TECHNOLOGY

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

BY Lisa Seacat DeLuca

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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Graduation spending to hit record high

BY Marianne Wilson

Some good news for retailers: Consumers plan to spend more than ever on graduation gifts this year as they stuff greeting cards with gift cards and cash.

That’s according to the annual survey by the National Retail Federation and Prosper Insights & Analytics. With more consumers buying for graduates this year – 36% compared with 34% in 2016 – total spending is expected to reach $5.6 billion. That’s the highest number in the survey’s 11-year history, topping last year’s previous record of $5.4 billion.

Cash will once again be the most popular gift, given by 53% of those surveyed as they seek to help students with the costly transition from high school to college or college to the “real world.” However, cash gifting is at a survey low in 2017, dropping about 10% from highs recorded in 2007 and 2009. Greeting cards follow at 41%, gift cards at 33%, apparel at 16% and electronics at 11%.

“This graduation season we are seeing more young millennials giving gifts to their peers,” Prosper principal analyst Pam Goodfellow said, noting that 48% plan to do so, up from 42% last year. “While greeting cards are most likely to be exchanged among 18-24-year-old, gift cards, cash, and apparel are other popular options. In fact, this group is nearly twice as likely to gift clothing than the overall average.”

While ages 18-24 are the most likely to give a gift to graduates (at 48%), they maintain the smallest budgets at $78.42. The biggest spending is likely to come among parent-age 45-54-year-olds at $119.84 as well as those in the grandparent bracket of 65+, who plan to spend an average $112.34.

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Report: Amazon exploring entering pharmacy market

BY Michael Johnsen

Amazon may have its sights set on a new, multi-billion dollar market.

The online giant may be on the cusp of entering the pharmaceutical dispensing business, according to a report by CNBC. The company reportedly has hired a general manager whose role is said to be helping the online retailer explore how to hang a pharmacy shingle.

"I think Amazon would introduce a lot of transparency to what drugs really cost," Stephen Buck, co-founder of GoodRx, told CNBC. The report suggested Amazon.com could grab as much as $50 billion in prescription sales.

CNBC noted that in Japan, Amazon has added drug and cosmetics delivery to its Prime Now options, and its Japanese site now boasts a pharmaceuticals category page. It noted that Amazon’s playbook typically includes testing new offerings outside the U.S.

Amazon had originally backed Drugstore.com in that company's bid to become an online retail pharmacy, the report said. At a time when brick-and-mortar drug store retailers were first wrestling with online offerings, Drugstore.com and Rite Aid entered a partnership enabling Drugstore.com patients to pick up their prescriptions at a Rite Aid.

Walgreens acquired Drugstore.com in 2011 and five years later the business as Walgreens focused on its Walgreens.com URL.

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