Ten stores are currently pilot-testing the AI mobile service powered by IBM’s Watson
On Wednesday, retail brand Macy’s debuted “Macy’s On Call,” the department store’s first in-store digital assistant powered by IBM Watson’s artificial intelligence (AI) technology. Accessible via smartphone, the new mobile web tool provides shoppers with location-specific information and assistance as the shop around the 10 U.S. Macy’s stores that are currently test piloting the new AI service.
Macy’s On Call allows smartphone-equipped shoppers to ask Watson questions in their own wording by typing their inquiry into their mobile browser. The digital tool is capable of providing shoppers with information regarding where specific products, departments, and brands are located or what services and facilities can be found in a particular store location. After a question is submitted, the digital assistant generates a customized response for the customer and provides them with an answer and location-specific details.
In other words, the Watson-powered assistant serves as a customer service representative while a customer is in-store and can field shopper’s queries that would normally require a store employee.
For example, a customer can type a question asking where they can find a dress from a specific brand, and Macy’s On Call will inform the shopper where that exact dress is located.
Macy’s On Call uses IBM Watson’s machine learning and cognitive computing technology to enable such dynamic and customized interactions. Delivered through location-based software from IBM’s partner, Satisfi, Watson’s machine learning capabilities allow the tool to become more intelligent and accurate with every customer interaction it encounters as it learns more about each store’s customers over time.
The Macy’s On Call initiative comes at a time in which retailers are increasingly looking towards mobile technology solutions to create a better in-store shopping experience for their customers as smartphone usage continues to become more ubiquitous. A recent study from the mobile analysis firm DMI found that 70% of U.S. shoppers now use their mobile phones while shopping in-store. Furthermore, consumers are increasingly likely to turn to their smartphones for assistance, rather than a store associate, when they are shopping in a retail store.
“At Macy’s, we remain focused on identifying, testing and supporting new ideas and approaches that will help elevate service to our customers through technology,” said Peter Sachse, Macy’s Chief Growth Officer. “This program, in partnership with Satisfi and leveraging the power of IBM Watson, will help us explore new ways to engage one-on-one with customers in-store, providing them another level of service right at their fingertips.”
Although IBM has been working on integrating Watson into more real-life scenarios where customers interact with the AI technology, Macy’s On Call is the first time that Watson has been successfully integrated into a retail store setting.
“Bringing Watson into a retail store setting presents an opportunity to engage with the consumer on a variety of levels,” said David Kenny, general manager of IBM Watson. “This particular use case takes Watson beyond helping consumers evaluate purchasing decisions, and influences another, equally important aspect of the in-store experience – ease of use in locating products, facilities and services.”
Available in both English and Spanish, Macy’s new digital service tool is currently being tested in 10 locations across the U.S., including stores in Bethesda, Miami, Portland, and Atlanta. Of the 10 selected locations, five act as base learning stores, with Macy’s On Call acting as a customer-led self-serve initiative. The other five locations offer an additional feature that enables shoppers to request assistance from a Macy’s associate in person in addition to the mobile service. Depending on how the pilot test goes, Macy’s hopes to eventually expand Macy’s On Call to other locations.
The first phase of Macy’s On Call will run through late fall of this year, after which time the department store chain hopes to gauge the future potential of the AI-powered technology.