Integrating AI Into the Shopping Experience Isn’t One Size Fits All


As of Thursday, June 13, 2019


Zoovu’s assisant technology

Much of the technology buzz over the last few years has surrounded artificial intelligence, or AI. As some brands and retailers wonder how to implement the tools that fall under the AI umbrella, they are up against competitors already lev­eraging these technologies.

Last week, Amazon unveiled its StyleSnap tool, a feature that allows users to take a picture of a product on their phones, which will produce a search for similar products available. With this expansion, Amazon has incorporated a technology in use for a few years by other companies, and by adding it the commerce giant has made shopping easier for its customers.

Other companies such as Calabasas, Calif.–based FaceCake Marketing Technologies have been ahead of the curve and are building more-customized shopping tools for brands by enhancing their artificial-intelligence products. By incorporating augmented reality, or AR, into their online platforms, retailers and brands allow customers to move closer to an in-store experience while shopping online.

“We are an AI and AR shopping platform. We combine the ability to either try on products and receive recommendations or visually search for a product and try it on,” said founder and Chief Executive Officer Linda Smith. “[These] platforms make shopping easier, more engaging and, of course, increase conversions through all the personalization that comes from that.”

This type of personalization is the next phase in the push to adopt artificial intelligence within the apparel space. While many in the fashion industry have wanted to engage with customers through new technologies, the saturation and overuse of the terms “artificial intelligence” and “AI” have led to misunderstandings regarding the potential for these tools.

At New York–based Zoovu, focus is placed on helping brands understand each customer’s needs through more-conversation-driven AI. Chief Technology Officer Jonathan Taylor feels there has not been enough attention placed on creating a meaningful online experience for customers.

“Quite a few fashion brands devoted a lot of their short-term investment on streamlining the digital online/offline divide with tools that make it easier to buy online,” he said. “Where their customers are underserved is actually having a meaningful experience with a brand on the digital channel. You engage with a customer the same as you would in a store.”

A return on investment

Both Smith and Taylor recognize one of the biggest challenges faced by retailers and brands is the rate of returns. Yet they advise their clients to use AI to limit returns by learning more about their customers.

“It’s not just about getting people to buy a product; it’s getting them to buy a product they actually want. Consumers buy three or four variants and return everything but the one that fits,” Taylor said. “We can use AI to review and understand data and product images. By using those factors, it can recommend a product as you expect a human to do.”

Through machine learning, the capabilities of AI have become so advanced that technology is able to understand the needs of customers by using data. Going beyond simply recommending additional products based on shopping habits, AI should be able to perform operations such as advising customers with information generated from the online reviews of other consumers. It is also helping retailers and brands read their customers even better than the experience on the floor.

“They’re able to put a face on the customer, and you get a lot of data about items that were tried on, that were popular or left on the fitting-room floor, which you don’t have in the real-world dressing room,” Smith said.

Despite her role as the leader of a technology company, Smith feels that these tools are helpful for leading the evolution of bricks-and-mortar stores—not destroying it.

“With bricks-and-mortar changing, we’re positioned at the intersection of what is happening with the change in shopping for online mobile and in store and are able to provide interactive solutions across the board with our platform,” she said. “Stores aren’t going away. Bricks-and-mortar isn’t going to go away entirely, it’s just changing. Shopping is changing.”

While bricks-and-mortar is transforming, AI is also changing. As they simultaneously shift, evolve and become more advanced in the ways they serve consumers, they will be used to complement one another—not compete against each other. In order to achieve this balance, they must provide similar services to provide personalized shopping experiences from anywhere a consumer wishes, whether in store, on the road or from home.

“Artificial intelligence should be able to do what a human would do, not just looking at what a customer looked at last but understanding if they are looking for a certain outfit,” Taylor said. “Is it for a formal event? Is there a preference for certain colors, fabrics and styles?”

By engaging with consumers through their AI and AR technology, brands and retailers can reduce bounce rates on websites while maintaining a successful digital presence. According to Smith, this combination of AI with AR promotes a “try-and-buy” atmosphere, thereby decreasing the amount of visitors who quickly exit a website while increasing the amount of product customers add to their shopping carts and eventually purchase.

“Whether brands are established or up and coming, if someone hits a website and they don’t engage, it’s one of the biggest problems,” she said. “We’re able to decrease bounce rate exponentially, and for the fashion audience that is pretty key.”

When considering how to use artificial intelligence, an important factor is to think about the experience a brand or retailer wants to give its customers. None of the technologies that fall under AI can offer a one-size-fits-all solution, but when brands devote time to exploring the possibilities of these tools, their customers will come closer to an experience that fits their needs.