Machine learning is a discipline aimed at having computers discover patterns or trends in some set of data without being explicitly programmed to recognize the pattern or trend.
A counter example will help to explain the technique.
Target is famous in the retail industry for having employed statisticians and data scientists to use purchase behavior to identify shoppers who were pregnant and then market to them. Presumably, those statisticians and data scientists used data from Target’s baby registry system to identify pregnancy-driven buying patterns. These patterns were then used to write algorithms that could identify pregnant shoppers and offer discounts or coupons that were likely to make that shopper more loyal to Target.
In contrast, a machine learning system would have taken a different approach. Rather than being told, if you will, how to identify a pregnant shopper, it would have identified those patterns itself.
While there are certainly limitations, machine learning has the potential to optimize and automate several common ecommerce systems.
Good customer service often requires a conversation. It is for this reason that chat works so well in ecommerce. When a shopper chats in a question, a customer service representative can answer and guide the shopper to a solution.
Similarly, when a shopper posts a question or complaint on social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, or similar, a quick and helpful response makes a world of difference in the shopper’s experience.
But small and mid-sized businesses may find it challenging to staff and maintain a team of customer service representatives to monitor chat and social media. Enter machine learning.
An intelligent, learning chatbot can manage basic customer service questions and learn how to help customers in ways that are specific to a particular online store. These chatbots will be able to take care of on-site chat sessions or social media tweets and posts.
Many third-party companies are currently rolling out learning chatbot solutions that even small online merchants can afford.
Machine learning algorithms will vastly improve ecommerce product search capabilities. Most current ecommerce search solutions focus on keywords or synonyms to deliver what some would deem the most relevant search results. But improved learning search will also consider click rates, conversion rates, customer ratings, and even product inventory or margin. Learning search will better understand what the shopper means rather than just what she typed.