IAB Singapore
Sep 11, 2018

Commerce for the next billion: Don’t hate AI and blockchain

They’re here to supercharge omnichannel analytics.

Commerce for the next billion: Don’t hate AI and blockchain
This is the last in a three-part series on the evolution of commerce, contributed by IAB Singapore. Please see "Part 1: Adapt and execute—fast" and "Part 2: Build out your mobile arsenal".

By now, we have established that retailers must integrate data from across all channels to deliver a truly omnichannel experience. This is easier said than done.

While online shopping data has become relatively easy to collect, there is growing convolution with every new channel that we incorporate into our lives, such as smart watches and voice assistants like Amazon Alexa and Google Home.

Complementing online, offline, wearables and voice data sets, blockchain and artificial intelligence (AI) are set to supercharge omnichannel analytics, and in turn, omnichannel customer engagement. Here’s how:

1. Artificial intelligence

“Get closer than ever to your customers. So close that you tell them what they need well before they realise it themselves.” This prominent quote from the late Steve Jobs highlights what retailers should strive to accomplish from a customer engagement standpoint.

Getting mobile right will put retailers closer to shoppers than ever before. AI will then help to anticipate needs, even before these needs are fully evident to the shopper. With AI’s potential impact, it is no surprise that the technology’s adoption across our region is expected to grow by 46.9% between 2016 and 2022.

While making decisions based on data is nothing new, human marketers are simply not equipped to mine terabytes of data at the speed and scale necessary to deliver hyper-personalised engagement to millions of consumers at the same time.

Enter machine-learning technologies, which can act on data with speed and precision. A subset of AI, machine learning involves computer systems that are capable of learning and improving performance through data analysis, without human intervention.

Savvy retailers across our region are already using machine learning to serve dynamic ads via online and mobile. The algorithms behind these ads learn how individuals respond to various creative versions or featured products. By considering product selection, images, taglines, formatting, colour, copy and call to action, the technology then automatically serves—from trillions of permutations—the ad variation that is most relevant to an individual at a specific point in time.

For example, machine learning applies data to differentiate between items that are an infrequent or one-time purchase (a car or a couch), as opposed to one that will be regularly replenished (bread or toilet paper).

In short, AI, especially in the form of machine learning, is already powering engagement across retail channels and marketing campaigns but we have only just begun to see its influence. In the future, businesses that want to succeed will need to embrace this technology, or risk losing out to competitors who are using it to forge personal connections with consumers.

2. Blockchain

Beyond paving the way for “now accepting Bitcoin” signs in shop windows, blockchain is set to make a significant impact. According to IDC, our region is set to spend more than US$281 million on blockchain solutions in 2018, almost double the amount spent in 2017, with the financial services and retail sectors leading the way.

Blockchain, as a secured, incorruptible, transparent, chronological and append-only distributed ledger, can record required customer data sharing authorisations on smart contracts and enable open data collaboration at an even greater scale.

Imagine being able to merge, in blockchain technology, private databases from banks, credit card companies and retailers. Each consumer would be able to authorise the addition of their data to the chain and control who gets to view that data, and to what extent. Retailers with authorised access can then glean fresh insights about their omnichannel customers and provide better product recommendations and incentives—all in real-time.

Blockchain can help retailers know consumers better. It can also put consumers in a better position to shop smarter, by knowing the products they are considering—and the companies that produce them—in an entirely new way. Another use case for blockchain includes improving consumer trust and brand transparency, by allowing customers to verify a product’s entire lifecycle.

Envision yourself being able to download a ‘virtual resume’ of any shirt or pair of shoes. You would know where and how they were made, if they were returned previously, or have been flagged as imitations. Blockchain makes it possible for every legitimate touch in a supply chain—from a supplier to a manufacturer to a shipper—to add a verifiable record to an item’s pedigree.

Here are some future examples for blockchain in advertising:

  • Smart contracts in the form of distributed apps (dApps) could be triggered by a certain amount of impressions, clicks or conversions, without the need for any further intermediary.
  • Improve ad programmatic trading by processing digital ad transactions in real time. Multiple tests, including proof-of-stake technology, are being conducted to improve the current speed limitations of Blockchain.
  • Solve the Attribution debate by populating a public ledger recording all ad impressions, making it clearer for all parties involved (especially for billing purpose).
  • Decentralize the customer experience by offering access to Tokens each time an action is completed in the system (e.g. when a user interacts for the first time with a Brand or clicks on a banner). This way, each user would benefit from receiving and viewing branded ads

With new consumer and business use cases rapidly emerging, blockchain is as significant now as the internet was 25 years ago. So, understand the technology, fast. Try it on for size. If it fits, scale—and scale fast. Today’s technology experiment could be tomorrow’s business foundation. The Bitcoin hype is ending. Retail’s blockchain revolution has just begun.

This article was written by IAB Singapore’s Commerce Committee co-chair Alban Villani (GM for Southeast Asia, Hong Kong and Taiwan with Criteo). 

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