Dōmo arigatō misutā robotto / Mata au hi made – as it is written in the original lyrics for the global hit song Mr. Roboto – released by Styx in 1983 – is a phrase that has become part of our global pop culture.
“Thank you, Mr. Roboto, / Until we meet again” would be the translation from Japanese into English. And now, 41 years later, what sounded like an ‘oddity’ – to say thank you to a robot in such a natural and humanized way – could quickly become a daily occurrence for e-commerce in general and B2B businesses especially. Why? Autonomous commerce is the answer.
Autonomous commerce is the next stage of evolution for e-commerce. And B2B is already pushing and pioneering its implementation for more than obvious reasons.
A partially or fully autonomous commerce website or platform is a powerful competitive advantage for B2B organizations. It can provide solutions 24/7, guide potential customers through a customized product discovery journey, sell, cross-sell, and upsell, optimize prices based on predictive or seasonal data, create smart routing for deliveries, stock itself, and create real-time pricing strategies to remain one step ahead of the competition among many other implementations that could drastically change – for the better – the way we do business. And all of this with none to minimal human supervision.
That’s why today, we will explore some of the most powerful capabilities autonomous commerce will bring to the table during 2024, to help you plan accordingly and remain always ahead of the curve. Let’s begin!
What exactly is autonomous commerce?
Before we delve deeper into the expansive world of autonomous commerce, we need to set the record straight and define exactly what autonomous commerce is. Or rather, what are we talking about when we say the future of e-commerce will be autonomous commerce.
At its core, the concept of autonomous commerce is commerce made autonomously without human interaction. Logically, this prompts the question, ‘If there are no humans, then who is doing commerce with whom?’
That’s why, obviously, when we talk about autonomous commerce, what we truly mean is standard commerce – e-commerce – done in a way in which human interaction is almost non-existent and/or barely needed.
The parts involved in the commerce will – at the end of the day – remain to be humans, of course, at least until Skynet's inevitable rise. But, jokes aside, so far, when we talk about autonomous commerce, we are not talking about businesses being entirely run by super AIs trading among themselves to God knows what end.
That’s not the case. And it won’t be at least until a few decades. Because for companies to be entirely run by mega AI brain, we will have to achieve a couple of things first: a proper AI really capable of ‘thinking’ by itself – which is something we are still a few years away from –, a legal status for that AI to operate – how can you enforce law or prosecute a piece of software? –, and a global infrastructure that truly allows for a full-AI-run chain of production.
So no, the autonomous commerce we talk about in the near future is not the potentially dystopian future of full AI implementation flying completely ‘solo’ but rather the practical – and still human-supervised and human-controlled – idea of a mostly autonomous business.
And 2024 will be an amazing year to see these first iterations of e-commerce platforms with autonomous capabilities integrated globally, for practical uses.
3 key advantages autonomous commerce provides
And which practical applications are we talking about? Well, to be absolutely honest, autonomous commerce, as a concept for B2B or e-commerce in general, has thousands of direct practical applications.
But to narrow it down in a more efficient way, we can define five clear sectors where autonomous commerce will surely cause a massive impact.
AI-driven self-service portals
The core of an autonomous commerce future is the implementation of self-service e-commerce platforms. And to do so, the best tool is the use of AI.
Starting with easing human interactions and facilitating 24/7 support and sales capabilities, something that currently requires a massive amount of human and economic resources.
Why do we say that? Well, currently, if you want to sell B2B globally, you will need to have a team composed of multiple customer care professionals capable of answering your potential users’ and customers‘ concerns and questions about your products or services in multiple languages and across multiple time zones.
This means that only some B2B organizations can provide 24/7 global support successfully, and others have to outsource to service companies that provide customer support solutions, to sell globally.
Besides that, there is another powerful reason to support self-service implementations in your e-commerce: the Millennial generation – and subsequent generations born as digital natives – prefer to do business with less human interaction. This is another key sign that the future is autonomous commerce.
And it is precisely in this autonomous commerce future that we will see AI-driven customer journey tools and AI-driven product discovery solutions make the most of their AI component. Being able to process the data collected from thousands of customers or potential customers and create personalized customer journeys or customized product discovery experiences for new potential customers in the blink of an eye, without the need for a human counterpart checking and approving anything.
