Retailers are beginning to share more about both the benefits and the limits of Artificial Intelligence (AI). Major benefits often include higher customer satisfaction, increased conversions and higher revenues. At NRF 2018, Deborah Weinswig, Managing Director of Fung Global Retail and Technology, hosted a panel featuring three success stories from eBay, Cosabella and 1-800-FLOWERS.COM that showcased how and where AI can help retailers bolster the customer experience.
1-800-FLOWERS.COM ‘Human-Nurtured’ Approach To AI Deployment
Chris McCann, CEO of 1-800-FLOWERS.COM, pointed out that his company’s GWYN (Gifts When You Need) AI-powered gift concierge, still needs a human touch in order to function correctly. The technology, powered by IBM Watson, enables shoppers to enter a conversation with a bot that adapts and learns human language with every interaction.
“We often say automation for automation’s sake would clearly deliver the wrong message,” McCann said during the session. “To some degree, we take a human-nurtured augmented intelligence approach. How do you get that balance to make sure that the technology is making the right decision? It’s a learning process, and it’s what we’re going through with GWYN. We need to show that GWYN is understanding what to look for, what attributes need to be put into our product day-to-day based on what we’ve learned so far. This isn’t the world where we just give everything over to the computer. There’s always a place for people.”
The GWYN platform is designed to be brand agnostic, so that consumers can also find products outside of their initial purchase intent. The bot can direct shoppers to items related to the conversation, including food products, which comprise more than half of the e-Commerce site’s revenue.
EBay Makes AI An Organization-Wide Priority
Kris Miller, Chief Strategy Officer of eBay, indicated that the online giant seeks to take ownership of AI across the entire organization, deploying it at multiple points of the purchase process, from the consideration stage to the online browsing and post-purchase stages. The retailer has acquired three companies since 2016 (SalesPredict, Expertmaker and Corrigon) to foster its data analytics, machine learning and image recognition capabilities.
EBay’s image recognition capabilities play a massive role in personalizing the experience and helping consumers “shop a given look.” Often, shoppers don’t know exactly what they want, so they opt to seek out inspiration or ideas to help them make a purchase decision. The Image Search app enables shoppers to upload a photo onto the app’s search bar, and then display listings that either match, or are similar to, the product in the photo.
“You can shop in fashion and see a particular look, and say ‘Hey, I really like this men’s black leather jacket,’” said Miller. “So our image recognition is pulling across all our inventory on the site to find the jackets that look like that jacket. It won’t necessarily be that jacket, but we have jackets that look like it. We’ll be able to give you options that expand that amazing range of price points. If you want to spend $900 on that jacket — great, you can! But if you’d rather spend $150 on that jacket, that might be the right thing for you. It gives you the choice.”
Cosabella Generates 336% Return On Ad Spend
Silvia Campello, President and COO of Cosabella, noted that driving successful AI adoption began with a mindset change, especially since the company transitioned from a wholesaler to a direct-to-consumer brand. This meant focusing on the needs of individual shoppers instead of department store buyers and boutique buyers.
Email targeting has been the “most impressive change” for the brand since implementing the Albert AI engine, according to Campello. After three months with Albert, Cosabella saw a 336% increase in return on ad spend (ROAS).
“For Black Friday, all the process flows that we were able to implement this year that speak to the different segments individually resulted in a 100% revenue growth,” Campello said. “It was dramatic for us and something we really didn’t expect to see, but we’re thankful.”
Alibaba Personalizes Service Recommendations With AI
Weinswig highlighted that while AI often is associated with personalized product recommendations, it can be geared beyond product selection. While many e-Commerce sites, namely Amazon, use past browsing behavior to determine recommendations, Alibaba’s Tmall and Taobao marketplaces leverage AI to deliver services related to past purchasing behavior.
“If I shop for paintbrushes on Amazon, I get recommended more paintbrushes,” Weinswig said. “When I shop for paintbrushes and I buy them on Alibaba I get recommended painting classes.”
Alibaba’s approach fits better with experiential retailing, creating added value for a shopper’s journey. If retailers want to take advantage of AI further down the line, they’ll have to find a way to integrate recommended services, classes and content into their offerings.