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Report: Online Retailers Prioritize AI, Replatforming to Stay Competitive

The state of e-commerce remains a race, as retailers ramp up their investments in artificial intelligence and replatforming to stay ahead of the curve.

According to SLI System’s third quarterly “2017 E-commerce Performance Indicators and Confidence Report,” 54 percent of retailers use or plan to use AI over the next 12 months. While e-commerce confidence remains robust among retailers, replatforming, including the implementation of AI, is becoming a top priority over customer experience initiatives.

With the holiday season on the horizon, 87 percent of retailers anticipate their e-commerce revenue will increase in the third quarter, compared to the same period last year. Most retailers (92 percent) also expect their e-commerce business will grow in the third quarter, prompting them to add new product lines and implement new technologies, including AI. Consumer experience seems to be taking a bit of a back seat as retailers focus more on replatforming—including upgrading their website features with AI, to stay competitive for the year ahead.

AI remains an important part of the e-commerce growth equation, since more than half of retailers surveyed said they use or plan to use AI within the next 12 months. Sixty percent of retailers plan to buy existing technology, while 27 percent expect to develop their own technology and to elevate their e-commerce platforms. In the U.K., 67 percent of retailers plan to implement new technologies in the third quarter, while more than half (54 percent) of U.S. retailers will do the same.

Most online retailers—76 percent—said they understand how AI can be applied to e-commerce. However, some retailers are still in the dark when it comes to AI and how it could boost their e-commerce presence. Twenty-four percent said that they don’t understand how to use AI for their e-commerce initiatives, while 39 percent said that while they understood AI’s e-commerce benefits, they weren’t sure how it applied to their own e-commerce initiatives. The retailers’ responses demonstrated that there is an opportunity to learn more about how AI could improve customer experiences in the e-commerce sector.

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[Read more about how technology is elevating e-commerce: E-Commerce Players: If You Don’t Have Data Scientists On Board, You May Be Doing it Wrong]

When asked about their AI plans, retailers reported that the most popular applications—including ones they were already using or intending to use in the next year—were personalized product recommendations (56 percent), customer service requests (41 percent) and chatbots (35 percent). Not all AI apps were part of retailers’ technology goals either. Most retailers said that they don’t plan to use AI for virtual reality and voice-activated apps (90 percent for each), augmented reality (85 percent) and virtual buying assistants (79 percent).

Retailers’ AI plans also varied by region—with 17 percent of U.S. retailers stating that AI was already part of their e-commerce initiatives. Australia and New Zealand retailers (15 percent) also reported that they use AI for their online businesses, while only 14 percent of U.K. retailers said they’re already using it. U.K. retailers, however, have the most aggressive AI implementation plans, with 33 percent planning to leverage AI within the next 12 months, followed by 17 percent of U.S. retailers.

Despite different perceptions on AI, most retailers are taking advantage of this technology to boost their e-commerce growth and business. With the holiday season coming, AI could not only enhance retailers’ websites, but facilitate a more personalized e-commerce experience for consumers. While the opportunity for AI remains high in e-commerce, the technology could help retailers stay agile and fulfill consumer demands during the holiday season and the year ahead.