capitalize ecommerce membership
Source: Forbes

A major challenge with e-commerce is getting noticed. Gone are the days when just adding a little bit of descriptive text to a website would drive traffic, or buying some AdWords. E-commerce as an industry is growing more and more competitive and with competition, new strategies are needed to get and retain relevance, gain success and improve positioning.

Since the early ’90s, developers and entrepreneurs have been inevitably losing out to artificial intelligence and ever more complex game theories. While the constructs that could be generated 30 years ago could be analyzed by the average person, today, simply coming up with the names of the right places and terms to use requires tapping into learning algorithms that are fed by torrents of data. For example, today, if one considers how Facebook generates the stream of articles fed to one of its users, 10’s of 1000s of data points are checked and compared to the click behavior of scores of other, like-minded individuals. No single strategy could be employed or even validated that would help to identify other people likely interested in the same stories or ads.

Searching for staff involves a similar surrendering to AI. Consider what one has to go through to figure out which candidates are most likely to respond positively to an advertising campaign. Simply posting a banner ad as one would have done in the days of Want Ads, or even on Craig’s List no longer delivers the right audience. 

In fact, finding ways to amass data about potential customers is far more useful. Consider what this company does. Rather than trawling databases of previous applicants and their job searches, instead, it invites them to play a game. Designed to be quick, it seduces potential applicants to voluntarily offer data about themselves, their habits, interests, and more. This can then be fed to other systems that, by applying AI, predict who might be a good candidate. In e-commerce, the same can be said for targeting likely customers.

If you have ever wondered why there are so many freemium games, it stands to reason. Aside from revealing your mental habits, attitudes, and depth of education, other aspects are also revealed. For example, games (and other services like Netflix and Quora) also record the amount of time each user is engaged. This can tell an AI something about commitment and whether one can be seduced to remain engaged. With strategy games, for example, when given the same enticements as are given to 100s of other players, the AI can measure what sort of risk you are willing to take. 

All of this might not seem so concerning were it not for the fact that, though you may feel you are anonymous, in fact, you are tracked by a little token that is ever-present: your Advertising ID. This little piece, which you cannot easily erase or reset, can and is more than likely shared. While you specifically are not known, this code can be matched by all services with whom you interact. Thus, if you click momentarily on something, somewhere in the universe, there is an AI that will catch that choice, and combined with dozens of other, unrelated things done at other times, on other platforms, a profile of yours truly is built. And more importantly, can be compared to 1000s of other similar profiles to predict your behavior.

All this said users are nonetheless becoming savvier. Finding ways to trick the AI systems that act as gatekeepers is a growing business. Lynne Williams an expert in Applicant Tracking Systems (or ATS) offered dozens of tips to out-wit an AI pre-scanning job application forms.

While some of the ideas seem simplistic, for example, selecting a larger font and keeping it simple so that the ‘bot that reads the data does not get confused and pulls out of submission what you feel is the most important item that the ‘bot is tasked with finding.

Having an e-commerce site though can be a bonanza as, especially if you have a large user base, you can sell this sort of data. Case in point, ever wonder how, despite all the cell towers that have to be maintained, mobile phone fees continue to drop? What is it that the Verizons and AT&Ts of the world are doing to make money? Of course, there’s money made on storage and in the sticky customer base. But if you think about it, there’s also money on selling your usage data. 

But hang on a moment, you might be wondering if they are allowed to do that. The fact is, in the small print that none of us ever want to read will be the invariable clause that allows them to sell semi-anonymized usage data. 

The thing is, as an e-commerce site, you could be doing that too. 

So rather than trying to figure out ways to beat the system, and make your e-commerce business more profitable, look at ways of getting more out of the assets you already have. Of course, keep fiddling with keywords, AdWords, and clever SEO articles, but also figure out ways to engage your customers to tell you more about themselves, while innocently leveraging their Advertising IDs. 

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