Brady Stewart

Ask Indigo — Levi Strauss & Co.’s chatty venture into artificial intelligence — is helping to lead the denim company into the future.

But it hasn’t been a straight path.

Levi’s chatbot launched in August 2017 and, while the company worked to carefully root the high-tech experience in its heritage, the digital feature still needed a few course corrections along the way.

Brady Stewart, senior vice president, Americas digital, said the trick — for the chatbot and tech innovation in general — is to move quickly, avoid spending lots of money and be ready to switch up the approach.

Consumers are moving fast and are more digitally obsessed, and companies need to be the same.

Stewart noted that people check their smartphones 86 times a day — every 11 minutes, assuming an eight-hour break to sleep. Four out of five shoppers also use their phones while they’re shopping in Levi’s stores.

“Consumers are bringing omnichannel to us — it is up to us to deliver them a great experience around it,” she said, referring to the long-touted convergence of clicks and bricks.

That need to answer the consumer demand and a belief that conversational commerce, or shopping via messaging platforms, is going to become more important led Levi’s to build the chatbot. The feature is available across devices and acts as a kind of automated sales associate that can recommend styles and answer typical questions shoppers have in stores.

“What makes conversational commerce most impactful is when you’re actually able to replicate authentic conversations that happen in real life between store employees and consumers,” Stewart said.

Shoppers on the Levi’s web site also need some guidance.

“We have over 20,000 denim [stockkeeping units] on our site, so we need to give our consumer some guidance so they don’t get lost in that sea of denim,” Stewart said.

To get the voice of the chatbot right — it had to carry denim authority and be true to the brand — Stewart said she and her team spoke with the company’s stylists and designers and customer service reps.

The result is a chatbot that, when asked for light-blue jeans under $50, comes back with “Sure, let’s try these out…”

“We’re actually seeing some really great results,” Stewart said. “Users who interact with Ask Indigo are 50 to 80 percent more likely to convert. That’s a direct sales driver and very powerful result for us.”

Additionally, she said returns were being reduced as shoppers get better fit data and are less inclined to buy two styles intending to send one back.

Along the way, Levi’s found some things about its own approach that didn’t fit so well.

Ask Indigo was first called a Virtual Stylist, but users thought they were going to get a live chat and were disappointed to connect with a machine. The name was changed to Stylebot, but that didn’t sync with the brand’s voice and the name was finally changed to Ask Indigo.

That kind of flexibility is central to Stewart’s approach to tech innovation in general.

“Get your concept out quickly and don’t over invest in it,” she said. “You can spend infinity money and infinity time building out the perfect consumer experience during which time the consumer and the market will have leapfrogged you. The best thing to do is to get out quickly, learn and iterate from there… Celebrate your failures. You will learn as much and as profoundly with what doesn’t work as with what does and it will help you challenge your assumptions about what you think about your consumers and it will help you to learn more.”

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