Are in-store AI’s part of Hong Kong’s retail future?


Everyday AI At Work Blog Series

Digital natives (a.k.a. millennials) find on-line shopping a lot easier than going to the mall because, obviously, it’s simpler to locate things you want to buy through a web browser than it is to physically search the racks and shelves of a shop. That’s not to say shopping on-line has the same visceral satisfaction as you get from finding something you might like, holding it in your hand and trying it out but locating things is nonetheless a challenge.

That’s particularly evident if you happen to be doing a weekly grocery shop at a different supermarket than the one you normally frequent (and sometime even in your regular store if the manager has decided to move things around again). Each store has a different layout so your mental map of where things you want ought to be is of little use.

Ask Watson

For Hong Kong retailers, however, there’s a potential new way to soothe customers’ locational angst and start pegging back the on-line advantage. US department store chain Macy’s has tapped IBM Watson cognitive technology and Satisfi, an intelligent engagement platform, to pilot “Macy’s On Call”, a first-of-its-kind system that enables customers to interact with an in-store artificial intelligence (AI) platform via their mobile devices.

Customers can ask questions in natural language text and get detailed answers on store navigation by department, brand and product category – or any combination of those – and the system also provides information on unique in-store services and facilities. Thanks to Watson’s machine learning capabilities, the tool learns and improves based on each interaction with a customer, becoming more intelligent as time goes on.

And it’s not just customers who get AI benefits. The system is designed to help Macy’s improve customer service over time by providing insight, based on consumers’ questions, comments and concerns relevant to each store, enabling each location to make tailored improvements.

In-hand delivery

Of course Macy’s On Call taps into the well-established habit of many people to use their mobiles as personal shopping assistants, looking up product information on the fly. That provides retailers with other opportunities to leverage cognitive commerce tools to drive business growth and increase customer satisfaction.

For example, VineSleuth’s Wine4.Me in-store wine advisor link takes the guesswork out of buying wine. Shoppers tell the app what they want in a wine (flavor profile, food pairing, price requirements and so on) and Watson returns a custom-curated, unbiased wine list and suggests food pairings for each shopper.

To drive increased foot traffic StatSocial, which leverages the Watson Personality Insights API, can be used to mine through user-declared social content to identify personality types, values and needs. This enables retailers to understand, segment, and target customers with highly-personalized offers that can be delivered to consumers’ mobiles through social media channels.

Within the store Cognitive Scale, another solution that leverages Watson’s natural language processing capability, can be harnessed to engage consumers by allowing them to shop based on context, event, occasion, or location. It builds a continuously self-learning profile that helps deliver hyper-personalized shopping advice and targeted offers through interactive mechanisms such as “Intelligent Gamification”, “What-Goes-With-What” and “Help-Me-Decide”.

Another in-store solution, eyeQ, combines cognitive capabilities with mobile location analytics, facial intelligence and interactive touch screens located to deliver targeted content to shoppers inside at their points of decision.  By plugging into social media steams and leveraging the Watson Personality Insights API, eyeQ is able to assess personality traits and identify individual’s propensity to spend and, in turn, recommend products within a specific price bracket. The addition of that insight tips the odds in favor of purchase by 70 percent.

Online intelligence, offline experience

The Internet revolution spawned a powerful new retail channel and put some old ones, like catalog shopping, out of business. Hong Kong’s concrete and glass retailers don’t have to go the same way – in fact far from it – provided they embrace the digitally connected future.

By leveraging cognitive commerce tools forward thinking retailers are already starting to make the most of the vast amount of data available, parsing it for insight and using the knowledge to improve decisions and customer experiences.

Andy Wong

Andy Wong, Executive, Marketing and Communications


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