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IBM: Thinking ahead

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James Lovell, retail commerce solutions executive at IBM, outlines a vision of merchandising built on cognitive commerce

DIGITAL MERCHANDISING is on the verge of a revolution, driven by a new breed of cognitive commerce solutions. In coming years, we believe we’ll see be a marked shift away from the structured merchandising that we see today, based on pre-defined product attributes, towards natural language searches that come out of technologies built on artificial intelligence.

As a customer, I’ll be moving on from a search and navigation experience in which I choose from pre-defined attributes to select first shoes, then casual shoes, then lace-ups, then leather upper, then blue, then a certain brand. In the new world of cognitive commerce, I’ll be typing a search using natural language. Or I’ll ask my mobile phone, “Where I can get hold of a pair of casual blue leather lace-up shoes?” That might be a query into a search engine or directly into the retailer’s digital channels.

In a cognitive commerce world, the experience will be different for retailers too. They’ll also be able to ask natural language questions and recommend more relevant products based on intelligent big data. Recommendations will come at the right time, they’ll take account of current weather conditions, stock levels and, increasingly, they’ll be at the right price, thanks to the growing use of real-time dynamic pricing. They’ll reflect what other consumers say, whether through social validation, ratings and reviews or data from a host of other sources.

I think the customer experience will improve dramatically – and in return shoppers will become loyal brand advocates, converting more easily and spending more in a way that boosts profitability.

While these changes simplify the buying experience for the customer, the task of merchandising for retailers of all sizes will also be much more straightforward. Already, digital merchandisers using our Commerce Insights product can understand in real-time what’s going on in their digital channels, from which products are performing well to what’s grabbing shoppers’ attention, helping them to trade their site harder and more effectively by making changes in the moment.

This will underpin the personalised shopping experiences that customers have come to expect, thanks to the new understanding of data. Retailers have in recent years built single views of the customer and of the product, enabling them to have the right item in the right place at the right time, and for the right price. Cognitive commerce will take that so much further. As a shopper, if I know there’s a retailer that can do all that for me, in a way that makes me feel as if they know me as an individual and the products I want and when I want them, why would I go and shop anywhere else? To me, that’s the ultimate in retail, the personal customer experience.

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