So long, SERPs: Are marketers ready for AI search?

Things might be getting off to a rocky start for Google’s AI Overviews feature, but there’s no question that AI will play a huge role in the future of search.

Just look at Perplexity AI, which describes itself as the “world's first conversational answer engine.” Having recently secured $62.7 million in series B funding, (including investment from Jeff Bezos and Nvidia), the startup now boasts a valuation of $1.04 billion, highlighting how much some of tech’s allstars believe in it.

Researching something using Perplexity is a refreshing experience compared with searching on Google. Rather than getting a list of links to trawl through, users receive a conversational but comprehensive summary that answers their question. It’s not only user-friendly, but it’s also far quicker.

Because AI-powered search offers an enhanced user experience, it’s likely those who try it will become converts - and Attest’s latest research shows this trend is already underway. Over 41% of consumers say they’re likely to use an AI tool to research potential purchases, and if we look at shoppers aged 18-24, that figure rises to more than 50%.

Consumers trust AI for information

Despite a few embarrassing episodes for Google, where users have been advised to use glue on pizzas and wrongly informed that Barack Obama was America’s first Muslim president, AI search has a reasonably good reputation with consumers.

Attest’s research, which was carried out among 9,500 consumers in eight countries, found that nearly 40% of consumers would trust information given to them by an AI tool, versus 28.8% who would distrust it. Looking at the data by market, Mexican consumers are the most likely to place their trust in AI-generated information (62.5% actively trust AI), while French shoppers are the least likely to (36.4%).

Once AI search gets over its teething troubles and consumer confidence grows, the sector will no doubt see huge growth with more players getting in on the act. It’s already rumoured that ChatGPT makers OpenAI are developing an AI search engine. And as this new style of search gains traction, it means marketers are going to have to change their approach.

No longer pay to play

With AI-powered search looking set to overtake traditional SERPs, being featured won’t be as simple as bidding to appear at the top of the search results. Tools like Perplexity scan through tons of authoritative websites, articles and review sites to compile an answer, so marketers will need to adopt a more holistic strategy combining SEO, PR and reputation management, in addition to paid advertising.

If that sounds like hard work, the upside is that as consumers become more accustomed to using conversational AI as part of the shopping experience, it will open up opportunities for brands to develop their own native chatbots. Chatbots have been increasingly adopted by marketing teams in recent years but they’ve typically been cumbersome to set up with hours spent building decision trees and relevant content. Tapping into information that you’ve already created, AI chatbots can help consumers choose between your products and services, aid product discovery and increase basket size once on your platform or website.

Rufus, Amazon’s recently unveiled AI shopping assistant does exactly that. The chatbot can answer questions like, “What are the differences between trail and road running shoes?” or “What are good gifts for Valentine’s Day?” Users can also ask questions about specific products, like “Is this jacket machine washable?” helping them to make purchase decisions more efficiently.

Consumers open to chatting with chatbots

Consumers are broadly open to using AI chatbots on brands’ websites; nearly 52% of respondents to our survey said they’d be likely to use one to get information, with Millennials aged 25-34 most keen (60.2%).

In terms of adoption by country, US consumers are the least enthusiastic about chatbots, but still nearly 50% would be likely to use one. Most open to getting information from an AI shopping assistant are Mexicans (74.2%) and Dutch consumers (59.5%).

A word of warning, though, this is a pivotal moment for nurturing consumers’ burgeoning trust in AI - get it wrong and it could do your brand more harm than good. Data privacy is a key concern, with more than a third of consumers distrusting companies with the data they collect via AI tools - so your site security and privacy policy need to be watertight.

Consumers also worry about chatbots replacing good old human customer service. Nearly 55% of consumers can foresee a future where they can’t speak to a real person when interacting with businesses, and 58.3% worry about the loss of the human touch.

So while conversational AI promises a more human-like experience for users, to reach its full potential, this technology still needs to be backed up by flesh and blood teams.

Methodology note:

All figures within this article are taken from research conducted on the Attest platform. The total sample size for ‘AI in the shopping experience: what consumers want’ report was 9,500 working-age consumers from the US, UK, Canada, Mexico, Australia, France, Germany and The Netherlands. The surveys were conducted during March 2024 and can be viewed here and here.

Written byJennifer Armstrong, Marketing Director at Attest
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