Received a favorite Mother’s Day gift? Thank a chatbot

This year, consumer spending for Mother's Day was on pace to reach a record high.
 
According to the National Retail Federation's annual study, shoppers were set to spend $23.6 billion, spending an average of $186 per mom. And everything from flowers, gift cards and clothing to jewelry, personal services and consumer electronics were on shopping lists.
 
But did all that shopping land the perfect gift?
 
Gift-giving has become all about personalization — a trend that’s created real pressure for retailers. Time-pressed shoppers who search online quickly realize the sheer volume of gift choices available and may abandon their shopping carts — or the retailer completely — if the experience is too frustrating.
 
That's where chatbots can help. Playing matchmaker between retailers and their customers, artificial intelligence-based chatbots sift through retailers’ troves of products to find the best fit based on the customer's individual real-time needs. This technology also picks up on shifts in data, helping retailers and shoppers alike jump on hot emerging trends. Even during high traffic times like Mother's Day this past weekend, retailers are still able to provide the one-on-one, engaging experiences customers demand — and shoppers can leave feeling confident they found the best gift.
 
The global market for chatbots already reached $88.3 million last year, and is on its way to becoming a $1 billion market by 2023, according to Credence Research. Within the retail sector, chatbots are already successfully walking the virtual shop floor to deliver a more engaging consumer experience. 
 
Here are three examples how:
 
• RareCarat's "Rocky the Artificial Intelligence Jeweler" guides buyers through the buying process for the perfect gem. Rocky, which uses IBM Watson Tradeoff Analytics and Conversation services to offer informed recommendations, taps into a deep trove of data that includes 10 million data points on diamond prices and parameters, and more than 500,000 user searches. The process has helped the company exchange more than 50,000 messages with users.
 
• The majority of the traffic for 1-800-Flowers.com is online. To replicate an engaging in-store shopping experience with e-commerce shoppers, the retailer features GWYN (gifts when you need). GWYN is a Watson-powered gift concierge that converses with shoppers and then makes personalized recommendations. According to early results, customers answer an average of five questions per session and interact with the bot for more than two minutes. To date, 80% of customers had a positive experience with GWYN and want to use it again.
 
• Harry & David, which offers gift baskets, baked goods, fruit and food gifts, will be the next beneficiary of the capabilities of GWYN. This means that consumers can type in something as simple as, "I'm looking for a Mother's Day gift,” and will be guided through questions to the item that best suits their idea of the ideal Mother's Day gift. According to data based on thousands of GWYN users shopping for Mom, chocolates (11%), were a top pick.
 
For retailers, cognitive technology offers several benefits along the path to purchase. Cognitive technology is capable of continuous learning, so it can become increasingly smart about the customer's unique needs over time. It can enhance the shopping experience specific to each customer. And its ability to understand natural language lets it learn from the vast amounts of unstructured data being generated each day, such as the 50,000 messages that RareCarat exchanged with its clients.
 
There are many potential uses of AI-powered technology beyond understanding and interpreting customer preferences, such as making more accurate product recommendations. AI-powered technology also has the ability to do tasks like managing inventory based on predictive modeling or identifying ideal locations for a future store.
 
Retailers know that customers are not going to get any less demanding in the future, especially when it comes to their loved ones, and that there are disruptors with unique business models always ready to try to capitalize on unmet consumer needs. Using cognitive technology — whether it's a chatbot or other applications — will help retailers deliver a personalized shopping experience and tailor future interactions in ways that will keep shoppers returning to your site, long after they've found that perfect Mother's Day gift.

Lisa Seacat DeLuca is a technology strategist, Cognitive Incubation Lab, for IBM Watson Customer Engagement, which powers a full spectrum of solutions including cognitive engagement offerings that are delivered as a service and on premise.

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