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Death Of SaaS As AI Redefines The Shopping Experience?

The demand by New Zealand consumers for speed, convenience and experiential shopping in 2024 may mean that most software as a service (SaaS) solutions – particularly in retail – have passed their 'use by date' even before reaching maturity as AI moves to transform the shopping experience.

Managing Director of eCommerce Integration Specialists Convergence Mark Presnell predicts that the SaaS market may disappear as quickly as it arrived because it cannot offer best-of-breed functionality in every facet of the retail experience.

"One key issue is the generic nature of many functions, which you get from trying to be everything to everybody. For example, the ecommerce recommendation algorithm – where an eCommerce site makes suggestions like ‘others also bought’ – is essentially 'dumb'.

"If a customer buys sneakers, the system might recommend another pair rather than suggest complementary products like socks."

Presnell says the solution lies in more profound, more intelligent integrations.

"Best-of-breed third-party engines utilising AI can significantly enhance customer experience by considering a customer's buying and search history, preferences, and the retailer's promotional strategy. This shift enables a more relevant customer experience across various touchpoints, taking into account shopper needs and even inventory availability."

The goal is to offer the best experience with the best solutions at every point of the shopping experience. Unfortunately, most SaaS platforms are strong in some areas and weak in others.

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However, he warns against over-reliance on automation at the expense of human interaction because the human touch always wins.

"Use technology to empower your staff with knowledge and insights about the customer's needs and preferences. While AI can provide valuable information, the human touch at critical points can significantly improve the customer experience."

Presnell said that retailers should consider deep integration with, for example, Customer Relationship Management (CRM) systems to capture comprehensive customer data over time.

"Knowing small details, like whether a customer is left-handed or right-handed, can lead to a highly personalised experience," he says. "This should be a mix of machine intelligence and human interaction."

Drawing on these insights, here are three tips for retail business owners and leaders:

1. Leverage Customer Data Intelligently

Understand what information can be captured about customers without infringing on their privacy. Implement systems to gather this data, respecting customers' right to opt-out.

2. Implement a Robust CRM

Capture customer information using a CRM system, which AI services can then use to create a more tailored customer experience.

3. Balance Automation with Human Interaction

Develop a customer engagement roadmap that includes automated interactions and critical points of human contact to ensure a genuinely personalised experience.

Presnell said the goal is not just to use technology for its own sake but to create a nuanced, customer-centric approach that blends the best of AI, multiple best-of-breed solutions and human interaction.

"This approach not only respects customer preferences and privacy but also builds lasting relationships, much like a tailor who remembers your name and preferences, providing a blueprint for success in a volatile and ambiguous world," he said.

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