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GUEST COMMENT The new world of cognitive commerce

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Imagine a world in which computers are able to predict what customers want to buy and when they are likely to buy it, learn from your past experiences, remember what the customer dislikes and can easily identify what they do like. These same computers can analyse data from all channels in which a retailer engages, interacts and transacts with their customers and can combine this data with environmental, geographical and social media data about the customer to provide information of value to both parties.

This all seems like a scary but hugely exciting concept but it is very real and its name is IBM Watson.

IBM have been developing Watson for several years. Watson is a learning system that can analyse huge amounts of unstructured data to reveal useful insights.

Retailers covet ‘big data’ on customer spending habits, trends and influences. However, having this data is one thing, being able to analyse and make sense of the data is another, being able to use the data to predict accurately what the customer wants can create a whole new level of customer – retailer experience.

This is an exciting new world of cognitive commerce whereby retailers can use systems which develop expertise as it learns from the customers it interacts with.

IBM actively encourages developers to find new uses of their learning system and these are starting to emerge in retail, with some really innovative APIs that have introduced Watson to the world of commence and its abundance of data.

A great practical use of IBM Watson is VineSleuth’s Wine4.Me

I like wine, although I know very little about it and I find I always buy the same bottle, as the leap of faith to try something new can be quite a challenge. If you’re like me, you’ll stare at that wall of wine in the store, check out the labels, pick a design that appeals to you and hope for the best. Sometimes that works out. Sometimes it doesn’t.

On the other side, if you’re a retailer, you know that every bottle of wine in that customer’s basket is another sale. You also know that shoppers linger in the wine aisle and it’s a prime spot to engage with those shoppers whilst they are in store. But how can you do that effectively and without employing more store assistants and increasing labour costs?

This is where Watson and the Wine4.Me In-Store Advisor really comes into its own.

Through cognitive computing, sensory science, and an engaging user experience, the Wine4.Me Instore advisor is providing shoppers with what they want: an easy, objective, un-complicated, yet highly personalised wine-buying experience. The system also provides retailers with an interactive way to engage with their customers, guide them in finding the right products for them and increase sales through targeted suggestions for additional items that would complement their purchase, such as recipes and meals and deserts.

How does it work?

Users simply indicate in plain language what they want in a wine, whether that be a food pairing, a flavour characteristic, a specific type of wine or region, and the Wine4.Me In-Store Wine Advisor interrogates the store’s wine inventory and provides a custom list of wines that meet what the shopper wants. Shoppers then can fine-tune their list by flavour characteristic or price. If a shopper creates an account, or is a member of a loyalty program, then the shopper can indicate preferences so that a personal taste profile can be created and the results can be customised further to each user. After just a few wines are rated by a user, VineSleuth’s learning algorithms can suggest new wines that match the profile of the customer’s last purchases.

Amy Gross CEO and founder of VineSleuth Wine4.Me, said: “Watson helps to make the user experience very easy, as users can use plain language to make their requests, rather than be concerned with proper wine terminology. VineSleuth’s team taught Watson how people ask for wine, how wine experts talk about wine and also how to pair food with wine”. Gross continued “this technology has many practical uses across a number of retail sectors including, supermarkets, and wine merchants, off licenses, convenience and hospitality”.

James Pepper is technical services director at Vista Retail Support

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