IBM, The North Face, Fluid Team on Watson-Based Shopping Aide

The North Face is using an IBM Watson-powered system from Fluid to drive an online shopping assistant for consumers.

IBM Watson

The North Face, maker of outdoor apparel, equipment and footwear, launched a new interactive online shopping experience powered by IBM's Watson.

In keeping with The North Face's mission of applying technology to the retail experience, customers can now use natural conversation as they shop online via an intuitive, dialog-based recommendation engine powered by the Watson-based Fluid XPS system and receive outerwear recommendations that are tailored to their needs.

Developed in partnership with Fluid, a digital commerce technology agency and software solutions provider, and powered by IBM's Watson cognitive computing technology, The North Face experience harnesses Fluid's Expert Personal Shopper (XPS) software to create a more engaging, personalized shopping experience.

"At The North Face our mission is to inspire a global movement of outdoor exploration," Todd Spaletto, president of The North Face, said in a statement. "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."

Using 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. Unlike other product recommendation engines, this conversation with the shopper is what enables XPS to refine its recommendations and deliver a more accurate result, the company said.

"Digital retail continues to transform the way we shop, and embedding cognitive technologies is the next major step in engaging customers," said Kent Deverell, CEO of Fluid. "By tapping into Watson, XPS aims to provide The North Face shoppers helpful, relevant and intuitive product recommendations. We believe this kind of engaging, personalized interactive experience will become the norm for online shoppers in years to come."

XPS, currently in beta, has been in a month-long pilot test on The North Face brand's e-commerce site, delivered via IBM's eCommerce solution. XPS recommendations improve with use and the pilot has yielded positive feedback and results. Customer engagement averaged two minutes in length; the platform had a 60 percent click-through rate to try product recommendations; and the vast majority of users said they would use it again. As more customers use XPS, the platform will refine and improve recommendations, making it easier for customers to identify outerwear products appropriate for their individual needs, Fluid officials said.

In April 2014, IBM announced it had tapped into $100 million the company's Watson Group had earmarked to bolster the Watson ecosystem by investing in Fluid. Together, IBM and Fluid are working to redefine today's 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.

"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 Watson at IBM. "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 was one of the first organizations to join IBM's ecosystem of developers, entrepreneurs and growth companies of all sizes that are building apps and services infused with Watson's cognitive computing intelligence.

The consumer shopping experience is ripe for Watson's ability to interact naturally with people, while serving as an advisor that thinks, learns and empowers its users with insights unlocked from data. A study from the IBM Institute for Business Value of more than 30,000 global consumers showed 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.

"The retail industry, like many others, is awash in structured and unstructured data—from social media to text messages to customer reviews. By tapping into Watson, retailers now have the power to turn this data into meaningful insights that can make the shopping experience more intuitive, informed and enjoyable," Stephen Gold, vice president of the Business Development & Partner Program for IBM Watson, said in a statement. "Market leaders like The North Face and Fluid are demonstrating how cognitive technologies can redefine how brands connect and engage customers."