eCommerce & Merchandising

The Cognitive Gift Giver

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When you think gourmet foods and floral gifts, next gen technologies like cognitive computing may not be the first thing that comes to mind.  However, as the CIO of 1-800-FLOWERS.COM, Inc., you might have surmised already that my view is slightly different.

For me, cognitive is always top of mind. In fact, it’s at the heart of our commitment to providing our customers with easy and convenient ways to deliver a smile and award-winning customer experience, which has been a top priority since day number one.

That first day began in 1976 when our Founder Jim McCann opened his first floral shop in New York City. Since then, we have undergone an explosive transformationwe’ve grown from brick-and-mortar floral shops and an 800 phone number, into the 1-800-FLOWERS.COM you see today, a multi-brand, omni-channel gift leader comprised of brands such as Harry & David, Cheryl’s Cookies, The Popcorn Factory, Fannie May and more.

It’s been an amazing ride but it did come with challenges we never could have foreseen 40 years ago. For instance, how do we maintain the high-levels of customer service that began in our first floral shop with 7,000 products and customers who are now located all over the globe?

The choices we offer today go well beyond flowers. They include pears and fruits, baked goods, gourmet foods and wines, fruit bouquets, cookies, boxed chocolates, popcorn, steaks and roasts, muffins and bread and much more. Sifting through these options and finding the right gift for the right person in mere minutes is a tall order.

For 1-800-FLOWERS.COM, the answer was cognitive technologies and in this case, IBM Watson. Today Watson powers an online gift concierge service that we call GWYN — Gifts When You Need. GWYN uses Watson’s natural language and cognitive computing APIs to take customers’ questions with the goal of finding the perfect gift to match the ideal moment.

For example, I could go to 1-800-FLOWERS.COM right now looking for a birthday gift for my mother, who is trying to maintain a healthy diet. GWYN then sifts through thousands of options and recommends a box of Harry & David gourmet Royal Riviera pears that would certainly delight my mother.

Now you might think people would be resistant to an online concierge — but what we’ve found is quite the opposite. In fact, customers are embracing the solution. For example, the average person asks GWYN five to six questions and is spending more than two minutes with the service. And they even want more — 80% said that they would use the service again.

One reason we find that customers want to come back is GWYN’s very human quality and her ability to understand basic pleasantries which are a big hit, and very engaging with our customers. Another is the that she gets to know customers over time, becoming more familiar and taking into account past interactions. This means that more you use GWYN the better she is able to meet their unique gift needs.

In the digital age most businesses have failed to replicate the traditional in-store experience online. However, with Watson, we are doing just that and moving forward we will continue to look into additional ways that we help re-create the floral shop experience for customers. In the meantime, we urge everyone to try it out for themselves and share their experiences.

Find out more. Read the press release Harry & David® Embarks on Cognitive Journey with IBM Watson Customer Engagement.

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