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October 9, 2018

How AI Engages Shoppers on the Customer Journey

Most marketers mistakenly think the customer journey ends when the buyer completes a purchase, or maybe when they receive their order. The company has what it wants (a completed sale) and the customer is hopefully happy with their purchase. 

However, this is actually where the customer journey starts. It’s now up to the company to turn that customer into a repeat buyer and brand ambassador. At this point, the customer is wondering whether they made a good choice buying from the company, and they are already planning if and when they are going to buy from them again. 

Keep reading to learn how AI can grow your sales and improve your ROI by bringing returning customers back into the sales funnel.  

Why Should You Invest in AI Engagement?

Repeat customers are some of the most valuable people to your business. Current customers spend, on average, 67 percent more than new customers. By dedicating part of your marketing budget to focus on repeat customers, you can increase your ROI. 

Returning customers are also more likely to convert. While prospects have about a 13 percent chance of converting, returning shoppers convert at a rate of around 65 percent. Again, your investment in these buyers boosts your conversion rate while increasing the ROI of your marketing efforts. This is particularly important for eCommerce merchants, where each impression, click, and site visit is counted and weighed against other options.  

On average, the cost of acquiring a new customers is five times more than the cost of keeping current customers. If you’re not actively engaging repeat customers, and taking steps to bring lost customers back to the sales funnel, then your business isn’t as profitable as it could be. 

Fortunately, there are plenty of AI tools for the job. Check out these three ways AI helps with customer retention within the buyer’s journey. 

1. AI Tools Create Better Targeted Emails

The email marketing industry has come a long way from email blasts sent to any address they can get their hands on. Today’s email marketing is strategic, targeted, and intelligent. More eCommerce brands than ever are reaching for AI-based email tools to engage existing customers. 

There are multiple ways email benefits from AI, and multiple marketing directors have said that with their new tools, they are sending emails to fewer people, but their sales are up and they’re getting better results. (This is the increased engagement rate and ROI we mentioned earlier.) A few ways email marketing uses AI include:

  • Automatically segmenting shoppers by their likelihood of engagement (odds of reading the emails).
  • Sending targeted email messages based on customer interests and price points. 
  • Creating smart recommendations in emails to bring customers back.
  • Understanding the length of time between purchase and engagement to prevent burnout and reduce unsubscriptions.

Each of these elements plays a role in the customer journey. Have you ever bought a pair of running shoes online, only to receive five emails over the course of the week advertising more shoes? This was because of a clunky automated system. With AI, the email marketing platform will identify when you’re most likely to buy again and then send emails with other running accessories and upgrade options that you might appreciate. 

The email process is easier with less hands-on segmentation work for the eCommerce marketing team.

The email above is a great example of a AI helping eCommerce brands target customers based on their interests and likelihood of making a purchase

2. AI Improves Ad Targeting for Better Results

Most internet users have a complicated relationship with the ads they see. While many people accept that ads help publishers make money and are a part of the web process, they don’t want bulky ads that block the experience entirely or promote things they don’t need. For example, consider this data on customer feelings toward internet ads:

  • 83 percent of web users agree with the statement, “not all ads are bad, but I filter out the really obnoxious ones.”
  • 77 percent of users wish there was a way to ad-filter instead of ad-block completely.
  • 87 percent of users feel like there are more ads now than there were two to three years ago.  

Through these responses, customers are telling us information that most eCommerce marketers should have picked up years ago: better targeted ads lead to better responses. So many marketers and publishers are trying to mimic the broadcast advertising on TV or print media that they aren’t thinking about the results they could get by reaching out to targeted groups of people.

Better targeting means getting your message in front of people interested in your brand. 

Fortunately, some companies are developing the AI capabilities to improve this. Social media algorithms are evolving to show their ads to likely buyers instead of targeting general demographics. Developers are adding AI elements to banner ads and retargeting campaigns to make them more effective. 

As these startups improve their tools with AI, marketers can watch their eCommerce promotions improve. They will have better tools at their disposal, and a better understanding of the people they market to. 

3. AI Helps Marketers Learn When to Engage Audiences

One of the easiest ways AI can help eCommerce merchants is to provide insight into the customer journey and overall customer lifetime value. Customer lifetime value (CLV) is unique for every company and industry. If you work at a company like JC Penney, the number of times customers visit your website each year and the amount they spend will vary differently from the Lowe’s website or Victoria’s Secret website.

As you look at improved product recommendations, use better email targeting, and see who engages with you on social, you can develop marketing plans to target various customers. With big data, you can build target personas that are effective and based on behavior, rather than demographics. 

For example, which target audience profile would you rather have:

  • Shopper A is in her mid-thirties, is interested in nature, eating well, and raising her kids. She looks for fashionable deals when she shops online. 
  • Shopper B visits the website roughly five times per year and spends around $50 per visit — always exceeding the threshold for free shipping. She uses a coupon more than half the time. Her preferences are varied, but she tends to engage with the hero-images on the front page before buying something more practical after looking around.

With the information provided for Shopper B, the eCommerce team can develop a marketing plan to bring the customer back or affect her behavior. They might email a coupon to bring her back to the website or test different shipping thresholds. They will also adjust their product recommendations. 

You need personas that you can take action off of, and AI tools can tap into big data to learn about your customers so you can understand who you are selling to.  

All of these tools, eCommerce resources, and marketing efforts all use AI for one goal: preventing customers from bouncing from your website and never coming back. Instead of marketing harder — with more emails, more banner ads, and more social promotions — AI lets you market smarter. Your efforts become more targeted and as a result have better results. This is why brands continue to invest in AI and why customers are suddenly engaging with brands they once ignored.


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Craig Smith is the Founder & CEO of Trinity Insight, an eCommerce optimization agency and INC 5000 company. Trinity helps brands grow ecommerce revenue by driving qualified traffic and improving digital experiences.

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