Retail

IBM’s acquisition of XPS and what this means for the brick and mortar store

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Meet Watson, your personal shopper.

IBM has acquired the Expert Personal Shopper (XPS) division of Fluid, a leading innovator in digital customer experiences. The XPS solution is a dialogue-based product recommendation platform designed to personalize the customer experience (with a little help from IBM Watson, of course.) XPS provides tailored, interactive recommendations through ecommerce platforms.

What shoppers want: help, when they need it

Online shoppers have come to expect relevant product recommendations, delivered seamlessly as part of the shopping experience. For example, let’s say you’re shopping online for a breathable, multi-layer coat that you can use for winter sports. You might consider it frustrating to have to sort through hundreds of search results to find a coat that meets your very specific requirements. In fact, you might even abandon a site in favor of one that gives you a shorter, more targeted list.

This is where the XPS solution has a chance to shine. Using a combination of real-time information and the cognitive power of IBM Watson, it develops a picture of exactly what a shopper is looking for, considering both product and non-product based parameters that can influence purchase, such as how soon the product can be delivered. The result is the right offer, delivered at the right moment.

Conversational commerce

Besides the recommendations themselves, the way they’re offered is important. The Watson-powered XPS solution uses a natural language chat bot to have a conversation with customers. By asking questions about an individual’s likes, dislikes and lifestyle, the solution is able to make suggestions as to relevant items they might want to try.

It can even surprise shoppers with things they wouldn’t otherwise have noticed – just like a personal shopper might recommend an item you had overlooked. The shopping experience becomes tailored, relevant, and feels – ironically – more human, thanks to the conversational style.

Guided shopping and the brick and mortar store

Despite the ecommerce boom, 85% of retail customers still prefer to shop in store. And why is this? It’s because they like to see, touch and feel products before they buy, and because they often need advice on what products they should purchase. It’s because they want to interact with – you guessed it – humans! And yet, in an attempt to become more cost competitive, many retailers are reducing their spending on store associates who can provide the very experiences that their shoppers are coming into the store looking for.

Instead of reducing investment in store associates, one can easily envision a scenario where XPS and other technologies like the Internet of Things become tools for store associates to make them more effective assets.  Let’s go back to our winter coat scenario.

Imagine that instead of shopping online, you go to the store to purchase your coat, because you’d like to get a sense of the weight of the coat and try it on before you buy. A sales associate, armed with a tablet and XPS-like capabilities, comes to assist you. Given a quick overview of your purchasing criteria, the associate can quickly identify several options for you to try.

Then, rather than pointing you in the direction of the winter coats and sending you on your way, the associate can use indoor positioning technology to identify the exact location of each coat – not just where it’s supposed to be but where it really is, even if it’s in the stockroom – and deliver the options into your hands to try on.

And what if the coats that you’ve tried don’t fit? Using interactive touchscreens in the dressing room, you can send a push notification to the associate’s tablet, summoning the associate to bring you the sizes you need.

In this way, the Internet of Things, together with Watson-powered technologies like XPS, can bring the personalization of the ecommerce experience right into the brick and mortar store.

Find out more

For more information about XPS, read the press release for the full story, or take a look at how The North Face and 1-800-Flowers are using XPS technology.

To go deeper on how technology is impacting the brick and mortar store, read about our Watson IoT in retail portfolio, or read about some other ways that Watson is improving your day-to-day shopping experience.

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