At the heart of online shopping algorithms lies powerful DRAM

Micron Technology | August 2018

Online shopping has become standard procedure. You scroll through pages of clothing options, eyeing the endless masses of patterned and colored t-shirts until you find a shade of blue that jives perfectly with the shoes already in your shopping cart. Luckily, the website suggests matching jeans and a perfectly sized belt just below the “Checkout” button, and you end the day with a brand-new outfit. At last, you can toss that ripped tank top.

It’s simple, it’s easy, and it’s relatively painless. In some cases, especially when you offhandedly buy this and that online, it can even be a bit mundane.

But online shopping used to be the next big thing! All the way back in 1995, Amazon began selling books online, and in just 6 years, in 2001, the first online-only retailer cropped up on the World Wide Web: Zappos. But when 2003 rolled around, online sales in the United States reached a whopping $50 billion. As of 2017, according to Statistica, 40% of American households shop online several times per month, while 20% shop online every single week.

Online shopping has only recently caught fire and become a staple in nearly every modern home. And although it might seem commonplace, underneath it all lies powerful DRAM and the artificial intelligence that fuels each and every step of the online shopping process.

When you’re amassing enormous pools of data, including personal information, browsing history, and more, a simple hard drive with lackluster DRAM just isn’t going to cut it. But, if you employ one of Micron’s powerful SSDs and their boundary-pushing DRAM, it becomes much easier to sort through that data almost instantaneously each time a user browses an online shopping platform.

Before You Even Think About Buying

Before your purchase was made, before you started browsing, and before you were even considering a product, someone or something was making calculated deductions on what you need next. Spooky, right? It might seem strange, intrusive, or outright wrong, but this instance of artificial intelligence doing its thing can actually be incredibly helpful, and it may save you some time down the road.

At this point, you probably haven’t even ripped your tank top. You’ve just been doing a lot of web surfing after work on lax weekdays. You watch vlogs about fashion and style, and you scroll through blogs detailing fabric choices and color pallettes.

Advertisers spend a lot of time, money, and resources to target the right audience, and they have been doing so for decades. Now, because of the powerful DRAM behind these programs—the DRAM that is required for processing such high volumes of personal data that users amass daily— advertisers are using AI and neural networks to identify audiences and serve up the right advertisements to the right people at the right time. Online shopping seems so commonplace and mundane because of the powerful memory behind it. Without fast DRAM, your shopping suggestions would be slow to load, and your user preferences wouldn’t impact your experience nearly as often. And all those algorithmic decisions that, say, load related items, compare prices, and sift through your browsing history to find items related to the YouTube videos you’ve been binging? Those would be nonexistent on a slow hard drive. In this case, it may seem mundane because it just works. Technology, when properly implemented should be invisible to the user. Of course, you know you are using technology when shopping online; however, you are likely unaware of the intense AI algorithms processing and serving up helpful suggestions or options without you having to sort through pages and pages to find what fits you best.

Fred Waddel, Micron’s director of marketing and commerce for the Crucial brand, has first-hand experience with online commerce and AI’s powerful role therein. Micron partners with other big retailers to market their products to different demographics and potential new customers, and that’s where some of this pre-purchasing AI magic happens—and by “magic,” we mean high-level memory-powered computing.

“Retailers can look at visitors to their site and generate a bigger picture of what else they might be interested in,” Waddel says. “There's the typical idea that somebody buying a laptop might also be buying an SSD. But there are some other, seemingly nonsensical connections that artificial intelligence programming can identify. People buying certain laptops might also need diapers!” Because these mountains of data are so massive, artificial intelligence and fast memory have to mine through it all to find golden pieces of valuable insight and make the right connections.

Remember staying home from school sick and watching “The Price Is Right” on daytime television? Remember how every commercial seemed to be about aspirin or the Clapper light switch? That’s because the audience that watches “The Price Is Right” at that time of day is made up of, predominantly, retired folks. They’re targeting those viewers with their advertisements, not the sick kid on the couch!

Online retailers do the same thing; they spend a lot of time and money to identify their target audience. They harvest and categorize the data they identify in your search patterns, your social media posts, and your browsing history. Have you ever searched for a product on a search engine, only to find it in your social media feeds?

