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The North Face sees A.I. as a perfect fit

Sharon Gaudin | Jan. 27, 2016
Artificial Intelligence adds a sense of “human” assistance for online buyers.

Rob Enderle, an analyst with the Enderle Group, said the technology will allow retailers to give their customers a seemingly more personal shopping experience. "It will more effectively allow for highly customized user experience at massive scale," he said.

Setting up the system wasn't easy, though. The smart system needed teaching before it could be used.

"When we first started working with the IBM Watson technology, I thought I was getting the Jeopardy champion right out of the box," she explained. "It didn't know everything. You have to teach it about your consumer and you products. That was a lot of work. I underestimated that."

It took a year for Bouchard's team to input information about the company's product catalogue and weigh the importance of different aspects of a jacket, such as whether it's more important to keep someone warm or dry.

"You have to test it a lot," said Bouchard. "A.I. is not a decision tree where you know if the consumer answers yes to this and no to that, the answer is this. A.I. is much more fluid. You have to test it a lot to find the holes in the logic. You have to spend a lot more time testing than with other software.

"...We tested for a long time," she said. "They'd come out with a release on Tuesday and we'd test it on Thursday and they'd work on it over the weekend and we'd test it the next Tuesday."

Right now, The North Face is working on a new design that will roll out in April and is designed to be more interactive and more mobile friendly.

Before the holiday shopping season later this year, Bouchard expects the system to have gained a lot more content and product information. With that added data, the system won't just recommend a jacket but will be able to offer up more info about the technology behind the jacket, as well as links to related information, articles or blogs.

"Considering how much we've done over the last 12 months, we're so much smarter now," said Bouchard. "I think we can get a lot more done over the next 12 months.... I think we're ahead of the game here."


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