As visual AI advances, it’s becoming a useful tool for marketing fashion both online and on premises. Alibaba recently demonstrated the difference it could make with record sales for this year’s Single’s Day in China. This marriage of fashion and AI signals possibilities for shoppers.
The volume of sales for this year’s Single’s Day through Alibaba’s sites amounted to $9.3 billion this year, compared to $5.9 billion last year. Technology use played a major role in that surge of sales, as nearly half the orders this year came through smartphones; over double the 2016 number.
However, another form of technology was also involved: AI. Using deep learning, Alibaba researchers developed FashionAI to offer in-store shoppers a familiar kind of screen interface that can make recommendations to customers based on its huge volumes of data.
As an MIT Technology Review article explained, FashionAI is able to not only “recognize hundreds of millions of items of clothing” but also to learn “the tastes of designers and fashion aficionados on Alibaba’s shopping sites.“ Accordingly, it is tailored to correspond to the inventory in each “store, generating dozens of outfit matches” on the basis of what it stocks.
That this machine learning boost generated greater sales is no surprise. A recent study by McKinsey showed that early AI adopters that combine strong digital capabilities with proactive AI strategies have higher profit margins. That is why Abdul Muhammad, VP of digital strategy for rbb Communications, believes that we will see AI completely transform the shopping experience, and bring the online and offline experience in closer alignment.
While we have come to expect Amazon-like recommendations from all retailers, including fashion sellers, we are now going to find those recommendations within the physical stores. Muhammed said, we will not see bricks-and-mortar locations disappear “because people want to feel, touch and engage with a product, or speak to an expert before making a purchase.”
Given the expense of maintaining physical stores, businesses have to make sure to maximize their opportunities for sales, and AI can play a role in that. For example, “integrating AI bots into physical locations to assist customers, while also providing all the data and expertise that you can get from shopping online,” can give the customer the direction s/he seeks in pulling together an outfit to purchase.
The customer’s tastes and needs are better understood because “AI connects the dots between researching a product online, and buying, or viewing it in store before final purchase,” Muhammed said. In the case of Single’s Day, the stores implemented “screens equipped with AI” that helped shoppers arrive at “purchasing decisions” on the basis of the AI’s “smart, data-driven suggestions based on” what the store offers and the customer’s “digital footprint.”
“AI leverages what’s best about human behavior – it matches preferences, behavior and shopping patterns with products in a unique way to provide shoppers with a customized shopping experience. Because AI hyper-analyzes data to create digital footprints of each shopper, consumers will see more items they’re interested in and likely to purchase. Increased probability of interest and conversion is not only good for the business, but also beneficial for the consumer who is now receiving a customized shopping experience based on their existing shopping patterns, browser activity and psychographic data from social media, such as what they like, share and post.”
Making that shopping trip more productive translates not just into improved sales and more effective upselling of “additional products because of the increased relevance of the brand,” he said, but into more satisfied customers. With such a winning formula, we are likely to see more sellers seek to leverage AI in 2018.