How the autonomous web is reshaping online retail

Article Highlights:  

  • Consistency and personalisation through automation is the key for peak preparation and ensuring continued growth and scalability for retailers. 

  • The autonomous web’s technology can help reduce returns and cart abandonment through proactive conversations at key moments in the customer journey. 

  • Retailers can no longer rely on purchase history and cookies; gathering zero-party data from conversations is a solution that will aid in peak preparation.   

  • Conversational AI can allow retailers to expand from local to global sales through multilingual, 24/7 service. 

 The high-speed transformation of e-commerce over the past year has put the impetus on brands to rapidly optimise the experiences they deliver to users.   

Innovative techniques to attract and retain digitally native populations have been adopted – from flash sales and delayed instalment plans to one-click payments.  

Yet, a longer-term solution is emerging. One that will not only change the experience e-commerce businesses delivers their users, but one that will reshape every online interaction. Meet the autonomous web.   

Placing conversations at centre stage  

The concept of the autonomous web is not dissimilar from that of autonomous vehicles, whereby the user is taken to their desired destination with little or no input required from them.  


Image credit: Unsplash 

An intelligent and adaptable web is one in which any user – whether browsing for products, filling out their tax forms or booking a holiday – is presented with a personalised web experience, tailored to their current intents.   

The key to delivering this is through in-the-moment conversations with users, to help take them to the right place and gather valuable data for future interactions.  

In a specifically retail context, these so-called ‘Conversational AI assistants’ can make shopping experiences much more personal and interactive.   

The gathering of behavioural data based on purchase intents, context and preferences simultaneously deliver consistency and personalisation, providing higher-quality user experiences alongside increased sales.   

How will the autonomous web change online retail?   

The mass exodus towards online shopping has highlighted shortcomings in the ways traditional online retailers treat their customers. Expectations are placed on shoppers to navigate often complex websites in order to find specific products in the right size, colour and material. In fact, research from the Rockefeller Corporation points out that 68% of all customers leave a brand because they think it does not care about them.    

It’s about a shift in attitude. Changing from “It’s up to the user to understand how an online store works” to: “It’s up to the online store to understand what the users want – in that exact moment.”   

This is where the autonomous web helps online retail the most. Currently, 86% of visitors want to see more information about a company’s products and services on its website – and are willing to pay more to get it. For that reason, businesses need solutions that have all the information in one place and are capable of adjusting to different user's flows. It’s about understanding the consumers' desires and concerns in the specific moments in the buying process to help them effectively.  

 By placing these shoppers as the central focus, conversational AI technology is capable not only of recommending the products they may be interested in, but through integrations with your store, taking them to the relevant product page – without the user even having to click.   

Loyalty and greater Customer Lifetime Value doesn’t just come from a single feature that wows them though. It’s developed gradually when the whole experience, from initial intent to post-purchase support that is consistently of high quality.   

What online retail is missing is AI technology to help customers throughout each step of their journey: when they search for products, sign up for a newsletter, find discounts, check out and return again for further purchases. Each of your users has different intents and behaviours, so they will travel different paths on e-commerce websites - and need a personalised guide who can instantly adapt to this.   

How does the autonomous web actually work?   

The vision for an autonomous web in an e-commerce context is this: using Natural Language Understanding (NLU) and machine learning algorithms, an AI assistant (aka a conversational chatbot) will have access to all product info in the store at any one time, alongside a user’s site browsing and shopping history.  

Added to this, zero-party data in the form of transcripts of customer-representative interactions is constantly available, enabling the AI assistant to build a comprehensive and context-appropriate profile of the customer in any given moment.   

All of this combines to allow the assistant to deliver a personalised, valuable conversation to each and every customer:   

  •  Retailers' actions are based on conversations, not guesswork  

  •  Millions of conversations can be had with consumers  

  •  Any online merchant of any size can use the autonomous web  

The value for e-commerce retailers?   

We know how the autonomous web works, and the wider value for the industry as a whole, but what are the tangible benefits to retailers?  

  • Increasing Customer Lifetime Value 
    As has already been established, retailers cannot rely on purchase history and cookies (neither first-party cookies nor third-party cookies), as consumers assume different roles and have changing needs. Users can be browsing one day for themselves, the next day for their partners, or their children; they may be shopping for shoes one day where “lowest price” is their primary criterion and shopping for a washing machine the next day where “fast delivery” is the most important.  
    Through conversations, the customer journey will be continually optimised automatically, ensuring that only the most relevant items and personalised up-sell and cross-sell offers will be presented to the customer at every interaction. Fashion retailers like Tiger of Sweden are already using Conversational AI post-purchase to build long-term loyalty. An AI assistant engages and rewards their ‘Tiger Society’ club members, creating user-generated content and involving customers in their ongoing product development.   



Image credit: Tiger of Sweden  

  • Reducing costly returns:   
    Over 55% of retailers said that dealing with returns has a negative impact on the day-to-day running of their business. Online retailers know that returns are costly because of the shipping costs and the fact that goods in the return process cannot be sold.  The technology of the autonomous web allows retailers to influence shopping behaviour, using conversations to ensure customers leave with the right purchase the first time around.     
    Guiding customers from first intent to checkout, through conversation, is an effective way the Autonomous Web significantly reduces this negative impact. This places all product information and FAQs (sizes, colours, fabrics, specifications, shipping info, payment methods) at the AI assistant’s fingertips, the chances of incorrect product purchasing can be dramatically reduced.    


 Image credit: Siksilk  

  • Reducing bounce rate and churn: One of the key benefits of using AI Chat and autonomous web technology is that your customers interact with you in real-time.  Many online retailers still rely on asynchronous conversations through email communication and support tickets.  
    However, with 24/7 customer communication available in multiple languages, you can dramatically reduce bounce rates and churn. Painpoints and drop-off can be immediately spotted and avoided (e.g., confusion around product sizing, inability to find certain products), while transactions can be completed in minutes, as soon as the customer is ready to purchase.   

Getting personal  

The autonomous web brings tangible benefits to every industry. By having customers as the central focus, they can dictate their site usage on their terms through conversations and free up resources and time for businesses to spend on other tasks.    

Yet online retail is the industry where the Autonomous Web’s technology can bring the largest benefits. Retailers can benefit from a unified flow, where they can deliver the high quality associated with a physical shopping experience while still harvesting the data-based insights from analytics tools.  

Find out more about the autonomous web, and what Certainly’s Conversational AI platform can do for you. 


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