Understanding the growth opportunities – but also the risks – associated with this new Commerce tool

I don’t know about you, but it seems everywhere I turn, someone is talking about generative AI (and I don’t just mean people I know in the PR industry for once).

Perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised. Since Chat GPT exploded onto the scene in November 2022, there have been nearly 90,000 mentions of generative AI in the UK media as of 20th March. In just a year, the media conversation has grown by 2,000 percent.

Yet unlike so many of the AI innovations that came before it, generative AI has also captured the imagination of the national press – with titles from the FT to the Mail regularly contributing to the discussion. And it doesn’t stop there: media coverage published this year on the topic has been shared on Twitter over 57,000 times.

Much of the conversation about generative AI to date has focused on its theoretical future benefits. Yet interestingly, eCommerce is the industry most talked about as being likely to benefit from this innovation (7.4 percent of UK articles reference eCommerce compared to 4.2 percent for entertainment and 3.2 percent for education).

Yet with over 1,000 technology leaders saying only this week that the race to develop AI is dangerous and unpredictable, it got me thinking: should eCommerce businesses (or indeed any business with an eCommerce function) consider generative AI a friend of foe?

Let’s take the friend perspective first.

Here are just three examples as to why generative AI can be a smart tool to attract, engage and retain your community:

  1. Recommender systems: a service like ChatGPT or Bard can be used to make intelligent recommendations for products, services, and content based on a shopper’s preferences and past behaviour. Traditionally a technology only available to the retail giants, generative AI levels the playing field and allows smaller players the chance to offer this service and increase sales.
  2. Content creation: generative AI can be used to generate high-quality and engaging content for websites, blogs, and social media in a cost effective, scalable way. White Label Expo this year showcased some of the emerging content innovators in the Commerce space. Companies like ShopExp, Dresma, and InContext Solutions use generative AI to help create their content while they focus on driving innovation and community conversations.
  3. Customer service: generative AI can help businesses provide personalised support and resolve customer issues through chat, email, or other communication channels. The thinking goes that this can be quicker and more seamless for shoppers, and more cost-effective for businesses than calls to an agent in a contact centre. Many brands have already started to use generative AI to support and enhance customer service. Earlier this year for example NICE, a leading consumer experience cloud platform, integrated ChatGPT into its CX One Expert solution to enhance its self-service customer experience.

So, why then, might generative AI be considered a foe?

Of course, with any new technology, there can be pitfalls.

  1. Data security: Businesses must remember that no sensitive data should be shared with generative AI platforms. Leaking confidential information, IP or customer data can lead to severe, long-term reputational damage (and often fines from data regulators).
  2. Bias: There have been issues found with AI in the past and bias. Even with something as simple as formality. Whereas most humans use abbreviations or slang, ChatGPT doesn’t offer relaxed responses and the answers tend to be formal. Businesses need to think about this when reviewing generative AI content to ensure they don’t lose their tone of voice.
  3. Staff morale: The conversation around jobs and AI is causing concern (this is something we’ve seen in our media research). Businesses need to bring employees along on the journey when introducing generative AI. Make sure everyone in the company is clear on how the tech can help them develop their role not how it will steal their job. This is where a clear internal comms approach is essential.

Should Commerce businesses shy away from generative AI then?

I don’t think so. But I do believe to address some of the pitfalls,

  1. It’s crucial for leaders to understand how this technology will be infused across their business before investing.
  2. Leaders also need to ensure they have a comprehensive, tried and tested, updated issues plan that includes scenarios around generative AI. This can help business manage reputational risks if the worst should happen in the future.
  3. Bring your employees on the journey. Make them feel included from the start so they have a strong understanding of the vision for generative AI. Make sure your internal comms and accessible and clear.

In my opinion, the benefits of generative AI for this industry speak for themselves and now is the perfect time for Commerce companies to trial the technology and be part of this new movement. In the same way as when social media emerged, those companies that embrace innovation in its infancy reap the benefits with a greater understanding of the technology as it develops, allowing staying one step ahead of the competition.