The concept of self-driving is getting a lot of attention these days. But it’s usually related to tech companies with a focus on AI like Google, auto makers like Ford and Toyota, and of course Tesla, whose expertise lies somewhere between Silicon Valley and Detroit.

It’s crazy to think that self-driving cars could officially start hitting the streets in the near future. Hollywood’s predictions and fantasies about autonomous automobiles over the past half century are actually coming true!

But what might be equally exciting is how Artificial Intelligence (AI) is already putting technology on “auto pilot” to impact our daily lives. In the world of online retail, there are a number of different ways AI is already making its mark. Here are a few examples:

  • Auto segmentation – Personalization engines have been around for a while and have really made the shopping experience more relevant and enjoyable for everyone. And while the traditional ways of segmenting customers by attributes like age, location or products purchased has been effective, it’s far from precise. Auto segmentation – powered by artificial intelligence – provides the precision that’s been lacking. Instead of “bucketing” groups of people, it can look at each person’s buying habits and customize recommendations at the individual level. AI can learn about people’s shopping patterns, getting smarter over time and adjusting based on trends, time of year, hot products or other variables. As a result, it can offer each person recommendations that are specifically tailored for them.
  • Fraud detection – In a similar way to how AI studies shopping patterns to help with personalization, it can also help retailers reduce fraud. Nearly all of the people that visit and shop on an ecommerce site are legitimate consumers, which can make it tough to find the ones with malicious intent. But by studying the overwhelming majority of “real” shoppers and learning their behavior, artificial intelligence can be applied to easily spot the few people that deviate from the rest of the pack.
  • Hosting and support – The traditional way of monitoring a site’s performance is to set rules and thresholds that raise red flags when something’s wrong. But those rules that trigger alerts are defined by humans, and once a problem is identified, a human still has to look at it and make a decision on how to react. This entire process can be automated so, for example, if servers are working hard because they’re getting a lot of traffic, the system can intelligently apply a remediation strategy of adding more capacity to the server farm. Instead of wasting the time it would take for a person to look, analyze and act, these steps can happen on their own in order to minimize any downtime or degradation to the customer experience.

While all of these uses of AI ultimately contribute to the shopper experience, some of them will be less noticeable to the average consumer. But really, that’s the point – making the entire shopping experience quick, easy and seamless.

  • Chatbots – One of the more exciting and noticeable uses of AI we’ve seen in online retail recently is the use of chatbots. To the shopper, it might look like they’re simply having a conversation with an online customer support person. But in reality, they’re talking to a machine – one that reacts quickly to requests and can help answer questions for a shopper or even help them order products in a conversational manner. One major retailer is already using chat bots for in-store assistance via its mobile app. It’s easy to see how this is the beginning of in-store AI, and how we could one day be talking to robots behind the counter.
  • Visual search – Everything we do online is becoming more visual and interactive, and the expectations for shopping are no different. This is someplace where AI has started to help and has done so in a couple different ways. For example, when the virtual aisles in an online store are endless, it can help in a shopper’s search for just the right product by analyzing attributes of all the products they’re looking at. In addition, image recognition technology – where a shopper can use the camera on their smartphone to search for something very specific – takes visual search to an even higher level.

While all of these uses of AI ultimately contribute to the shopper experience, some of them will be less noticeable to the average consumer. But really, that’s the point – making the entire shopping experience quick, easy and seamless. For retailers, it’s about applying the concept of self-driving to their ecommerce infrastructure. Self-driving commerce is a future where retailers no longer have to spend precious time researching, managing or maintaining their technology. It just runs itself so they can get back to doing what they do best: selling.