AI: Your New Personal Shopper


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With AI recommendations driving 75 percent of Netflix selections and 35 percent of Amazon purchases, businesses must start looking to market to their newest customer – artificial intelligence (AI). As the technology continues to mature, AI assistants, will be able to augment mundane and/or routine purchasing decisions that are still important to the customer but are otherwise not necessarily the most experiential or engaging.

When AI offers the ability to offload the routine actions and support and extend ongoing communication between brands and customers, the businesses that are investing heavily in AI will be the ones who can sell through, and to, to AI assistants. It’s critical for businesses to stay ahead of this, as AI assistants are bound to have significant purchasing power in the near future.

Handing over purchasing decisions

Think about today’s modern consumer. Our brains have gone into cognitive overload from the complexities in our everyday lives – career workload, social media, digital and physical advertisements, personal life – the list goes on.

To cope, consumers will rely on AI to push repetitive, mundane brand interactions into the background and free up precious mind share. Consumers will welcome the opportunity to leverage AI to interact with brands to purchase, for example, “one pack of plain white paper towels from the vendor offering the best deal.” My favorite example is “get me some new blue pens”, where the AI uses my personal order history and reviews to order my pens, instead of picking the first set of blue pens from a list. Just think for a second to the amount of click through time to make that order manual from your phone, versus that simple voice command “get me some new blue pens” where the AI does the heavy lifting.

AI takes on background shopping

There will always be certain types of shopping, let’s call it meaningful shopping, that will require customers truly interacting with brands. For example, people will likely never instruct AI to “purchase my wedding dress” (or in my case, my tie)). That said, there is a type of shopping that we’ll classify as “background shopping,” where customers consider the items routine purchases or even subscription worthy and can be done on a repeatable basis – think toilet paper, domestic shopping, house cleaning items, etc. Items that must be re-ordered need based, which can’t be re-ordered through a fixed schedule.

While AI might not always get the decision right the first time, it will begin to sort through available options based on the consumer’s set parameters and, over time, AI, supported by your input, will learn and adjust its algorithms to mirror your preferences. Because of the convenience and sophistication that AI will offer for background shopping, it will become a no-brainer for consumers to utilize AI assistants. The challenge now falls on the relationship between AI and brands – how do you make your brand stand out to an AI assistant? And how does the brand retrain the human employees towards “human + machine scenarios” where employees will be able to seamlessly extend the brand experience for those situations beyond the AI assistant?

Source: “With or Without You,” Digitalist Magazine, Executive Quarterly Q4 2018 Issue

Persuading AI to buy

Companies have a delicate balance and choice going forward. Companies may wish to avoid falling into the background shopping category will have to make an even greater effort to determine what makes certain consumers think about shopping for their product as a meaningful experience rather than just a chore or menial task.

Still, there are some products and services that will undoubtedly fall into “background shopping,” and rather than trying to stick out as a meaningful experience and ultimately fail, organizations can take a different approach: catch the attention of AI assistants.

Organizations must take a strong look at what can set them apart from competitors, whether it’s eco-friendly processes to resonate with green shoppers, unscented formulas for sensitive skin, or industrial-sized packs of goods for those buying for a big family. This is the next generation of brick-and-mortar trade promotion management: while manufacturers used to pay retailers for the best spots on the shelves, we’re now looking at a digital version of this, to drive product placement within the AI platform.

Though there is still much uncertainty on how brands will reach the equivalent of premium shelf placement for AI, it’s clear that online advertisements and paid social programs aren’t going to cut it when it comes to AI making the purchasing decision.

In short, thinking forward, there is a new type of choice to include as we try to bridge the gap between brands and consumers. Organizations must choose when and how to include AI assistants in their strategy discussions for getting products and services into the right hands – their end customers.

Marc Teerlink
Marc Teerlink is Global Vice President of Intelligent Enterprise Solutions and Artificial Intelligence at SAP. He drives the strategy, vision, and production of AI and machine learning technologies delivered through SAP Leonardo. Prior to his current role, Marc was IBM Watson’s Chief Business Strategist, where he oversaw the new offerings portfolio for the Watson platform during IBM's formative years of artificial intelligence. During his time at IBM, Marc executed a number of successful transformational projects and created and delivered cognitive computing solutions and services offerings.


  1. Marc, great article and interesting perspective. One question, however: Who do you foresee will deliver/implement the AI’s that are doing the background shopping? It surely isn’t the brands themselves.



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