IBM Watson Group Invests in Fluid to Transform Online Shopping

By Darryl K. Taft  |  Posted 2014-04-22

IBM Watson Group Invests in Fluid to Transform Online Shopping

IBM’s Watson Group announced that it has invested in retail application provider Fluid Inc. to empower online shoppers with Watson’s expertise and personalized advice.

Fluid was among the early partners IBM trotted out to showcase how Watson had become available to developers to build apps around. IBM and Fluid are working to accelerate development of Fluid’s Expert Personal Shopper (XPS) app, which is described by the companies as the ultimate shopping advisor, made by Watson and poised to transform the consumer shopping experience.

Fluid is creating its cognitive technology in the Watson Developer Cloud, which provides a toolkit and sandbox for building cognitive apps, as well as access to Watson's Application Programming Interface (API).

Together, IBM and Fluid are working to redefine the e-commerce experience by evolving it beyond the traditional criteria of price, convenience and selection, and adding a transformational new factor: the expertise and personalized advice of an in-store sales representative.

The investment is drawn from the $100 million IBM set aside for investments in Watson-based businesses and applications. Earlier this year, the IBM Watson Group made its first investment in  Welltok, developers of Watson-based the CaféWell Health Optimization Platform.

IBM officials said consumer shopping is a key opportunity for cognitive computing. A recent study from the IBM Institute for Business Value of more than 30,000 global consumers shows that 40 percent of shoppers use social, location and mobile technologies for information gathering, and yet are not likely to use them to purchase products.

Moreover, online and mobile shopping is often time-consuming and inefficient as consumers comb through websites for information, link by link, or enter keywords into search engines and hope for the best. Today, 50 percent of consumers spend 75 percent or more of their total shopping time conducting online research, according to data from the e-tailing group and PowerReviews.

“By tapping into IBM Watson’s cognitive intelligence, Fluid is infusing the personalized, interactive feel of an in-store conversation into every digital shopping interaction,” said Mike Rhodin, senior vice president of the IBM Watson Group, in a statement. “This is what positive market disruption looks like, and it’s a key example of how a new era of cognitive applications will revolutionize how decisions are made by consumers and businesses alike.”

Fluid’s application provides personalized, digital experiences with a personal shopping concierge that understands and advises its users on key purchase decisions. IBM and Fluid's collaboration aims to remove the pain points of digital commerce, and replace them with the best of what in-store retail shopping has always offered. The app gives consumers the power to ask the app highly specific questions, as they would a sales associate in a store, and receive personalized advice.

IBM Watson Group Invests in Fluid to Transform Online Shopping

“At Fluid, our mission is to create personalized, digital experiences that will change the way all consumers shop,” said Kent Deverell, CEO of Fluid, in a blog post. “Thanks to IBM Watson’s ability to interact naturally with human users and discover insights from massive amounts of data, we’re building an interactive shopping experience and taking consumer engagement to a new degree of personalization and service.”

In partnership with The North Face and other consumer brands, Fluid XPS will take advantage of Watson’s ability to answer consumers’ questions and learn from their responses, engage in real-time conversations and then tailor suggestions for products. Watson will understand the context of its users’ questions, and continuously learn about their needs based on the information they share.

As an example, one could ask Watson for advice on what outdoor gear is best-suited for a five-day, June hiking adventure in Phoenix. Fluid XPS would call upon Watson’s understanding of natural language to identify clues from the user’s question suggesting particular needs around weather, terrain and trail conditions.

When complete, Fluid XPS will draw on data, including the brand’s product information, user reviews and online expert publications through IBM Watson, to provide consumers with informed recommendations according to their needs and desires. Consumers will receive valuable insights in making smart purchases and be able to interact with Watson on desktops, tablets and smartphones.

With a vision to forever transform the online and mobile commerce space, IBM and Fluid aim to bring back the era of personalized customer service, by accelerating the consumer shopping experience into a new era of cognitive computing.

“Fluid and IBM are purposely involving consumers in this new era of computing,” Deverell said in a statement. ”An era in which people no longer type best-guess keywords into a retail website’s search box and hope for meaningful results; instead people ask specific questions based on explicit needs and get expert, personalized, information-driven responses to guide buying decisions. This is the same experience we have in real-world stores with great sales reps every day and is what’s missing from digital retail.”

In January IBM launched the IBM Watson Group, a new business unit dedicated to the development and commercialization of cloud-delivered cognitive advisors. The move signifies a strategic shift by IBM to deliver a new class of software, services and apps that think, improve by learning, and discover insights from massive amounts of big data.

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