AI First In Commerce

We are in the beginning of a new age of computing that will touch every aspect of our lives. This new wave of artificial intelligence tools marks a generational sea-change in how everyone will think and interact with technology. Commerce will be no exception, these technologies promise to radically change how we look at the landscape and we’re just now beginning to glimpse what the future may look like in an AI first world.

Just last year, OpenAI brought ChatGPT into the mainstream, and with it, a host of enabling technologies that have transformed how I and the people in my orbit approach our work. For example, if you’d asked me a year ago how I approach a complex problem, I’d tell you that I always start with Google. If you ask me today, I’ll let you know that I always start with a conversation with an AI.

Looking Back at Technology Advancements

In the 90s, when asked how a person would go about learning the state capitals or an answer to a question of how many people are in New York City, we would reference paper books in a library, either the library in our own homes or one in your schools or offices. Think about how crazy that sounds today. We went to a special room and dug through cue-cards until we found the book we wanted. Then, we had to track down that book, dig into it, and find the page and paragraph of value.

Another user case worth thinking through is the big ticket purchase experience. Think about buying an Apple product like a Mac in the 90s. Until the turn of the century, you were contending with mail-order catalogs along with big-box stores and authorized retailers. Most people would call the 1-800 numbers and talk to an expert or go to a retail outlet and talk to someone. It wasn’t until the late 90s when the Internet and eCommerce came onto the scene, that this began to change. Now, online ordering accounts for a majority of purchases.

In these examples, we’re talking about going from a society where virtually nobody owned a “modern PC” with internet connectivity. The Internet brought us wireless Internet and smartphones, and this same wave brought us this cognitive revolution in AI. Computers can think now; they can imagine and produce art. The effects of this will be felt everywhere, especially as we begin to re-imagine what computing looks like and how commerce fits into it.

Looking Ahead at Technology

Natural Language interactions will play an important role in ecommerce. In the short term, we see GPT providing confidence building and domain-level expertise. With the right guard rails, this is already a consumer reality. In the medium term, we see GPT supplanting and augmenting commerce experiences through personalization and optimization. We think that ecommerce won’t fundamentally change in the next five years, but AI and personalization at scale will significantly enhance current capabilities.

In the long-term, we see AI, Natural Language, Surface, and Spacial Computing representing the new normal of user interfaces. I'm not convinced that traditional screens will survive this shift. In my view, humans have been working in natural language since before recorded history, and the last 20-30 years have taught us that technology adoption is a double-edged sword. I believe there is a strong chance that societal shifts will deprioritize devices and that normal people will prefer surface computing and natural language. It’s true; I’m predicting smartphones are a fad.

Personalization will mix with AI and consumer profiles (CJA, CDP, GA4, et al.) to provide a new breed of personalized experiences. Personalization will start to take the form of generative commerce pages tailored for consumers. For example, specific layouts, colors, and presentations generally convert better. We also know that each individual relates and responds to a different mix of signals. So, if the goal is to give a given product the best chance at conversion, the solution would be to take my profile information and generate the best optimized presentation for that product to maximize my odds of a purchase.

You can quickly see where the beautifully designed and hand-crafted web experiences of today begin to get displaced by generative pages of tomorrow that are not only easier for brands to build, but they simply convert better because they zero in on the users needs and tastes. We think this will be one of the last major shifts for traditional web channels before AI replaces them entirely.

We also see the developer experience changing dramatically. Somewhere in the bowels of Microsoft, Visual Studio solution files are already just GPT prompts. We’re already seeing this in our day-to-day lives; Github Copilot is mandatory in most toolkits.

Developers will be expected to accomplish more with less and will need to produce an array of tests for any code they write, and will be expected to gap bigger problems. Our ability to lean on AI for nuance and thoughtful answers will be key.

In Conclusion

Pushes towards composability and vendor interoperability will be a major driver in the adoption of AI. In the longer term, plug and play capabilities where we can easily take off-the-shelf vendor solutions and quickly introduce them into production with minimal fuss and aggravation will be a mix of new standards and conventions, all with AI as the connecting tissue.

Ultimately, we think consumers deal with current web and mobile channels out of necessity. It’s like a mail-order magazine from decades ago; when a better way comes along people will adopt it wholesale, and the old method will all but die. We think customers use these channels as a means to an end. If you reflect on your own life with your smartphone, you may find that beyond feel-good zombie scrolling, you actually find web searches and making purchase decisions fairly frustrating at the moment. That’s because you’re carrying the burden of the cognitive load. If a computer is a bicycle for the mind, AI is the electric motor that does most of the pedaling.

How will this stuff directly impact Adobe Commerce and Adobe’s broader portfolio? I’m a commerce expert, and I’m speaking on this at Adobe Summit 2024 at booth #927. I’ll cover it in part two!