Customer Data Integration

Future of retail: AI, real-time personalisation & visual cues

Part of the difficulty with shopping for goods is that it is hard to find exactly what you want without searching for a very long time. Now experts in the field of AI believe this could be set to change with the aid of extremely targeted real-time personalisation. 

“Most of the personalisation that happens today in eCommerce is based on historical data, past purchases, and browsing behaviour,” explains Andy Narayanan, Vice President of Visual Intelligence at Sentient. “With this, the AI learns based on the images that you clicked just now. This is engaging with the shopper in the moment rather than looking at past history.”  

Narayanan is talking about Sentient’s AI visual service for, which he describes as a “game-changing shopping experience”. Shoppers browse pictures of shoes that they like and with each click, the AI learns what the shopper likes and narrows the products to a smaller set. The details associated with each click are highly customised, from the colour of the shoes to the heel size and buckle preferences.

Sentient, is a company which claims to scale AI to solve the world’s most complex problems. It’s CEO, Antoine Blondeau, was behind the technology in Apple’s Siri.

Two years ago, the company was developing predictive models in healthcare that could predict sepsis with more than 90% accuracy before it occurred. Since then, it has expanded from 40 to 100 people and has hired a number of high level executives from Silicon Valley and Wall Street. Narayanan himself formerly worked in the IBM Watson unit.

At the moment, Sentient’s main focus is which the company believes is it’s “crown-jewel achievement”.

“Part of the power in this system is how reactive the AI system is to the user’s preferences in the here and now,” adds Babak Hodjat the Co-founder and Chief Scientist at Sentient. “The biggest advantage of this approach right now is the interplay between the deep-learning and online learning. There may be a lot of background information about the user, but how much of that is relevant according to what is available to them? There’s privacy issues as well as this AI does not require you to store your private information.

“What we have seen until now is that only 20% of the inventory on an eCommerce site is visited by the user. Now with this AI system, 90% of the products are seen. So the AI is making a huge difference in exposing what is available to the user,” adds Hodjat.

Sentient is by no means the only company investigating this. Another organisation that is doing real-time personalisation is GoInStore through its partnership with retailer Dawsons Music. Shoppers go to Dawsons’ website and connect via a live video-stream to a staff member inside the store. The staff member wears smart glasses and can explore products with the customer in real-time.

“We track the behaviour on the website and if you are looking at pianos (for instance) we are going to send you to someone who is a specialist in pianos, not someone who is a specialist in drumming,” explains Aman Khurana, co-founder of GoInStore.  

Sentient and GoInStore are both making use of technologies to make the customer’s journey more convenient but how personal is too personal?

Oak Labs wants to transform the in-store experience in a different way. A customer walks into one of Ralph Lauren’s fitting rooms and the Oak Lab smart mirror detects the customer’s items. It then displays these items on the mirror’s touch display and the customer can interact with the mirror and get all kinds of useful information about colours and sizes in order to make a purchase. This isn’t a new idea as a few major brands have experimented with this concept in the past. Even though it is yet to take off, it offers a useful way of minimising the time lost in getting hold of a sales rep to answer customer enquiries.

The “smart fitting room” might be seen as a step too far by a few, but the boundaries between online and in-store personalisation are becoming thinner due to changing customer expectations. Amazon and Wal-Mart are both experimenting with drones for air-deliveries and retailers are now starting to realise that they need to jump on the personalisation bandwagon soon – or risk being left behind.


Also read

CEO of Sentient: AI is Not Replacing Human Intelligence

Body scanning tech could stop retail clothing returns

From CERN to retail? Using Big Data to make predictions


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Ayesha Salim

Ayesha Salim is Staff Writer at IDG Connect

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