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e-Commerce Experts Dispel 5 Myths About Artificial Intelligence [Video]

Michael Becker
Michael Becker

Contrary to what some marketers still believe, you don’t “sprinkle a little AI” on your marketing. AI isn’t actually a solution in-and-of-itself, nor is it some meaningless acronym or abstract mathematical concept. It’s tangible. It’s actionable. And it’s helping real brands find real results.

In an open panel — and an honest conversation about artificial intelligence — Emarsys CMO Allen Nance talked with Peter Sheldon, VP of Strategy at Magento; Myles Shipman, VP of Business Development at Born; and Ryan Green, Director of e-Commerce at TravisMathew at Magento Imagine 2018 to go beyond the AI hype and separate fact from fiction.

Okay, so let’s get real. When we start peeling back the layers and breaking down AI misconceptions… what are we left with? Panelists discussed several key areas of confusion to alleviate some of the hoopla that still surrounds the game-changing technology. I’ll address a few here… and let you check out the full (must-see) video to get the rest!

Also check out the Magento Imagine panel discussion plus more great content on Magento.com. 

What is AI (and what is AI not)?

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Artificial intelligence, as Sheldon described, is sort of the “marketing sticker” that the industry has stuck to what’s truly more accurately intelligent machine learning.

It turns out, up until now, humans have been fine-tuning most of the hard-coded algorithms they’ve relied upon to do any sort of data processing, predictive modeling, intelligent segmentation, and targeted, personalized marketing.

But now, the self-learning machine can do that tuning for us… and in a much more scalable way using data. So as not to simplify the complexities behind the technology, AI is really two things:

  • Data — and the ability to use it to generate and automate a smart decision
  • Using (indeed relying on) a machine to learn (think about), sense (understand), optimize (learn and improve), and act based on data

To compare modern day AI with killer robots or Skynet (the superintelligence system as portrayed in Terminator) is to drastically misinterpret what AI is and can do — at least in e-commerce.

Attack of the algorithms

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It’s important to remember that while algorithms are part of AI, they’re not the foundation.

Data is.

Algorithms act as a data filter and optimizer — determining what data exists and what variables are important and relevant.

“The more first party data you feed the machine, the better outcomes you’re going to get and the better the machine will be able to act.”

Ryan Green · Director of e-Commerce, TravisMathew · @iryangreen

“The more first-party #data you feed the machine, the better outcomes you’re going to get and the better the machine will be able to act,” says @iryangreen      CLICK TO TWEET

“You look at the fancy algorithms — that’s what a lot of vendors claim their AI is. You have to really peel back the layers — and it doesn’t require too much forensics — to find that there’s actually no AI in there whatsoever; there’s no machine learning. It’s nothing more than a fancy algorithm… there’s a lot of vendors out there who are guilty of slapping the AI and ML sticker on something that is nothing more than an algorithm. It’s only AI if it’s actually self-learning, and most of these algorithms are not.”

Peter Sheldon · VP of Strategy, Magento Commerce · @peter_sheldon

“Most vendors that claim they offer #AI use nothing more than a fancy #algorithm. It’s only AI if it’s #selflearning,” says @peter_sheldon      CLICK TO TWEET

AI works out of the box

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As Shipman points out, too many companies over-invest in technology, and under-invest in human resources.

The reality is that any technology — like AI implementation — requires a certain level of change management.

We’re moving closer to a time where a company can use AI out of the box (where, like a lightswitch, you can “turn” AI on, and expect some results without any interaction with it at all), but it won’t likely start beating competitors, helping you hit your goals, noticeably augment the CX, or make a real difference without time, quality and quantity of data, and an investment in human resources.

AI is only for large companies

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There’s no correlation between company size (teams, resources, money) and the ability to use AI to impact the customer experience.

“TravisMathew is not a huge online brand yet,” Green said. “Small- to medium-sized businesses can leverage these tools. They’re essentially additional tools in your toolbox which frees up time to focus on strategy, creative, partnerships, and collaboration.”

“All sized companies should start investing in AI — the sooner the better. Small companies are not separate from this. We work with a small cosmetics company, and one of their first tech choices was an AI-powered recommendation engines. As they scale and grow, their data is going to be so much more powerful. The sooner that any sized company can invest and start AI initiatives the better.” 

Myles Shipman · VP of Business Development, Born Group · LinkedIn

“All sized companies should start investing in #AI — the sooner the better,” says Myles Shipman of @thisisborn      CLICK TO TWEET

Conclusion: Combatting False Cl-AI-ms

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It’s easy to call a system with algorithms AI. That’s exactly what a lot of companies try to do.

AI in e-commerce doesn’t need more hype or falsely-concocted delusions of grandeur. What it needs more of is two-fold:

  • Productive rhetoric and knowledge exchange of best practices; and
  • Quality and quantity of customer data to fuel its self-learning

The experts agree: neglecting to use AI marketing, especially in retail and e-commerce, is a mistake. Your competition is almost certainly already exploring AI and machine learning to build their brands, attain and retain customers, and drive real, tangible business value. ◾

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About the Author


Michael Becker is the Digital Content Manager at Emarsys where he manages the enterprise editorial strategy and content marketing program. Michael has developed thriving content programs with three SaaS companies in Indianapolis and is a published author on Forbes, Elite Daily, Jeff Bullas’ blog, and more. He is a proud alumni of Butler University.

Connect with Michael: LinkedIn@mjbecker_