How AI Can Help Grow Your Online Sales This Holiday Season

November is one of the busiest months of the year for window shoppers, bargain hunters, and gift buyers. As we approach the holiday season, shopping efforts ramp up to another level. Competition is high, and attention spans are short, that’s why it’s essential that you focus your messaging and product offering to give yourself the best chance of winning over your customers.

The end of the year is a frantic time for retailers and ecommerce sites, so making the most efficient use of your time, from your marketing efforts to your admin, is vital. Businesses of all sizes are now benefiting from artificial intelligence (AI) technology to help with a variety of tasks; from cutting down on paperwork for handling returns, to laser-targeting the right customers to focus on with your product promotions. From cutting down costs to boosting revenue, we look at how AI can help you be more productive than ever and ensure you have your most profitable festive season yet.

Test more and test faster

A/B testing and multivariate testing are incredibly powerful ways to drive more profit through your website. It allows you to test different variations to help find the designs for your site that can generate the most conversions or lead to higher value orders. For more on getting started with split testing and maximising your return, see our detailed guide to getting your best ROI from conversion rate optimization.

But one of the biggest barriers to a successful testing program is often velocity. Put simply, a lot of sites aren’t testing enough. The more you test, the more you learn, and the quicker you get to optimal designs that will increase your revenues. Any time spent not testing is a wasted opportunity – no site is perfect, so you want to make the most of all the chances to incrementally improve. So long as you have planned out your tests, with solid research and hypotheses behind each one, then the more you test, the more efficient and effective your optimization work becomes.

Even if you tested something in July and had an uplift, you might want to be looking to iterate again and see what else you can improve. E-commerce is highly seasonal, especially as we approach the festive season, buyer intent is different. Many stores not only find that customers are looking for different types of products as the seasons change but the way they buy changes too.

Sites also see traffic increasing in November, which can mean your split tests reach statistical significance faster – meaning more chances for you to test again. In fact, traffic can be one of the biggest blockers to sites running enough tests. That can make this time of year even more important to get your testing plan on point.

Building variations and identifying the combinations that work well together can be a time-consuming exercise. Again, another hold-up when trying to find your best-performing designs. But artificial intelligence can help optimizers by delivering a level of complexity and volume of variations that simply aren’t possible with manually-built multivariate tests. Sentient Ascend lets you test multiple variations all at once, deploying combinations at a scale that wouldn’t be possible with traditional A/B testing software. By using machine learning and evolutionary algorithms, it can quickly identify different combinations of elements that work well together, discounting those that don’t, and moving you towards optimal designs faster.

Let Google choose your best performing ads for you

You’d like to think that one of the world’s biggest tech companies also has some of the most advanced AI technology at its disposal. And it is this kind of technology that Google is hoping can steer it’s AdWords advertisers towards their most successful campaigns yet.

Success for you usually means success for them too, as the more clicks you get, the more it costs you. But, if you’re seeing good results and getting a good ROI, then the more highly converting clicks you get, the more budget you’ll want to pump into it. So it’s in their interests to make sure your PPC campaigns are working as well as they can do.

The search engine giant has been showcasing the power of its AI capabilities at every opportunity, for example, exhibiting and auctioning off artwork created by its DeepDream AI neural network. The works were created through algorithms that efficiently identified the patterns that elicited positive reactions.

But for retailers, there’s a more practical use for AI’s ability to predict what humans will like – selecting the ad copy that is most likely to attract clicks. For years, many PPC managers have manually optimized their own ads, running equally distributed variations and choosing the best performing copy  to keep running. But Google is now heavily pushing advertisers towards letting the platform do the optimization heavy lifting instead, using its algorithms to identify your best-performing ads and presenting the ones that are most likely to lead to a click and a sale.

Using these settings can not only save you a lot of time, but should lead to a better performance and better ROI too. Of course, don’t just take Google’s word for it, you still want to monitor your results, but leaving AI to take a lot of the manual work out of split testing your ad copy can leave you more time to focus on other revenue-generating marketing activities.

Give your customers what they want

Shoppers get tunnel vision at this time of year. It’s a race against time to buy what they want, or find the Black Friday bargains that they’re desperately seeking out. That means unless your site is showing them what they want to see quickly, then they are likely to bounce off and start searching elsewhere.

Personalization is an increasingly valuable tool for marketers and retailers, as it makes online shopping experiences more relevant to each shopper, increasing the likelihood that will find something they want to buy and reducing the chances of them leaving to look on a rival site.

Personalized content reduces friction and makes it as easy as possible for a customer to buy from you. Nearly half of customers will spend more when their experience is personalized, and AI technology can help you make this experience more effective than ever.

Machine learning platforms can identify within seconds what a customer may be looking for, automatically adjusting the content and products displayed. For example, Sentient Aware uses AI to piece together signals from every swipe, click and interaction with the products on your site to intelligently identify the most appealing products to recommend. The result? You’re able to showcase the most relevant items from your inventory to each user, so instead of relying on promoting what you think will be the biggest holiday season trends, you can ensure that each customer is shown the products to suit their own tastes.

Recruit a virtual workforce

As stores get busier, the admin work stacks up, there are more customers to respond to, more returns to handle, and more questions to answer. Traditionally this is the time of year when brick and mortar stores start ramping up their recruitment of temporary staff and extra workers to help out with the growing demand. But that can be expensive, and for a lot of lean online retailers, not always the most efficient move.

Technology can help here, providing you with a virtual workforce, or using automated systems to take away a lot of the repetitive tasks that a human would have to do otherwise. Chatbots, for example, can help you multiply your staff base without adding to the payroll. By using AI-powered natural language processing they can interact with your customers on a personal level, answering common queries, recommending products and steering shoppers in the right direction when they need help. Retailers of all sizes are using chatbots to answer pre-sales questions, handle customer service inquiries and promote products within the chat apps where their target audience is spending its time.

This rise of ‘conversational commerce’ allows customers to make purchases via instant message, without even having to visit the retailer’s site. Brands such as H&M, Sephora, Pizza Hut and Uber are using integrations with chat and social platforms including Facebook Messenger, Twitter and Kik to drive sales and complete transactions all in one place.

Using AI-powered chatbots to communicate is also allowing stores to offer round-the-clock customer support, reducing customer friction and reducing the resources needed to deal with servicing such queries.

November can be a hectic month for retailers, so it is the perfect time to embrace the help that AI can provide. The less time you need to spend on routine tasks, the more time you can spend on promoting your store.