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Why AI Is a Merchandiser’s Best Friend

With the shift to a digital-first world, a customer-centric approach to commerce has become essential. AI can help.

With the shift to a digital-first world, a customer-centric approach to commerce has become essential. [Stocksy/Simone Wave]

Digital merchandisers are the unsung heroes of retail — especially after 2020’s sudden shift from brick-and-mortar storefronts to digital channels.

With their deep knowledge of industry-specific buyer personas, trends, and product details, digital merchandisers bolstered sales and helped customers make sense of their journeys when COVID-19 struck. Apparel merchandisers nudged us gently toward loungewear to help us endure lockdowns in style. Online-grocery merchandisers suggested sourdough starter kits when we needed a hobby.

Thanks to the thoughtful strategies of digital merchandisers, ecommerce sales surged early in the pandemic and grew by more than 30% in 2020. Even as vaccinations become more widely available and more brick-and-mortar stores open their doors, online shopping continues to rise. The right platform can help digital merchandisers personalize experiences, automate repetitive tasks, and expand efficiency in this new era of digital-first retail.

This shift to digital shopping is predicted to continue even after the gradual re-opening of economies worldwide and analysts believe this to be a long-lasting change.

Fifty-eight percent of consumers expect to do more online shopping after the pandemic than before, and 80% of business buyers expect to conduct more business online.

State of the connected consumer

AI can help in managing the increased workload

With the shift to a digital-first world, a customer-centric approach to commerce has become essential. Employees in brick-and-mortar settings learn about the customer through physical interactions. Conversations spark, context clues abound, even nonverbal communication can tell a story. In the digital storefront, every click sends a message. Without the proper tools and platform, making sense of data to drive decision-making can be an overwhelming task — especially for a small ecommerce team.  

Artificial intelligence (AI) can fill in the gaps created by the lack of a physical storefront and make it easier for digital merchandisers to decipher customer needs, anticipate questions, and personalize the entire purchasing process. 

An AI-powered commerce platform can play a crucial role in helping merchandisers deal with the greater workload. However, this comes with its own set of challenges because AI and automation often get a bad rap. In fact 89% of American consumers are concerned that emerging technologies could lead to job losses. In addition, there are other real challenges related to the effective adoption of AI, such as a lack of technical skills, customer trust, and data privacy concerns — all of which have prevented a faster embrace of AI in retail.

The right commerce platform could be the solution

Based on these challenges and opportunities, it’s clear that the right commerce platform is the one that can address the core needs of digital merchandisers to provide customer centric experience for shoppers while also offering an intuitive interface and data transparency.

Consider these key questions when choosing the right solution for your needs:

  1. Does the platform provide a simple way for merchandisers to automate mundane and repetitive tasks?
    Manual tasks such as data entry for product information and adding images to a SKU can take up valuable time for merchandisers. This often prevents them from more strategic activities, such as defining product promotion planning and getting catalogs ready for big sale events.
  2. How does the platform support merchandisers in ensuring products are properly set up for selling online?
    The setup tasks include product pricing, assigning products to right categories and brands, setting up product recommendations, tagging for SEO and testing on a QA environment. A platform that uses AI in assisting merchandisers complete these tasks successfully and efficiently would be helpful in reducing their daily workload.
  3. What type of search-merchandising solution does the platform provide?
    Modern search-merchandising solutions combine basic capabilities such as facets search and navigation, typeahead search, and suggestions with customer behavioral data to provide a personalized product discovery experience that boosts click-through rates and shopper conversion.

    You can also look into third-party search merchandising solutions if you aren’t satisfied with out-of-the box search. But integrating a third-party solution could be a lengthy and costly project.
  4. Is the platform’s data easy to digest and helpful in driving the next action?
    Manually combining different reports and trying to make sense of data is frustrating for merchandisers and business leaders. A platform that provides insights and automated alerts based on trends and patterns seen in data will allow merchandisers to spend more time making decisions and coming up with new ideas to grow the business.
  5. How does the platform secure and manage customer data?
    Customers are wary of giving away their data if they aren’t sure how it is being used for their benefit. Transparency and control over their own data is key for building customer trust.

With the right commerce platform, merchandisers can save time from doing mundane and repetitive work and focus on more high value business tasks which improves customer experience and leads to business growth.

Learn more about Salesforce B2C Commerce for merchandisers.


Ilyas Khawaja is a senior product manager for search and discovery in the Commerce Einstein team. Ilyas has over a decade of experience in building digital products for customers in the SMB, B2C and B2B sectors both as an engineer and a product lead. Outside of work, Ilyas enjoys hiking in the White Mountains with his family. He is also a big sports fan and enjoys watching soccer, football, cricket and basketball.

More by Ilyas

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