Consumers Demand AI-Powered Expertise When Exploring New eCommerce Categories

online shopper

When trying unfamiliar products online, consumers demand a high degree of expert, personalized guidance — the kind that they are used to getting in stores — and artificial intelligence (AI) can go a long way toward helping shoppers get over their initial hesitance.

In an interview with PYMNTS, Emily Heintz, founder and chief curator at Sèchey, a retailer that primarily specializes in nonalcoholic beverages, noted that, in order to get customers to engage with its eCommerce site the way they might with its brick-and-mortar locations, the company needed to similarly be able to educate consumers about its products digitally.

“We use AI to make recommendations of products, and then we have a glossary of terms, so that just like when you walk into the store and someone asks us about a functional ingredient, or like, what is the alkalized wine, we can have that same experience online,” Heintz said.

Many consumers are interested in AI-guided shopping experiences, though the majority are still skeptical, according to the PYMNTS Intelligence report “AI-Enabled Payments Enhance Customer Options,” created in collaboration with ACI Worldwide. The study, which drew from a survey of more than 2,300 U.S. consumers, revealed that 44% are at least somewhat interested in integrating AI technologies into shopping experiences. Yet, that share rises to include more than half for younger generations, with 69% of Gen Z consumers and 54% of millennials and bridge millennials reporting that they are interested.

Additionally, the PYMNTS Intelligence study “Consumer Inflation Sentiment Report: Consumer Interest in Artificial Intelligence” reveals that more than three-quarters of consumers have received AI-powered product recommendations online.

In addition to its eCommerce site, Sèchey is driving discovery through a partnership with Target as well as through its brick-and-mortar shop in Charleston, South Carolina. The PYMNTS Intelligence study “2024 Global Digital Shopping Index: U.S. Edition,” created in collaboration with Visa Acceptance Solutions, found that a plurality (44%) of consumers prefer to shop in stores without digital assistance, while only 26% of consumers prefer to avoid physical stores entirely in their shopping journey.

Nonalcoholic beverages are growing in popularity, but the category is far from a surefire hit. Earlier this month, it was reported (and later confirmed via LinkedIn post by the retailer’s founder) that nonalcoholic beverage store chain Boisson had filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy and closed its eight stores across New York City, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Miami.

Heintz pointed out, however, that given how different state laws can be in this category, running such a store in South Carolina is very different than operating stores in New York, noting that the company is “working on” changing those laws “in partnership with both national retailers [and] other brands and trade organizations.”

Looking ahead, the retailer aims to expand to new markets, guided by information about demand from its partnership with Target and from its eCommerce site as well as by those area-specific regulations, which will “allow us to make some strategic decisions” about which markets will be the best fit.

“I’m excited for the day where, instead of just picking a city and deciding to open there, we have a plan for 10 to 15 stores backed by data and the technology to support the omnichannel approach and that store,” Heintz said.