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AI and it's Place in E-Commerce

By Anna Cole, Director of E-Commerce Operations, User Experience and Merchandising, Carhartt

Anna Cole, Director of E-Commerce Operations, User Experience and Merchandising, Carhartt

It’s 1997 and the super computer Deep Blue is going up against the reigning World Chess Champion, Garry Kasparov for the second time, but this time Deep Blue wins. For me, this is the first time that the possibility and promise of Artificial Intelligence (AI) became real. It was hard to believe a machine could out-think a genius like Kasparov.

Fast forward 20 years and I’ve read Deep Blue didn’t outthink Kasparov as much as it just processed data better and faster. That wins in Chess and it wins in e-commerce. It’s no wonder that every vendor you talk to is pitching an AI solution these days. We need to be able to run our businesses smarter and activate the vast amount of data we have accumulated easily and repeatedly to deliver the right message, at the right time, to the right person.

"It was hard to believe that a machine could out-think a genius like Kasparov"

How does one develop a winning AI strategy? Tactical decisions must be made with the end game in mind. Many solution providers have expanded their service offerings through acquisition or development in an attempt to be everything to everyone, and to pitch their solution to deliver the connected environment. The reality is that most vendors have not been able to grow or scale with excellence across all of their solutions. Along with the customized legacy environments, this means that the majority of businesses today use a combination of many different internal and external solutions.

Instead of using what is supposed to be everything to everyone, we need to be able to feed all of our data into one AI who can see the entire chess board and be able to accurately predict and plan for the future while feeding those connections back into the systems that fit our unique situations to create the ultimate AI-Dataloop. A dot might look like an anomaly in one system, but when connected with other dots in the ecosphere it could be the key to, exposing a critical trend or issue. Connecting all of the dots and disparate AI learnings from separate systems will enable us more quickly to exceed our business objectives.

In the future, a connected AI aggregator that feeds actionable insights across the entire organization from supply chain to consumer interactions will empower the business through the recognition of opportunities, trends, and potential issues. Such an AI will enable action, not reaction. This connected data and intelligence will be used to make smarter decisions while automating parts of the business to allow a seamless delivery of micro personalized experiences across channels.

To become a master, you must start by creating your AI strategy. Define success and plot short and long term goals. Identify areas for double attack by evaluating your internal and external partner capabilities. Work cross functionally and be willing to re-evaluate partners that are not on a path to connected data. Build in time to understand, audit and clean your data. AI is not a plug and play solution, but an investment in time and resources which will allow it to more quickly learn and predict. Deep Blue lost its first match. Once it had the data and learned from its past mistakes it out-computed the World Champion, made history, and inspired the future.

We e-commerce leaders can relate. We need to learn from our mistakes. We need to clean up and connect all of our data. We need to successfully automate, predict, and action it. Once we can do that we win customers, build trust, and outperform the competition. Checkmate.

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