AI offers exciting opportunities for ecommerce industry - expert


Cape Town - The use of Artificial Intelligence (AI) offers exciting opportunities for the retail industry, according to Sven Schoof, head of customer experience at ecommerce fashion website Spree.

"The big question is whether AI will become a super convenient feature where we are all lying on the beach while machines do everything for us; or whether machines are taking over and we cannot find the off-switch and it is 'game over' for us?" Schoof said at the DHL eCommerce Money Africa conference in Cape Town on Wednesday.

"There is currently a lot of debate about whether AI is taking us to the next level or not. Some people are strong opponents, fearing that machines will 'take over', while other people are in favour of the use of AI. The best approach is probably somewhere in between."

Certain aspects of AI can be used to augment people's online searches, for instance.

"Humans are good at intuition, but not so good at calculations. Machines are good at calculations. If one combines the two aspects you can have a super intelligence in time," said Schoof.

He mentioned a clothing design company in India, which makes use of AI in the design process. It has managed to drastically reduce the production time of items, for instance. Machines are used to design clothing from trend data it processed. In some cases the resulting designs flopped, but in other cases production lines were very successful.

"At Spree we don’t do a lot of machine learning yet with our products. We do product recommendations and find the conversion rates to be high," said Schoof.

"We launched an image search app snap where consumers can match an item they like against our thousands of products to find something close to it. A lot of factors are taken into consideration in the split-second process."

Johan Nel of Gumtree said at the conference that SA's economy can be fuelled by ecommerce, but three things are needed. These are internet access, internet participation and internet education.

He is proud of the entrepreneurial opportunities Gumtree offers, an aspect the company tries to enhance even further in competitions to look for the top "Gumtrepreneur" in the country.

"The impact of enabling small trade and enabling thousands of small entrepreneurs to be successful is positive, especially in the light of SA’s high unemployment rate," he said.

"It is about education and providing the right platforms that can make a difference in society."

* Fin24 and Spree are both part of Media24.

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