On July 12, Canada-based e-commerce company Shopify Inc. (SHOP) unveiled its artificial intelligence (AI) assistant designed to help merchants with questions, thereby becoming the latest in the string of companies to implement such a feature.
The assistant, Sidekick, would be embedded as a button on the platform that can complete tasks for merchants and answer specific questions about their business, including queries on sales and order trends within a store. Illustrating the features through a video on Twitter, SHOP CEO said that the AI feature is “coming soon.”
Since the announcement, SHOP’s stock has gained about 6.9%, compared to a 2.9% rise during the month prior, at par with the S&P 500. However, is the feature worth the hype? Let’s find out.
AI is an umbrella term that is used to denote a series of programs and algorithms designed to mimic human intelligence and perform cognitive tasks efficiently with little to no human intervention.
However, unlike other next-big things, AI has been around for quite some time, influencing how we shop, drive, date, entertain ourselves, manage our finances, take care of our health, and much more.
However, the technology came into the limelight late last year with the release of ChatGPT, which in its own description, is “an AI-powered chatbot developed by OpenAI, based on the GPT (Generative Pretrained Transformer) language model. It uses deep learning techniques to generate human-like responses to text inputs in a conversational manner.”
The easily accessible chatbot that took the world by storm is one of the several use cases of generative AI, the subset of algorithms that creates and returns content, such as human-like text, images, and videos, based on the user's written instructions (prompts).
Including this subset, AI in its various forms and applications can analyze large volumes of data generated during the entire course of our increasingly digital existence and identify trends and exceptions to help us develop better insights and make more effective decisions.
Given its massive importance, it’s hardly surprising that Zion Market Research forecasts the global AI industry to grow to $422.37 billion by 2028. Hence, this field has understandably garnered massive attention from investors who are reluctant to miss the bus on such a watershed development in the history of humankind.
Notwithstanding all the transformative qualities of AI, investors in SHOP would be wise to be aware of the caveats before FOMO drives them to buy like there’s no tomorrow and inflate a "baby bubble" growing in plain sight.
Microsoft Corporation (MSFT) has bet big on the technology by announcing a multiyear, multibillion-dollar investment deal with Open AI. MSFT’s rival, Alphabet Inc. (GOOGL), is in hot pursuit. With ubiquitous AI-enabled technology across its platforms, the company has unveiled its response to ChatGPT, called BardAI.
Chinese tech giant Baidu, Inc. (BIDU) has also followed suit with Ernie Bot. Amazon.com, Inc. (AMZN) and Meta Platforms, Inc. (META) are also among the notable players in this dynamic domain. Alibaba Group Holding Limited (BABA), Zoom Video Communications, Inc. (ZM), and Databricks have all crowded this space with their own offerings.
Hence, while the technology is powerful (and useful, unlike most cryptocurrencies), the adoption is fast becoming so widespread that it remains unclear how it could help a specific business differentiate itself by developing enduring competitive advantages (read moats) and generating consistent profitability.
While AI is really good (and continually getting better) at predicting based on available data, it lacks contextual understanding. Since, in the words of Morgan Housel, 'things that have never happened before happen all the time,' it could be challenging for any AI tool to deal with tails, exceptions, and outliers in the shifting sands of business, economy, and society.
Even AAPL co-founder Steve Wozniak, who knows more than a thing or two about technology, agrees with the ‘A’ and not the ‘I’ of Artificial Intelligence.
Stick to Basics
Just as we have learned during the dot-com, cryptocurrency, real estate, and numerous other bubbles through the ages, markets can stay irrational longer than investors can stay solvent.
Therefore, even if the next big thing comes along and changes the world (and electricity, automobiles, personal computers, and the Internet really did), it is fundamentals that determine whether a business can survive to capitalize on those windfalls.
With inflation and rising interest rates expected to keep weighing on consumer spending, SHOP’s core activities in a softening market have been facing unrelenting pressure from competition on both livestream shopping and logistics fronts.
However, in a strategic U-turn, SHOP sold its logistics unit, which it had spent years building out, including last-mile delivery startup Deliverr, its largest acquisition ever, to supply chain technology company Flexport. Moreover, on May 4, SHOP announced that it would be laying off 20% of its workforce in addition to the 10% it let go last July.
Rather than getting too carried away and stretching an improvisation that keeps the business at par with the competition to frothy excesses with unrealistic expectations, it would be wise for investors to evaluate SHOP based on its fundamentals and prospects.