The North Face brings AI to ecommerce

Digital personal shopper serves up tailored recommendations

The North Face tool 2Specialty outdoor retailer The North Face is using artificial intelligence to help online customers find the perfect jacket.

The California-based company has launched an online shopping tool that gives product recommendations based on a Q&A with customers. For example, after answering where and when they’ll be using the jacket, shoppers are asked about factors like weather conditions, as well as the colour and material they’d prefer.

The tool uses Expert Personal Shopper (XPS) software, which was developed by digital commerce and software company Fluid. The platform is powered by IBM’s Watson cognitive computing technology.

“[XPS] allows shoppers to have a conversation like they would naturally in a store [with an associate],” said Neil Patil, president of Fluid’s software group. “It has been built so that it can, through a dialogue, help shoppers find the right products specific to their needs and preferences.”

The virtual shopping assistant addresses a big pain point of online shopping: it’s hard for shoppers to find exactly what they’re looking for. Traditional tools such as keyword searches and filters “haven’t really changed in decades… and haven’t given the shopper the ability to express what they want,” said Patil.

“When they don’t find the perfect match, or they find that it’s time consuming or frustrating to find what they want through those traditional tools, they don’t always make the best [buying] decision or perhaps they don’t buy from a certain brand.”

XPS, currently in beta form, has been in a month-long pilot on The North Face’s ecommerce site. According to the company, results have been positive. Customer engagement averaged two minutes in length; the platform had a 60% click-through rate to try product recommendations; and the vast majority of users said they would use it again.

Patil said Fluid is also working with a global skincare products company on implementing XPS on its ecommerce site.

We’re just beginning the path to taking artificial intelligence into retail,” he said.

“Part of why we feel this is such a strong trend is that the paradigm of interaction is changing because of the rise of digital assistants like Siri, Cortana, Amazon Echo and Google Now… The future holds much of more of this personalized conversation.”

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