Part 1 of a three-part series on the “Future of Ecommerce Search”

Artificial intelligence. Chatbots. Voice search. Virtual reality. Self-driving cars. Technology in 2017 and beyond sure promises to be exciting for consumers. For tech-centric businesses, these trends will be game-changing for those who adapt and overwhelming for those who struggle to keep up. As with all tech waves, disruption will follow close at heel and winners and losers will be anointed when the dust settles.

In this three-part series, we take a look at one niche in particular that is poised for change — product search in Ecommerce. That is, the process by which consumers discover and purchase products online, and the digital interfaces that they use to express intent. In part 1, we look at how the Ecommerce search experience is likely to evolve for consumers in the coming years. In part 2, we look at the technology that will enable these changes. In part 3, the final installment, we take a look at how these changes will affect the ecosystem of Ecommerce businesses, especially online retailers and the companies that support them.

According to Sundar Pichai, roughly every 10 years or so, technology produces a landmark shift that changes the rules of the game for businesses and consumers alike.

The ’80s marked the era of the PC revolution, the ’90s the beginning of the Internet age and the ’00s the start of the mobile revolution. The decade starting now will, in Pichai’s words, be known as a “shift from a mobile first to an AI (artificial intelligence) first world”.


As an AI-centric company in the thick of this change, we at Semantics3 have our own vision of how the future is going to pan out.

We think this era is going to change the norms for what it means to be an Ecommerce company; just as the mobile revolution made previously unknown concepts like “mobile-optimized websites” commonplace, we will see the emergence of new norms that all companies will have to adapt to to stay relevant.

Here’s how it will play out:

→ AI will increasingly pervade various aspects of our digital lives, starting quietly as it has done with personalized video recommendations and smart email filters, and moving on more directly to new innovations like chatbots.

→ In reaction, consumer expectations for richer user experiences in all digital domains, including Ecommerce, will rise.

→ In further response, some companies will steal a march by being early to the game. The rest will be forced to follow just to keep up, and before long, new norms and standards will be established.

Here are three ways in which consumer expectations will change in the years to come:

Change #1: Query → Results List UX

Presently, if a consumer visits an Ecommerce website or mobile app with the intent to look for products to purchase, he or she is likely to follow this workflow:

Step 1: Enter search query into textbox

Step 2: Browse through the list of 10 product thumbnails that turn up

Step 3: Click on products that look appealing

Step 4: Use feedback from the results shown to try a different set of queries

Running and refining search queries in this way is not a natural human activity. It requires us to translate our intent into an alternate form of expression, stripped of emotion and subtlety, succinct enough for a machine to understand.

What’s more, for those who haven’t perfected this art of iterating through queries, the trial and error process can be frustrating and foreign.

Prediction: In the coming years, as conversational technology comes to the fore, the query → results list workflow will begin to feel unnatural and outdated. Eventually, it will be subsumed by AI-driven approaches, and consumers will begin to expect human-level interactions with Ecommerce storefronts.

Change #2: Rich Queries

The type of questions that search interfaces can currently answer are very limited. Consider the query:

“32GB phones released in 2016 that are on sale”.

Most search interfaces of today would find queries like this too complex for comprehension, even though humans would have no issues making sense of them. Even if an Ecommerce search engine managed to parse the question somehow, the database that powers it would probably be too sparse or unstructured to entertain such a nuanced question.

Search engines also lack the ability to understand context. For example, run a search for “Nike shoes” and then a second one for “are these shoes available in size 10” — you’ll find that the system has little idea what you’re looking for.

Prediction: Along with the ability to support human-level conversation, search interfaces will also learn to support complex and contextual requests.

Change #3: Shopping with a Close Friend

Consider the difference between going shopping with a close friend, and going shopping with a stranger you’ve met on the street. Ecommerce search is currently more similar to the latter, since it lacks sufficient knowledge about who you are and what you prefer.

The current mainstream attempts at personalization through pixel/cookie tracking are at best — akin to going shopping with a stranger who has been spying on you during all of your previous shopping trips. This stranger may know your recent shopping habits, but he/she has no clue about who you really are.

Now imagine shopping with someone who knows you well. Think of how different the conversation would be:

“Do you think grandpa would like this shirt?”“See if you can find this sweater in a color that suits me”
“I’d like a scarf to go with the coat that I bought for Thanksgiving”
The shopping experience is going to get rich and personal

What’s more, the conversation would now be two way, since your friends might offer suggestions to you, even if you haven’t explicitly asked for them.

Prediction: Shopping online will start feeling more like shopping with a close friend and less like being assisted by a nosy stranger. Driven by consumer demand and facilitated by the advancements in AI, a new wave of personalization will emerge. This paradigm will be far more sophisticated than the simplistic approaches that cookie and pixel tracking facilitate.

With the stage thus set, the natural question to ask is — how will these consumer expectations be satisfied?

In part 2, we cover the technology and products that will facilitate these changes in consumer experience, including chatbots, voice apps, NLP and virtual reality.

Like what you read? Before you go ..

Sign-up for a demo on our website: www.semantics3.comWe have several Ecommerce Knowledge, Data and AI APIs in private beta at the moment. If you want early access to what we have in store, schedule a call with us.
Semantics3 is hiring AI engineers in Bengaluru. If you’re interested, email us at jobs@semantics3.com
If you have thoughts on these trends that you’d like to share, drop me a note.

Semantics3 operates the world’s largest Ecommerce product database. We’re a trusted and reliable provider of ready-to-use structured Ecommerce product pricing and metadata, with coverage on all of the top 800 internet retailers.

Written by Govind Chandrasekhar and the Semantics3 Team in Bengaluru, Singapore, and San Francisco