TECHNOLOGY

Gifting retailer turns ‘AI conversations’ into sales

BY Deena M. Amato-McCoy

To stay relevant in an increasingly digital marketplace, 1-800-Flowers.com is stepping up its conversational commerce game.

The company’s mission has always been to make gift-giving easy — however, this can be a challenge in a constantly changing marketplace, according to Chris McCann, 1-800-Flowers.com’s president and CEO.

“One lesson we’ve learned is that technology is always changing, so we built our corporate culture on ‘reinvention,’” he said at The  National Retail Federation’s annual “Big Show” in New York. “We learned early on that there will always be disruptors to our business. We also decided that if our company was going to be disrupted, we would rather disrupt ourselves.”

The newest venture in 1-800-Flowers.com’s disruptive journey is the adoption of AI and the transition toward conversational commerce. The company made its leap into the segment by launching a chatbot on Facebook Messenger in April of 2016 — a move that was prompted by its customers.

“We need to be where our customers want to interact with us, and Facebook Messenger was the first step in this journey,” McCann explained.

Within two weeks, the retailer augmented this service with another AI-based tool, dubbed Gifts When You Need Them — or GWYN, for short. The solution, which the company calls its first online “gift concierge,” is powered by Watson by IBM. As customers enter a question, GWYN then asks relevant followup questions about the occasion, sentiment and who the gift is for. The platform then makes a tailored gift suggestion.

As 1-800-Flowers.com’s customers demand even more options to interact with the brand, the retailer continues to move the needle on engagement. It was also what pushed the company to integrate voice commerce into the mix.

Not even two weeks after launching GWYN, McCann said the company debuted voice commerce via Amazon’s Alexa voice-activated artificial intelligence platform. As shoppers place orders using Alexa via the Amazon Echo, Echo Dot and Tap smart home devices and Fire TV streaming media player, 1-800-Flowers.com processes the order and arranges delivery.

1-800-Flowers.com was the first third-party e-commerce retailer to utilize this technology on Alexa-enabled devices, McCann reported.

And it’s efforts didn’t stop there. In October, the retailer expanded its voice commerce reach by enabling shoppers to place orders via Google Assistant on their Android phones and iPhones.

“Voice is quickly becoming the user-interface of choice among our customers,” he said.

While 1-800-Flowers.com realizes that its AI journey has been a rapid one — 18 months from start to finish — the company has no intention of slowing down.

“Our mass adoption is definitely at a faster speed than other retailers have seen,” McCann said.

“We feel pressure to be faster — and at times, we don’t feel we are moving fast enough,” he added. “We want to learn along with the customer. This will save us time, and not get stuck playing ‘catch-up’ with our competitors.”

 

 

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