Before you even decide to buy something, artificial intelligence programs, with all their memory-powered computational needs, serve up the content they know you’re already interested in!

You’re Ready to Buy. Now What?

So you just ripped your tank top. You’ve been putting off buying new clothes for so long that it’s finally time to break down and buy some new items for your closet, but you’re not exactly sure where to start.

Trying to limit returns and avoid unnecessary expenses, some online retailers have started implementing intensive artificial intelligence programs, including image recognition software that helps customers determine whether a particular piece of clothing will fit. Imagine buying your new shirt with this sort of technology! You’d know exactly how well it would fit, and you wouldn’t have to send it back for a size up or down if you were to, say, blindly choose the size you normally reach for in a department store.

Programs like these require incredibly powerful memory. As with any image recognition program, loads of data points must be ingested and processed in order for the program to churn out a sizing estimate or a computer-generated photo of your new shirt fitting perfectly on your shoulders and around your waist. The only way to do this quickly and efficiently—there’s nothing more frustrating for customers than a slow-loading website—is with reliable memory.

But even beyond these more intensive programs lie seemingly mindless and simple strings of code and bits of algorithm that make an online shopping experience anything but dull. Each of these lines of code inform the various touch points on a website. Whether it’s a search box, a “related goods” slider, or a review section, each of these features requires some level of artificial intelligence.

Customers want this information immediately, and in order to congregate all of that information, tailor it to the customer, and present it in a pleasing way that doesn’t hinder the customer’s experience, these retailers cannot run on outdated and lackluster hardware.

In order to do it right and have those user experiences be plentiful, immediate, and informed by pools of big user data, Micron SSDs and DRAM are critical to rapidly moving that data within the system.

Your Package Is on Its Way

Now that you’ve ordered your shoes, your shorts, your belt, and your perfect-fit blue shirt, all you have to do is wait a few days for that long-awaited package to arrive. For most, this wait could last anywhere between two and five business days. For some, this could extend to weeks of waiting! Many things happen during this processing time, including searching the warehouse for the item in question.

In order to combat this wait time, according to Waddel, many online retailers have automated warehouses, where items are stored in accordance with an efficient algorithm. If you’re buying an SSD, the DRAM is probably not too far off. And if you’re buying gloves, the scarves are likely right around the corner. But, in some cases, items are stored a bit differently than we might initially think, all thanks to powerful artificial intelligence computing.

“If you go into a distribution place where it is automated completely, in a singular bin, you'll have four different products that have no relationship whatsoever. It might be a DRAM dimm. It might be some Pampers. There might be a six pack of Coke as well,” Waddel says. “And to the automation, it doesn't matter. It doesn't need to think like a human; it just needs to know an item's location. Boom, you go get it.”

In these automated warehouses, robots or other pieces of autonomous technology, can identify what you’re buying, locate it in the vast accumulation of varied products, and prepare your items for shipping much faster than humans doing it all by hand.

And once those items have been located, it’s time to ship. Some retailers offer what might seem like lightning quick shipping: free two-day shipping. But, to China’s expansive online shopping industry, that’s far too long a time to wait for your products. With autonomous delivery vehicles and more, Waddel says this sort of mindset is right around the corner for American buyers. Can you imagine buying your clothes then waiting for them to show up via autonomous, robotic aircraft in just an hour? Free two-day shipping has nothing on drone delivery.

“At some point in the future, these big retailers will start delivering for themselves instead of relying on the post office,” Waddel says. “Whether it's through the drones that you hear about or same-day service, AI ultimately gets closer to that ideal quickness because there are so many functions that have to happen. It's kind of amazing.”

The Future of e-Commerce

In the end, there’s more to online shopping than just clicking “Add to Cart,” paying your total, and waiting for your package. There are many intricacies that make the entire process smooth, efficient, and rewarding, all of which are powered by artificial intelligence and memory. And, as this process progresses and becomes even more intricate, Micron will be there, powerful memory in tow, steering the ship.

“We are all so used to picking up our phone and instantly getting whatever we need,” Waddel says. “And to do that, we have to have incredibly high IO (input/output) for data, and that's where solid state drives have a huge advantage over the historical hard drive model and where DRAM really powers the whole process.”