Back in April, Facebook announced chatbots would be making their way to its Messenger app. The new technology allows businesses to talk directly to consumers though personalised, automated messages. It’s an extension on the VA boxes you see on many websites and a step closer towards and artificially intelligent web.

One question running the mill right now is what will happen when AI really makes its stamp on the web. Will there be a need for the current crop of eCommerce sites where users have to browse and search through products? Or will people simply turn to virtual assistants that can find everything they need at a simple request?

 

Personal assistants are about the change the web

One thing is for sure: intelligent personal assistants (IPAs) are going to change the way we use the web. There’s no getting away from it, because the biggest names in online tech are investing huge amounts of money into it. And what that normally means is you’ll have to play ball whether you like it or not.

Don’t like ads plastered all over Google SERPs? Get over it. Hate having to download a separate Messenger app when you already have Facebook? Tell someone who cares. Fact is, the big boys say you’re going to use their expensive new IPAs and that’s all there is to it. Besides, what else are you going to do – not use Facebook?

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Okay, so people will start using these things whether they want to or not – we’ve got that covered. But what about the business owners who’ll have to use these platforms to engage with users?

 

Third party integration will invite you to the party

The first thing you’ll be asking about a web where basically everything takes place via five IPA platforms, is where does my business fit in? No need to panic, though, because third-party integration will give you a place on these platforms.

In a way, this actually kind of exciting because we certainly don’t have five search platforms to tap into right now. What we could be about to see is a much-needed step towards diversity. Perhaps Google won’t be the only platform people turn to when they’re actively looking for content, products or services.

 

How will AI impact consumer behaviour

The big question business owners and marketers will want to answer is how AI affects consumer behaviour. Many industry experts talk about a web where people no longer need to browse products. But this assumes users don’t enjoy the process of searching for products – digital kind of window shopping.

The vast majority of searches don’t result in a sale and the likes of Google are well aware of the lengthy buying process most users go through. If IPAs take too much of the buying process out of the equation, it could actually hinder the experience.

So it’s a safe bet to assume a large part of IPA functionality with be the browsing process. Perhaps this will be extended with features to save certain products, create wish lists and other mild interactions with products that could lead to an eventual sale. Something along the lines of using Google Maps to book a hotel, where you can search, favourite and take your pick at a later date.

 

So where does this leave eCommerce sites?

The likely story for eCommerce sites is they’ll continue to play a smaller role in the search and purchase process. What the likes of Google and co. will have to do is find a way to make this happen without upsetting site owners who pay good money for traffic from their ads. It could be a tough balancing act for the big names in IPA and other search technologies.

Ads will feature prominently either way, of course, but how organic results fit into this remains to be seen. Will there be an equal playing field where the most relevant product (perhaps at the cheapest) price features first. Or will the brands who spend more on ads get bumped up the pecking order?

We still think eCommerce sites will still have a role to play, because traffic is the commodity of paid advertising. Without that, nobody will buy the ads Google and Facebook need to operate. And without that same traffic, popular features like remarketing no longer work. Then again, not all the key names in IPA technology rely on ads in quite the same way. Perhaps this is where we’ll see Siri and Cortana edge ahead with a more ad-free experience. Such is the joy of healthy competition – if that’s what it turns out to be.

 

So, rather than eComemrce sites getting phased out of the buying process, we expect to see a more streamlined design for retail websites of the future. Sites where the number of stages between viewing a product and paying for it are stripped down to the bare minimum. This will probably mean card details stored with the likes of Google and Facebook but the final purchase taking place on retailer’s site. This kind of shared checkout process will keep users locked into the platform they’re using (Google Now, Facebook M, etc.) but keep that vital stream of traffic flowing.