Commerce is about to enter a new era because of recent and ongoing developments in artificial intelligence (AI). That was the prevailing view at last week’s eCommerce Expo at ExCeL, London, last week.
Graham Cooke, the author of ‘Web3: The End of Business-As-Usual’, said the previous year had seen “the biggest rate of change in the last 20 years” and said the digital marketing industry was approaching a new “Kodak moment”, warning that businesses had a “short window to get ahead”.
Tracing back the evolution of contemporary commerce, he said we are now entering a “third act” as a result of generative AI.
He said the industrial revolution was the “first act”, because it opened up “mass market retail” for the first time. Prior to this, demand had always exceeded supply and commerce was only accessible to the wealthiest in society, he said. He described the last 50 years in particular as being the first period of “marketing-driven commerce”.
Cooke describes the advent of the internet as heralding the “second act”, saying this has culminated in the “mobile-driven web revolution” of the last decade. He said that the rise of digital marketing had heralded a new “power dynamic” in which consumers had more choice than ever, making for an “intensely competitive market” which has led to the era of personalisation, which he said is “where we’re at today”.
The third act
Act three is just beginning, he said, with AI bringing in “new paradigms for commerce”. Acknowledging that AI has been around in different forms for many years, he said that using text and other forms of content for the technology’s “learning model” was what “changed the game”. Noting that ChatGPT can now use audio and visual forms of content, as well as text, he said it would now have “completely different forms of discovery, navigation and recommendations”.
He said that we’re now going to be “moving beyond search” and that businesses would need to adapt to a change that will be like “going from the typewriter to the computer, but 100 times bigger”.
Calling technological shifts a “Kodak moment” – in reference to the film photography company’s failure to respond to the rise of digital cameras – has become widespread in the digital world over the last two decades.
However, Cooke argues that it wasn’t the digital camera that heralded Kodak’s downfall, but the subsequent introduction of smartphones. He said that current AI technology is more analogous to the digital camera, but that what’s going to be coming over the next five years will have the equivalent impact of smartphone technology.
“You have a small window to get ahead,” he said. “Adopting AI solutions today is imperative”.
Strategy still key
David Meakin, the head of partnerships and solutions engineering at ecommerce platform Shopline, said in another panel at the conference that AI is set to “transform entirely” how businesses sell to customers online.
However, Meakin and his co-panellist Marianne Morrison, investment director at Baaj Capital, said businesses needed to ensure they had the right strategies in place to make the most of this new era.
“You need to apply your own uniqueness to your strategy,” said Morrison, adding that “testing and learning is so important”.
A separate panel on ‘Cross-border e-commerce: Unlocking global growth’ also highlighted the international opportunities that digital platforms facilitate.
Susan Roe, an international trade specialist at IOE&IT and the secretariat lead for the E-commerce Trade Commission, which IOE&IT convened in June 2023, added that businesses needed to remove “friction points” wherever they could in the user experience, including offline in the actual physical shipment of the goods.
Referring to the logistical and customs-related challenges that cross-border trade poses, she advised delegates that exporting is “daunting but doable”.
You can read more about this panel and the work of the E-commerce Trade Commission here.