Their queries will continue to change as the services broaden and continue to improve their offerings.

But what we do know is that AI and voice search will not be the same as the traditional search box. As more and more consumers turn towards AI-powered assistants voice search, it’s critical for marketers and multi-store franchises to figure out how voice search queries and results will differ from search engine results — and to help local businesses get found in both types of results.

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