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Innovation

1-800-Flowers.com shares insights into artificial intelligence in e-commerce

Ahead of his presentation at ADMA’s Global Forum in Sydney on Thursday August 11, Amit Shah senior VP, online, mobile and social media at 1-800-Flowers.com, spoke with Internet Retailing about the retailer’s early experiences with artificial intelligence. 

In May US online florist 1-800-Flowers.com launched a digital shopping concierge dubbed GWYN, which stands for Gifts When You Need, using IBM’s artificial intelligence system, Watson.

“With GWYN, we are able to offer product recommendations that match the customers gifting needs in a deeply personalised manner,” Amit Shah senior VP, online, mobile and social media at 1-800-Flowers.com told Internet Retailing. 

GWYN’s artificial intelligence software is able to ask qualifying questions and interpret the meaning of the answers expressed in natural language to ultimately provide a product recommendation — the more exchanges it has, the more it learns.

“It allows us to display a solution for our customer’s gifting needs, as opposed to say, basic search results that rely on structured taxonomy and product attributes to return a set of results,” Shah said.

“This ability to learn from having a conversation with our users and provide more prescient set of recommendations is a real new frontier in retail customer experience and we are excited by what it will teach us as much as itself!”

Shah said 1-800-Flowers.com’s recent technology rollouts are designed to meet consumers’ evolving expectations.

“The initiatives feed into the push for so-called conversational commerce — the use of technology to enable a more natural back-and-forth in facilitating transactions — and of distributed commerce, which is the ability to conduct transactions beyond the confines of the e-retail site,” Shah said.

1-800-Flowers’ has unveiled three new AI tools this year, a Facebook Messenger bot, integration with Amazon Alexa and GWYN, which together have attracted tens of thousands of users Shah said.

With the nascent AI technology Shah said the business is more focused on ROL, or return on learning, over ROI.

“We are looking at elements like depth of engagement and the quality of recommendations to make sure that GWYN is learning at an increasing pace and solving our customers’ gifting needs because it is this critical factor that will predict our ability to generate a strong ROI over the course of mainstream adoption once these early days are over,” Shah said.

“We tend to think of AI as something that is coming or going to be perfected in the future, but that future for the e-commerce and marketing ecosystem seems to be arriving faster than expected.”

GWYN was built on Fluid’s Expert Personal Shopper (XPS) software, the same company The North Face used to build its AI-powered product recommendation service which it began testing in November 2015.

Designed to replicate the conversations instore while shopping online, The North Face used Watson  and Fluid XPS to help shoppers find their ideal winter jacket.

“We jumped at the chance to try and harness IBM’s Watson technology to see what we could do to change online shopping,” said Cal Bouchard, senior director of e-commerce at The North Face. “And the key word in there is change.” 

Bouchard explained they wanted a conversational interface that was intuitive and would allow shoppers to speak naturally.

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