December 27, 2016 | Written by: Joe Dittmar
Categorized: Industry Insights
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This blog post is one of many blogs surrounding the 2017 National Retail Federation Retail’s Big Show event in January. To see more on the IBM presence at the event, see the other blog posts or visit the IBM at NRF 2017 landing page.
It’s times like the holiday season that remind us just how stressful it is to find that perfect thoughtful gift. But should it be? Should seasons of giving be identified by feelings of anxiety and worry in place of joy and happiness?
Indeed, in our fast-paced world, consumers are willing to pay a premium for goods and services that make things a little easier, and 1-800-Flowers.com is capitalizing on this idea. They have invested their energy and resources in creating a simple and enjoyable shopping experience. No longer does gift-giving need to be stressful — a birthday, a holiday or an anniversary can once again become a time of only celebration.
For those of you reading from outside of the United States, 1-800-Flowers.com is a gourmet food gift retailer with more than 4,000 employees consisting of several brands, including 1-800-Flowers, Harry & David, and The Popcorn Factory, to name a few. Under Chris McCann’s leadership, 1-800-Flowers.com has developed a company culture that is rooted in customer service with an emphasis on innovation, and the company’s actions over the course of its lifespan have backed up its claims, having been on the leading edge of eCommerce for over two decades.
Recently, 1-800-Flowers.com, in partnership with IBM, is once again leading the charge in regards to retail innovation through an IBM Watson-powered digital gift concierge called GWYN, an abbreviation for Gifts When You Need. There are a number of reasons why GWYN is a pioneer in the retail industry, but I’d like to highlight a few.
Artificial intelligence (AI) has been on the forefront of technology for several years now, and the most recent hot topic around AI has been something that’s been coined “conversational commerce.” At this point, if you’re not well familiar with this type of technology, you’ve no doubt, at the very least, heard of it.
Conversational commerce is a relatively new term whereby artificial intelligence systems interface directly with customers via natural language, text or chat apps, can think through or comprehend information, then deliver an educated response. 1-800-Flowers.com has historically experimented with conversational commerce through Facebook Messenger and the Amazon Echo.
GWYN is the company’s most recent conversational commerce engine, with the ability to take customers’ questions and comments and then offer suggestions to meet each customer’s unique needs. Conversational commerce engines allow for personalized interactions at scale, which is something that will make online gift-giving simpler and easier for customers.
The “brain” behind GWYN is built on the foundation of cognitive computing, which goes beyond AI in that it can understand, reason and learn over time and at scale. As opposed to basic artificial intelligence that must be pre-programmed, cognitive computing learns through interactions.
For example, if I tell GWYN that I need to buy a gift for someone who is health-conscious, the tool will learn from which recommendation I choose and from any other feedback that I give. In future interactions with others who have health-conscious family members or friends, GWYN will better know what sorts of selections to serve up.
One can only imagine that, considering the high volume of interactions that this sort of tool will bring about, GWYN will become really intelligent really quickly, becoming even more essential to consumers.
One of the most valuable things that GWYN will bring to the table in terms of shopping ease will be the ability to recommend products from all nine 1-800-Flowers.com brands from one central location. GWYN can recommend a flower bouquet from 1-800-Flowers or a selection of Harry & David’s famous pears.
Filtering all gift recommendations through one centralized hub is going to make gift-shopping much less overwhelming, especially for a family of brands like 1-800-Flowers.com that has an abundance of product selections.
1-800-Flowers.com is driving shopping experience innovation, and in a world that is filled with fast-moving digital startups, developing commerce engines in the fashion of GWYN will be table stakes for retailers and brands. To hear more about the 1-800-Flowers.com partnership with IBM, please watch this video.
To see the 1-800-Flowers.com story in action at NRF 2017, come see the IBM booth at booth #1720.