Dynamic pricing based on AI predictions
The prices of products and services are ultra-dynamic, especially in our current global market. Seasonal events, eventual shortages, and the arrival or disappearance of new competitors – just to mention a few situations – can drastically change the prices of any given product or service.
On top of that, the reality is that our globally interconnected e-commerce market has proven that, even though nowadays we are more connected than ever, regions and nations retain their own challenges and characteristics. What this means is that products can vary widely in price from country to country, due to local logistic problems or needs, legislation, or even local competition.
And these variations can change – and do change – during the year due to new legislation being approved, new trade routes opening or closing, and so on… so, having an e-commerce platform capable of identifying and even forecasting some of these changes, is a massive advantage.
This form of dynamic predictive pricing will surely be one of the first autonomous commerce applications we will see being experimented on with practical cases during 2024.
Sustainability: efficiency and profitability all combined
The sustainability of brands and products has become a major concern among consumers, and not without reason. As it currently stands, our environment is quickly changing, and the weather is behaving in unpredictable and wild ways.
Autonomous commerce will embrace the power of AI-driven decisions in a way no other approach or business philosophy can. Having an AI calling the shots regarding sustainability and efficiency might just be the exact thing we need to strike that perfect balance of increasing efficiency and profitability while being far more sustainable at the same time.
We are talking about waste reduction, energy efficiency, smart routing, and order management systems to properly manage your inventory, warehouse, and stock, as well as to control and create a more efficient routing for your deliveries.
Here are some ways AI can contribute to sustainability:
Supply chain optimization: AI can analyze large amounts of data to optimize supply chain logistics, reducing transportation emissions and minimizing the overall environmental impact of the supply chain.
Implementing order management systems (OMS): These solutions, driven by AI, can help orchestrate all ordering and supply chain information to create a single source of information. This, in turn, can allow an AI to follow sustainable criteria in order management. For example, to bundle together orders from the same region, reduce the number of vehicles used for delivery, or select the friendliest transport company to deliver the package directly to your customer with the smallest carbon footprint possible. At the same time, that increases – by handling and harnessing this massive data – your customer’s experience.
Smart replenishment: By using AI and analyzing data related to customer interactions, user behavior, and demographics, businesses can implement intelligent product replenishment. This leads to more accurate order forecasting based on the collective insights and preferences of various customer segments, resulting in improved customer loyalty and reduced churn.
All this power AI brings to the table regarding sustainability requires the processing of massive amounts of data at the speed of light. That’s why removing the human element from the immediate equation – humans can and should remain as supervisors of the whole process – allows our AI tech to behave more efficiently, making AI-driven sustainability tools a perfect match for autonomous commerce.
Is autonomous commerce only for B2B?
Not at all. In fact, most likely, autonomous commerce will be the future of all commerce – current brick-and-mortar stores included – and for one simple reason: what sense makes to have a powerful AI capable of processing massive amounts of information, and making accurate business decisions if we bottleneck it with a ‘human direct supervision’ or ‘human pre-approval’? It's like having a 64’ Mustang that can’t shift up over second gear…
That’s why autonomous commerce is a must, a necessity, a sure thing if you want to put it in simple words. AI technologies can provide so much raw processing power, efficiency, and flexibility to businesses, but they will eventually need an autonomous setup to truly shine.
And this is a good thing. A supervised autonomous commerce future – our near future – is great news for everybody.
AI-driven solutions can process tiresome payloads of work that humans don’t need to waste time on. And do it more accurately and efficiently. As we mentioned before, this near future we talk about is not a ‘Terminator-style’ dystopian nightmare of AIs running our countries and deciding everything regarding our lives, but rather a very practical and – you could even argue comfy – future where AI will be handling the brunt of the operation autonomously: the complex logistic, pricing, stocking, and 24/7 support parts of any business.
This future we envision can be better described in another phrase of the amazing song Mr. Roboto – a truly forecasting piece of music – that says:
Thank you very much, Mr. Roboto
For doing the jobs that nobody wants to
And thank you very much, Mr. Roboto
For helping me escape, when I needed to
Thank you, thank you, thank you
So, we have entered an age of transformation for businesses and customers alike, and you will probably hear and also say a lot during 2024 and forward: ‘Domo arigato, Mr. Roboto’.