The National Retail Federation event showcases IBM cognitive technologies

After more than 106 years, Retail’s BIG Show is still the only place where you can see and experience all things retail. Every year the three-day event held in New York City offers an enormous EXPO Hall full of retail-related technologies and solutions. This year the show was full of new technologies to help the retail industry ‘up its game.’ Here is a wrap up of how IBM is helping retailers meet the demands of today’s shopper.

Consumers today demand unique retail and brand experiences. The ability of cognitive computing to ingest huge amounts of data and share expertise in natural human language can be the key that unlocks these compelling experiences. Retailers and brands can use this technology to move impossibility into a realm of possibility, as evidenced by some of the technologies IBM featured at NRF this year.

IBM and Sprinklr

IBM and Sprinklr (the leader in social management for the enterprise) partner to help brands capture the whole view of shopper interactions across channels, old and new. We’re humanizing that data along the customer’s journey to conversion and purchase, whether the shopper is in the physical mall or browsing online.

Sprinklr consolidates customer engagement for brands across an ever-growing (26+) collection of social media channels, and through their brand websites, email, SMS, and more. Sprinklr’s Experience Cloud™ platform brings marketing, advertising, customer care, and other channels into one integrated view, including social listening and paid social advertising capabilities.

With a combined suite of social and cognitive capabilities, IBM and Sprinklr create seamless, connected customer experiences across all digital channels, and help brands make the digital transformation by unifying their technology and approach.

The Cognitive Food Adviser

The Cognitive Food Advisor is a demonstration of how the humanoid robot Pepper, assisted by IBM Watson cognitive services, can deliver a unique and engaging in-store gourmet experience.

Like any good recipe, this solution displays many IBM solutions combined into one, including integration with our agile cloud development and runtime platform on IBM Bluemix, leveraging the Watson cognitive services hosted there. The Alchemy Language API on Bluemix is one of the cognitive technologies used to analyze natural language to determine sentiment (like or dislike) and perform keyword extraction (ingredients).

The Cognitive Food Advisor also leverages the flavor compound algorithms from the IBM Chef Watson platform to propose original and sometimes unusual flavor combinations. The Chef Watson platform gives us access to a backend of over 9,000 recipes from Bon Appétit.

Managing customer relationships

As the line between digital and physical stores becomes blurry, companies must know what matters to consumers, be agile, and must integrate and optimize all physical and digital touch points. A key challenge for retailers is learning to use technology to interact with consumers seamlessly, both inside and outside the store, in many different functions, from conducting relevant digital marketing campaigns to implementing endless aisles.

One way to keep a pulse on consumer needs and foster seamless customer interaction is through leveraging social media. Social media is not only a cost-effective tool, but also drives revenue. The emergence of social media has also created a huge pool of data, since every interaction can be tracked.

The ability to combine this social media data with existing customer analytics can create a competitive advantage. By using social media to understand consumers’ views, aspirations, and life experiences, it is possible to develop a unique and relevant customer experience. Also, social media data can be used to monitor competitors’ moves, new entrants, and market disruptors.

Conversational commerce

In our fast-paced world, consumers are willing to pay a premium for goods and services that make things a little easier, and 1–800-Flowers.com is capitalizing on this idea. No longer does gift-giving need to be stressful — a birthday, a holiday, or an anniversary can once again become a time of celebration.

In partnership with IBM, 1–800-Flowers is leading the charge in regards to retail innovation through an IBM Watson-powered digital gift concierge called GWYN, an abbreviation for Gifts When You Need. Why is GWYN is a pioneer in the retail industry?

• Conversational Commerce: With the ability to take customers’ questions and comments, and then offer suggestions to meet each customer’s unique needs. Conversational commerce engines allow for personalized interactions at scale, which will make online gift-giving simpler and easier for customers.

• Cognitive Computing: The “brain” behind GWYN is built on the foundation of cognitive computing, which goes beyond AI in that it can understand, reason, and learn over time and at scale.

For example, if you tell GWYN that you need to buy a gift for someone who is health-conscious, the tool will learn from the recommendation you choose and from your other feedback. In future interactions with others who have health-conscious family members or friends, GWYN will better know what sorts of selections to serve up.

• Cross-Brand Recommendations: One of the most valuable things that GWYN will bring is the ability to recommend products from all nine 1–800-Flowers.com brands from one central location. GWYN can recommend a flower bouquet from 1–800-Flowers or a selection of Harry & David’s famous pears.

Generation Z: The next generation of consumers

Millennials move over, because there’s a new big buying group retailers and consumer brands need to plan for, and it’s even larger: Generation Z. Born between the mid-1990s and mid-2000s, the births of U.S. Gen Z’ers outpaced Millennials by 3 million, hold $44 billion in buying power, and are definitely a different kind of shopper. Generation Zers are “digital natives” who cannot remember what it was like not to have access to the Internet — no matter when, no matter what, no matter where.

Almost half of Gen Z members surveyed said the most important thing to them when shopping is the ability to find things quickly, and more than 60 percent say they will not use apps or websites that are hard to navigate, or slow to load. That means retailers must use engaging technologies — like 1–800-Flowers.com did with GWYN — to create more interactive engagement.

Forward-thinking retailers need to create a personalized, interactive experience if they hope to serve this “always on,” mobile-focused, high-spending demographic.

How can you stand out from the crowd?

Consumers around the world are spending more of their disposable income on experiences, not things. It’s now the Experience Economy.

In an era when the world is your storefront, the consumer is the channel and digital is the default by which you must distinguish yourself. Game-changing technologies like artificial intelligence (AI), Blockchains, and the Internet of Things (IoT) can revolutionize engagement and the value chain. Cognitive systems, like IBM Watson, can help you create differentiated, hyper-local experiences in stores and online, as well as when interacting with consumers, associates, suppliers and other ecosystem partners.

To see more on the IBM presence at the NRF event, visit the IBM at NRF 2017 landing page.

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Cognitive Voices

Cognitive Voices. Discussions on latest happenings in AI and cognitive computing.

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