Macy’s integrates IBM Watson into its mobile site

July 21, 2016 12:18 PM

Macy’s is bringing IBM’s Watson into its stores. 

The retail chain, No. 6 the Internet Retailer 2016 Top 500 Guide, is piloting IBM Corp.’s machine learning Watson technology at 10 of its stores with a new feature called “Macy’s on Call.”

Watson is a computer that builds upon advances in artificial intelligence so that it can engage in dialogue with people, learning over time how to improve the its answers and its conversation skills, according to IBM. 

Macy’s says it will incorporate the technology into its mobile site on the page. Consumers in a Macy’s store can submit questions about locations of products, brands or facilities, and services regarding the Macy’s store they are in. Shoppers will quickly receive a response and can chat further if they need more information.

For example, if a shopper types, “Where are the women’s shoes?” Watson could reply, “Women’s shoes are located on the second floor, next to the jewelry department and across from the cosmetics counters.” Watson is programmed per store, so it can provide an accurate location for the specific store the shopper is in, a Macy’s spokeswoman says. Watson does not give turn-by-turn directions nor is it synced with store inventory. Therefore a shopper will not know if the product she is searching for is in stock at the store, the spokeswoman says.

“The goal is to understand the kinds of questions that our customers are asking, what their pain points are to the shopping experience that we can fix, and what kinds of products and services that most resonate with them,” the Macy’s spokeswoman says.

The retailer asked its associates to determine in-store shoppers’ most frequently asked questions, and that’s how it decided to focus Macy’s On Call on location of products, the spokeswoman says.

The Macy’s On Call landing page also has a popular requests section, where a consumer can find answers to common questions, such where to  pick up an online order. Also, in five of the 10 pilot stores, Macy’s enables shoppers to connect with a store associate via The On Call mobile site page. With that service, a consumer can type a question which is sent to an associate to answer. Associates also can arrange to meet a consumer in the store via the service if the shopper needs additional assistance.

The retail chain incorporated this feature on its mobile site instead of its app because the site has a broader reach, the spokeswoman says. “Using mobile web takes away the barrier for customers to download yet another app onto their devices,” she says.  

All Macy’s stores have Wi-Fi, which should enable the mobile site to work smoothly, the retailer says. In the two Miami-area pilot locations, Macy’s On Call is also available in Spanish.

Macy’s would not say if it would roll the technology out to all of its 734 stores. Other retailers have also started using IBM’s Watson. Outdoor gear brand and retailer The North Face is using the technology to help shoppers find products on its site, and fitness apparel manufacturer and retailer Under Armour Inc. is using Watson in its UA Record fitness app to provide diet and exercise recommendations.

Macy’s is using engagement platform vendor Satisfi Inc. to implement Watson. Macy’s declined to say how much it spent on Macy’s On Call.




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