As retailers, fashion apparel, beauty and luxury brands seek out technologies to create a more pleasant and frictionless shopping experience, they’re increasingly eyeing artificial intelligence coupled with other data-related solutions.
For pure-play, e-commerce brands that are often staffed with AI specialists and data scientists, deploying these technologies is easy. But for traditional retailers, there’s a steep learning curve. As AI becomes more commercialized in the market, the ease of solutions is [growing in proportion] to the technology’s availability.
Here, Matt Zeiler, founder and chief executive officer of vision artificial intelligence platform provider Clarifai, discusses AI technology and AI visual search and how it can help retailers and brands — both online and in stores.
WWD: How can AI provide brick-and-mortar retailers access to deep customer insights that are commonly used by e-commerce companies [by equipping physical stores with the data to personalize in-store shopping around customers’ preferences]?
Matt Zeiler: As consolidation has crowned itself the theme of 21st-century retail, innovation is the name of the game for big-box retailers trying to stay afloat in a world governed by on-demand, one-click shopping.
There are several ways that physical retailers can gain a competitive advantage by using AI solutions. There are a couple of ways I predict that stores of the future will use AI:
Recommendations and discovery: In the retail store of 2020, brands will use AI visual search technology to provide hyper-personalized recommendations to in-store shoppers. For example, the tech will be able to sense shoppers’ physical dimensions as they model in front of the mirror, and will provide recommendations and clothing options from the store inventory.
Shoplifting and theft prevention: Retailers will work together to create a shared network of information, powered by AI, that can monitor for shoplifters to prevent theft.
WWD: How can AI help online retailers re-create the experience of in-store shopping?
M.Z.: Online retailers have prime opportunities to benefit from new AI technologies on the market. AI, coupled with other technologies like augmented reality, can re-create the in-store shopping experience for shopping via mobile or web.
Beauty-tech company ModiFace, for example, allows cosmetics brands to leverage augmented reality and voice AI from SoundHound Inc.’s Houndify to let customers vocalize the types of makeup colors and products they want to try. Then the app, or in-store smart mirror, ModiFace listens and instantly visualizes customers’ requests. This easily brings the make-up testing experience right to your own home, with no clean-up required.
Similarly, [Levi Strauss & Co.] provides online customers with jeans recommendations using an AI-powered chatbot. Its virtual stylist feature, available on the web site and Facebook Messenger, curates the recommendations by asking shoppers about preferred fits and their body types.
WWD: What kind of AI technology would you recommend smaller retailers implement? How about larger ones with bigger customer bases?
M.Z.: For smaller retailers working with a tighter budget, I’d recommend using AI for content analytics and tagging, which can relieve your data teams by enabling them to focus on other important tasks. In general, smaller retailers should think about ways that technology can improve the customer experience, whether that’s the ability to personalize an offer for a customer or make the actual shopping experience more differentiated versus the other choices they have.
When it comes to the larger retailers whose customers are diverse and can number in the millions, it’s important to provide lots of helpful tech-based services that enable your brand to stay competitive with the best-in-class technology on the market. Whether that’s an app with virtual try-on features or customized recommendations, your customers are looking to engage with your brand in exciting ways that mimic the experience that futuristic TV shows and movies are portraying, and it’s up to you to ensure that the journey is fun, helpful and interactive.
WWD: How has Clarifai worked with retailers to effectively implement AI tools? Can you describe your partnership with West Elm? And what are the most common use cases you’ve seen customers leverage AI technology for? Do you have any tangible ROI or metrics to share as a result?
M.Z.: Clarifai has an image recognition platform that analyzes and categorizes more than three billion photos and videos a month. Our customers can use our general model, which recognizes more than 11,000 concepts [including objects, themes, moods and more]; our apparel model, which specifically recognizes clothing, accessories and other fashion-related items, or they can use our custom training model to teach their systems to recognize the items and products unique to their brand.
Retailers see particular promise in our platform, and last summer, we announced a partnership with West Elm. The furniture store launched a Pinterest Style Finder, powered by Clarifai, that can understand users’ styles by connecting to their Pinterest boards. Then, in merely 10 seconds, the system returns with a shortlist of furniture, rugs, curtains, mirrors and other items that reflect and appeal to the customer’s unique aesthetic.
OpenTable, another customer, uses Clarifai’s platform to categorize user-generated content automatically and manage photo libraries submitted by restaurants and users. This process enables the company to process images with scale and accuracy, and flag and dismiss inappropriate submissions.
WWD: Which areas of retail do you see the most potential for AI to take flight? Sports, clothing, furniture, automotive, other verticals?
M.Z.: Clarifai has seen significant interest and uptick in AI implementation with furniture and clothing retailers. Furniture shopping is clunky and time-consuming. It requires trips to multiple stores, wrestling with physical tape measures and envisioning in your mind’s eye how a piece will look in your home.
Retailers such as West Elm and Ikea recognize these challenges, and are using AI platforms to ease this stress for shoppers. Last September, Ikea launched an augmented reality app that allows consumers to lay out rooms in their homes by virtually test-driving furniture and home goods.
Clothing and apparel is another prime audience for AI. Online and physical retailers are launching apps and virtual try-ons that allow shoppers to model a pair of jeans or a dress or even makeup from the comfort of their couch. Kim Kardashian’s Screenshop app allows customers to take a screenshot on Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat or any other app with photos, and identify shoppable apparel and accessory items in the photo.
The app allows customers to find the same outfit, and shop similar product styles and looks. Many retailers are working on launching similar apps that engage the customer and leverage the power of AI and visual search. It is an exciting new frontier.