David versus Goliath: a classic tale as relevant today as it was ages ago, and one which is evergreen within the ecommerce space, where small-to-medium businesses (SMBs) battle the odds of their larger competitors every single day. Like any good battle, though, the future is not written in stone. The recent release of OpenAPI’s chatGPT clearly has the odds shifting in favor of the smaller, more nimble underdogs.
Every consumer a small business deals with compares that brand’s experience to that of their largest favorite brand in that category. For example, athletic apparel consumers will evaluate the experience of any independent sports retailer to their experiences with mammoth brands like Nike, which have enormous budgets to conceive, test and deliver novel, richly engaging shopper journeys.
While this may seem an unfair or even hopeless battle, I’d argue that smaller brands have always benefited from the ability to move and innovate much more quickly than their larger category rivals. The practical AI age conveys an outsize advantage to the underdogs, allowing them to do much more with less, leveling the playing field and setting up smaller operators as the driver of commerce innovation going forward.
As we see it, AI is the modern-day slingshot for SMBs. Applying AI generously across all aspects of ecommerce is the catalyst that will enable SMBs and mid-market retailers to continue giving their customers both what they want and what they need, while emphasizing personalization in a way that will prove increasingly vital in the years to come, and all without sacrificing their margin. This is the reality and it’s not in dispute — but how can SMBs use AI to unlock greater efficiency and effectiveness at a fraction of the price Goliath is paying?
The Time to Innovate is NOW
SMBs have reached a crossroads. AI isn’t going to fade into obscurity. Drawing up battle plans for ecommerce’s next big industrial revolution should be retailers’ main priority. Step one is a thoughtful and thorough look at their total commerce stack, asking yourself one fundamental question: how readily can you plug and play new technology and realize increased or even new revenue from this investment? And considering that we are at the leading edge of practical AI, how quickly can you invent, adapt, and iterate? Get comfortable asking these questions now so you’re well positioned for what comes next — we are on rapidly shifting grounds and every business is starting from zero.
A Recipe for Success
A weapon, by itself, doesn’t win a battle, and retailers cannot expect to integrate AI into their operations and garner immediate results. Capitalizing on AI’s potential requires a three-stage plan:
- Assess yourself.
- Change your paradigm.
- Implement across your tech stack.
AI has shifted the status quo. A deep dive into your existing setup provides insight into how quickly your business can plug and play with this innovative technology. Understanding how your business can integrate AI-powered solutions — and assessing how much flexibility your current platform allows — informs your next steps.
Say you’re preparing for your upcoming round of vendor selections or RFPs. Architectural positioning has been all the rage: SaaS, headless, MACH, etc. have dominated ecommerce business’ thinking of late.
AI should be at the forefront of your considerations, a first-class citizen in every RFP and every bullet point in your RFP, especially when businesses are sourcing new technology partners. It eliminates the trade-off between efficiency and effectiveness, enabling businesses to enjoy both at the same time — a historic first. Prioritizing AI is a stepping stone to unlocking greater performance with fewer people — and fewer processes.
Changing how you think and talk about AI is only half the battle; putting this new mindset into practice is the only way to reap AI’s rewards. We have already experienced a period when brands would automatically lean toward API-first companies. Now is the time to pivot. When you’re considering upgrading your tech-based operations, adopting an AI-first vendor is paramount — no ifs, ands or buts.
Embrace the Regime Change
While the tale of David and Goliath dates back to biblical times, that doesn’t mean it’s outdated. SMBs have long faced an uphill battle trying to compete with their respective Goliaths. AI’s continued evolution will be the turning point; the catalyst that will literally change everything. Acting now, and intentionally integrating AI across all aspects of your ecommerce activities, will empower your business to achieve efficiency and effectiveness in equal measure.
AI is not only driving this next industrial revolution, it’s the weapon that the “Davids” of the ecommerce world have sorely missed. Examining your current platform, shifting your internal stance on AI and reevaluating your tech stack from the ground up will equip SMBs to take the fight to their larger competitors — and emerge victorious.
Ben Marks is Director of Global Market Development at Shopware, in charge of driving Shopware’s global growth expansion and communicating the benefits of open-source commerce to merchants, having joined the business in 2021 following several years as a lead evangelist at Magento. A highly experienced and engaging public speaker, Marks has taken part in hundreds of public and online presentations across six continents. He also has an extensive knowledge of the retail ecosystem and a passion for open-source commerce that began when he taught himself PHP in 2003. Marks has a comprehensive understanding of how the customer journey can be honed seamlessly and meaningfully across online channels to meet the needs of online shoppers.