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EXCLUSIVE: Zenni dives deep into consumer trends with AI

Zenni mob wife image
Zenni is identifying microtrends such as 'mob wife' with AI.

Direct-to-consumer eyewear retailer Zenni is leveraging advanced artificial intelligence (AI) technology to identify and respond to emerging trends as they develop.

Chain Store Age recently spoke with David Ting, CTO of Zenni, about how the retailer is utilizing Algolia AI to stays ahead of consumer preferences — often driven by popular culture developments —  in its product assortment and search results. 

Zenni has been a longtime proponent of AI technology, using it for features such as an optical character recognition (OCR) solution where customers can scan an eyewear prescription and have it automatically recognized, as well as virtual try-on.

How do you define microtrends? 

Microtrends are like flash trends. For example, customers who were attending the Taylor Swift 'Eras' tour were visiting the site and searching for heart-shaped 'Eras' glasses. Currently, there is a 'mob wife' trend with flashy eyewear and apparel inspired by gangster films. 

How is Zenni using AI to identify and respond to microtrends?

If a customer enters a search term, our Algolia AI solution automatically forms a collection if it is an established microtrend. If it isn’t a trend yet, it will become part of our search longtail, with human curation if necessary.

So when a search term is first entered on the Zenni site, the response is going to be our best guess at it. But then when it becomes an actual microtrend, we will run our own AI algorithm. We actually pick the social imagery to train the algorithm and then come up with a dynamic selection. 

In addition, on the Zenni site we have a tab called 'Discover.' There are so many microtrends, there isn’t enough space to display them all live on our home page. But the top trends that we have noticed on our social media and search engine optimization channels get listed on the Discover tab.

How else is Zenni applying AI in your enterprise?

Some of our product imagery is AI-generated. In addition, our AI microtrend tracking program also provides data to our procurement team. It will send our procurement team a signal that we need to source a certain style, and then we add those products into our assortment. So it’s really a 360-degree process. 

Not only does AI-based microtrend tracking touch our search process, it touches our procurement and how we connect with social media. As a result, an individual user gets the most relevant results when they visit the Zenni site. 

What type of results have you obtained?

We’re seeing really strong week-over-week growth. The revenue per search since we started using AI to identify microtrends about six months ago has gone up by 34%.

Can you discuss any other AI-enabled search features?

We also offer a visual search feature. It enables customers to upload a picture to the search engine on our e-commerce site and then find the closest matching product in our inventory.

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