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The North Face uses artificial intelligence to engage with customers


Specialty outdoor retailer The North Face is engaging its nature-oriented online customers in a very down-to-earth way.

The North Face is launching a new interactive online shopping experience. Using the IBM Watson artificial intelligence platform and Fluid XPS intuitive recommendation engine, customers can now use natural conversation as they shop online to receive personalized outerwear recommendations.

“The customer searches for a jacket that suits a specific activity,” said Cal Bouchard, senior director of e-commerce for The North Face, in an interview with Chain Store Age. “We are trying to build a more personal, intuitive way to get to the jacket.”

Bouchard said The North Face is updating its online interaction with customers in response to a shifting e-commerce landscape.

“Traditionally, consumers shop for a product online using a white grid with product images,” said Bouchard. “They are finding new ways to shop for and explore products online.”

Bouchard said other retailers have used search algorithms that let customers describe products using natural language. However, she said The North Face is the first retailer to engage customers in an automated question and answer session that analyzes their natural language answers to deliver highly targeted results.

“In our pilot, the customer engaged in a roughly two-minute question and answer session,” said Bouchard. “Eighty percent of customers surveyed at end of the session said they would do it again.”

The North Face experience leverages Fluid’s Expert Personal Shopper (XPS) software. Utilizing Watson’s natural language processing ability, XPS helps consumers discover and refine product selections based on their responses to a series of questions.

For example, after a shopper enters details on a desired jacket or outdoor activity, XPS will ask questions about factors like location, temperature or gender to provide a recommendation that seeks to meet the shopper’s specific usage and climate needs.

"At The North Face our mission is to inspire a global movement of outdoor exploration," said Todd Spaletto, president, The North Face. “By tapping into the power of IBM’s Watson, we can ensure our customers get the best jacket for the activities they love, whether that’s ice climbing in Montana or skiing in Vermont. This not only improves their online shopping experience, it ultimately maximizes their outdoor experience.”

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