Who Needs AI When We Already Know Email Marketing + Data = Better Customer Experience?

The microphone was pointed in the other direction this week when I was interviewed for an online feature about Artificial Intelligence (AI) and ecommerce. It's always interesting to be asked what you think about a subject, because you never quite know what some of your opinions are until you are put on the spot.

Interesting, then, that I kept returning throughout the interview to a common theme. Email marketing should already be leading to much better ecommerce experiences. It's that simple, isn't it? Regardless of AI crunching through data and teaching retailers more about their customers' wants and needs, shouldn't we be a little closer to this nirvana already with email marketing?

OK -- let me explain. The thrust of the chat was around AI helping retailers preempt what people will want when they visit a site and make it easier for them to find it quickly and check out.

Forgive me for sounding dumb, but who should a brand know more about already than someone on a loyalty scheme and/or email list whom is sent offers to regularly and may well have furnished a brand with a whole set of data about their buying habits? When someone clicks through from an outside source or just types your brand's name in their inbox, you can be forgiven for not knowing enough to build an ecommerce experience around them. But when they have clicked on an offer you emailed them, there surely is no excuse not to build your Web site around them. At the very least, the landing page should be a mirror image of what they have just told you they are interested in.

Let me give you the example of trying to buy anything via Adidas. Although I have clicked on the button in their email for sale items labelled "kids," I still have to tell them I want kids sale items when the Web site comes onscreen. Now, once or twice every year i respond to their sales emails and I am always headed in the same direction where I nearly always convert, buying Chelsea shirts and accessories for my son.

So it's a constant surprise that when I click on the kids sale button that I not only have to tell them i want the items for kids that are on sale, but then one at a time with an accompanying page refresh, I have to tell them that I want the sale, kids, boys, 12 years old, sport, football, clubs and Chelsea section of their site. It is literally the only one i ever look at, and it's the only part of the site I have bought from. I forwarded the last sale email to two mums with Chelsea-supporting youngsters and they simply gave up, the route to the required page was just too torturous. Us Chelsea fans can only hope that Nike does a better job of going forward from next season.

So there's no doubt there is a guru trying to sell a bunch of AI stuff to Adidas as i write this, but riddle me this. Could they not just look at their own data and make some pretty obvious assumptions based on which button I click on in an email? You've heard of adaptive emails that dynamically place in front of customers the items they are most likely to be interested in. Well, what about the same for a Web site when you give a very clear indication of what you're after from an email click and previous email interaction?

Don't get me wrong -- AI surely has much to offer. But it shouldn't be hidden behind as the tech that will solve all of this. It's a job that email marketers could be doing now. It's a job they should be doing now.

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