But what does all of this have to do with the retail industry? Actually online shopping is also a form of investigation and the search for the best solution. If they are able to answer customer questions in an individualized and prompt manner, online shops and customer service are able to reach the highest sales volumes.
There are many different ways to do this. In a pilot project for a portion of its merchandise, ”The North Face“ for example currently offers customers the chance to launch a search in complete sentences on its website. A conventional search engine could not handle statements like, “I am going to travel to New York in January and need the right coat for it“. But the system that is actually able to provide the right search result is called Watson, a solution by IBM. And even though Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s character was not the inspiration for its name but rather a co-founder of IBM, the tool combines incredible knowledge from countless sources and the contents it is fed with and the ability to carry out a semantic search – much like Sherlock and Watson.
”At ’The North Face‘, Watson is programmed and fed with background knowledge that’s relevant for choosing a coat – Watson keeps asking questions about everything from geographic to weather related characteristics, to all the available information from the online store pertaining to the product group coat until it has identified the perfect coat for the customer,“ explains Markus Groß, Cognitive Solutions Sales at IBM Deutschland.
Watson is not able to accomplish this in one hundred percent of cases entered by the customer into the search box, but the results are still quite impressive. And besides, is also more fun than conventional search functions on the website. As a so-called “cognitive” solution, the objective of Watson, especially in the retail sector, is actually to assist in purchase decisions by analyzing as much information as possible.
”Watson could actually become especially valuable in customer service,” adds Groß. And indeed, by being able to infer emotions of customers based on the inflection, this feature could assist retailers in meeting the increasing customer expectations of ever faster and effective service in the mobile age.