We went coast-to-coast last week with a number of our colleagues from BigCommerce and Bloomreach attending eTail East in Boston and Bloomreach’s Edge Summit in Napa. It was quite a contrast of learning about current e-commerce problems and solutions at eTail versus thinking about the future and AI’s impact on e-commerce at the Edge Summit. Both are converging quickly; merchants and solution providers will have to adopt AI-powered tools (like Bloomreach) to work at the pace of change that customers want from e-commerce experiences. Sessions at both conferences covered a gamut of hot topics and we urge you to listen to replays of any sessions you can get your hands on. For those feeling like they are behind on hot topics related to AI and its impact on e-commerce, simply go to Blommreach’s home page and listen to the stream when you can – it’s 11 hours of content but almost all of it is worth listening to! If you don’t have the time and you just want a quick 2 minute read on what we thought was important, here are some key moments from each events that we thought were the highlights:

Etail East Conference: Our Top 5 Takeaways

1. Break Down the Silos! (Dan Marques from Crocs)

Kiri Masters of Forbes and Dan Marques of Crocs provided insights on topics like handling knockoffs and managing Amazon and Marketplaces as brand manufacturers. Biggest takeaway for us? Establishing leadership as a merchant requires breaking down responsibility silos so that an e-commerce team works in an integrated way. The .com team needs to know how the Amazon team is working, producing content, and managing the customer experience. Read more on Kiri’s summary of her interview with Dan here.

2. Personalization- Simplify it with a 3 Layer Cake! (Courtney Graybill from Kohl’s)
Personalization is one of those topics where a lot of merchants know they needed to do it yesterday to increase LTV and ROAS, but they are struggling connecting all the dots that contribute to it. We loved Courtney Graybill’s simplification of it; defining personalization as a three layer cake:

“1-base marketing and targeted promotions, 2-segmentation strategy, promote homegoods to historical home goods buyers, 3-one-to-one communications including abandoned cart emails, product recommendations based on search history and other super-relevant one-to-one messages you can trigger.”

Of course there are other important aspects of the personalization mix and AI will only fuel these (product attributes!) but tackling those 3 key personalization techniques leads to success in making the customer journey much more personal.

3. Brand Purpose Pays Dividends (Elizabeth Drori from Sperry)
In a session with Elizabeth Drori, CMO of Sperry, on aligning customer experience with brand purpose, the key learning was that if a brand commits to the purpose of its product offering, its omnichannel customer experience and its commitment to a purpose can spur real growth. For example their “All for Water” purpose allows for campaigns to be built around the importance of water and the ocean where plastics are creating an environmental crisis. Their commitment to using primarily recycled materials by 2024 has led to a product collection called Sea Cycled: Check it out!

4. Don’t Shy Away from Data – Get Started Collecting and Using It! EXPERIMENT!
Nabin Ghmire from Newell touched on some recurring themes but especially the struggles of companies trying to use data analytics to drive omnichannel growth. Of course it’s easy to use online data within the confines of an e-commerce website – but expanding the use of data and leveraging CDPs is where the future is. Newell is focusing on experimentation and testing omnichannel data usage on the brands (they have MANY) where data acquisition is easiest and then refining the usage based on learnings.

5. Cool Tech of the Show: Session AI
Jason Seebas of Session AI gave a fascinating presentation about their capabilities – a technology that presents shoppers with real-time, in-session offers. They use patented machine learning models that predict behaviors in-the-moment, trigger relevant experiences and drive business outcomes including lifting conversion rates, increasing average order values, increasing revenue per visitor and incremental revenue. Here’s their value prop from their website:

“Session AI’s Customer DNA™ relies on clickstream data rather than personally identifiable information (PII) to understand customer intent and relay purchase predictions in real-time — enabling relative, converting experiences for both anonymous and known visitors.”

Check them out!

Bloomreach’s Edge Summit – Generative AI: Our Top 6 Takeaways

1. AI-Powered Conversational Commerce: Bloomreach’s Clarity – “Conversational Commerce”
Bloomreach made a huge announcement with Clarity – their AI-powered shopping assistant application that is powerful enough to have conversations with live customers supporting live online shopping experiences including helping shoppers with decisions and “conversational commerce.” Clarity provides Encyclopedic product knowledge at the fingertips of shoppers. As Raj D (Founder of Bloomreach) said:

“We’re going to leave those chatbots behind with this product…we are retraining buyers to behave differently – conversation commerce will be as transformative as search engines were.”

Read more about Clarity here.

2. How to Work with AI? Be a Coach, Creator, Caregiver!
If you are going to successfully work with AI it will be important to choose one of these three “roles” in working with AI-powered technology. (Listen here) The simplicity of Raj’s statement really helps anyone who is fearful of AI to understand the broad opportunities that are in front of us. But Dr. Rumman Chowdury made us think about ethical concerns, she asks “What is the balance of power between humans and the world being built?” A lot of her work is focused on that question – who gets to be the arbiter of truth (Google her and read her work!). AI is based on models and if the models aren’t true then the output will not be.

3. As an Organization: How to Work with AI – Build Prompt Repositories!
In Christy Augustine (engineer at Bloomreach) and Allie Miller’s (AI investor and influencer) session, they discuss the point of humans and machines working together. It’s important to remember AI can deepen what it means to be human and for starters, understanding prompts is key. Develop a prompt repository to enable everyone on a team to work with AI better. “AI is going to enable much more conversational and emotional interactions!”

4. Speed of Adoption (Fiona Tan from Wayfair and Elizabeth Sapuding from Stitch Fix / Stanford GSB)
Elizabeth and Fiona discuss their worry about how consumers adopt AI. They see it being more of an assisted mode – an assistant! As organizations, we need to understand how to leverage this and that is not easy. There is organizational change surrounding us all becoming experts in just working with AI, let alone training our own models. The panel focused on understanding the slow speed of change, but adversely worrying about how organizations will just-as-quickly adapt to the change.

5. AI vs Human in Shopping – Which Controls Which?
Tune into this recorded session at 3:11:32 for a great video sponsored by AI software company Nvidia, a Bloomreach Partner.
AI is going to enable much more conversational and emotional interactions! (that’s a quote from Christina Callas from Total Wine). Humans predetermining a shopping path oversimplifies the shopping journey – conversational commerce with an intelligent model reader can be very powerful. We witnessed an awesome video of how Bloomreach’s Clarity will work with a wine buyer go to 1:29:46 of the Day 1 recording here to check out Conversational Commerce in action!

6. Building Better AI – Language Models and Training Them
Listen to Xuen Wang discuss how large language models can be trained and refined because “Machine learning generalizes…it doesn’t memorize.” 3:27:14 (Listen here)
Large language models are probability distributions so they need to be fine tuned. Xuen shares that “prompt engineering will be key. We need to feed and train the models carefully.”

Final Quote from Raj DeDatta, CEO of Bloomreach:

“We’re accountable for AI. it all comes back to us…we put AI in the guts of the infrastructure…integrated with the workflow and integrated with the governance. AI needs to be deeply woven across the entire shopping journey.”

And finally – yes we urge you to listen to the Day 1 and Day 2 recordings from Bloomreach’s Edge Summit – take your time, absorb it, and we promise you will learn a ton! (we’re still doing repeat sessions a week later here in the office!)