As technology grows more intelligent, a new customer is emerging: machines.
Machine customers "will change the way that you market, and change the way that you sell," said Gartner VP Analyst Don Scheibenreif, speaking at the Gartner IT Symposium/Xpo in Orlando, Florida in October. "You cannot take your Alexa out to dinner, but you can feed it the right information so it buys from you versus somebody else."
This long-term change will play out in phases, the analysts expect — and part of it is happening already.
"Try asking Alexa to order a toilet roll," said Mark Raskino, VP analyst fellow at Gartner. "You start by asking once, then it suggests a subscription service, and before you know it you are delegating purchasing to a machine which is working in your household, on your behalf, and taking away the chore of being a customer."
The trend will play out in three stages, the analysts expect:
- Machines as bound customers: Devices and systems can only buy from one customer, say a printer ordering ink cartridges from its maker once it's running low.
- Machines as adaptable customers: Where the AI-driven customer shops around, using information to make the best purchasing decision. Smart assistants fall in this category.
- Machines as autonomous customers: Cars will be able to detect when a specific part or component needs replacing, and automate the purchasing process.
These are long-term stages, Raskino and Scheibenreif said. 2030 is the earliest this trend will become more noticeable for organizations.
Internally, most businesses are not quite ready to respond to automated customers. They're largely still iterating on AI themselves.
With more AI embedded into different software, technology leaders are grappling with fragmented platforms, making cohesive AI strategies a feat.
The other component holding automation back is talent. While a Gartner survey found more than seven in ten executives say they currently have or can source the necessary AI talent, workers in emerging technology have consistently made up one-third of job postings in an already tight labor market, according to CompTIA data.
Despite the trend still years away, there are steps businesses can take now to prepare for a future of customers that will be driven by algorithms instead of emotions.
"The first one is to think about forming a team to start to talk about this issue," said Scheibenreif. This team — composed of marketing, strategy and technology executives for example — could start to identify the markets or product lines that could be impacted by autonomous shoppers.
Minimum viable products are a logical next step.
"Maybe people are ready for machine customers in that sector, or maybe they're not," said Raskino. "You need to do the experiment, to test, to find out, to measure."