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Designing better experiences: A retail case study

Updated: Apr 9, 2020


Alex Bartley Catt, Managing Director of Spacetime

Spacetime helps companies understand and leverage artificial intelligence to create better experiences. In this following piece, Alex demystifies AI and provides some practical application and a case study with Fine Wine Delivery to help demonstrate the first step retailers can make into the AI space. And note: it doesn’t cost an arm and a leg – nor does it take months, only weeks to start your journey.

Last week I was lucky enough to speak at the RetailX Breakfast Briefing alongside some of New Zealand’s top retail innovators. We had digital humans, behavioural scientists, product teleporters, and a range of the latest retail developments on display.

The theme of the event was Humanity + Technology - a retail reality. For me, this is where the real opportunity lies. Today it’s a struggle to innovate in retail by solely focusing on one or the other. What’s required is a deep understanding of the human aspect AND the application of the right technology. At Spacetime, this is a huge focus as we pride ourselves on helping our customers understand and leverage artificial intelligence to create better experiences. But what does that really mean?

The term AI is loaded with many meanings. It’s really a banner for technologies that do things we perceive as smart. These technologies are behind a number of the products and services we use everyday. From Siri, to Google search, even the ads you’re delivered online. The digital humans I mentioned above are powered by a number of different AI technologies. The reality is, these technologies are being applied across industries to find efficiencies and create better experiences. This is no different for retail.

The result of this is that it can be hard to know how to get started applying AI within your organisation. So in this blog I’m going to outline exactly how we helped one of our favourite retail customers get started with AI.

Artificial Intelligence for Fine Wine Delivery

More than 20 years ago, Fine Wine Delivery (FWD) began selling wine from a spare bedroom in the owners Torbay home. They started by selling wine via fax (believe it or not), before taking advantage of direct email. In 1998, they launched NZ’s first interactive wine website. Clearly early adopters of technology, the family-run business hasn’t lost it’s innovation mindset since.

It’s this innovation mindset that’s key in adopting AI and other emerging technologies. It’s the willingness to change and experiment with new technology that brought FWD to us, asking how they could apply AI to their business.

The first step was understanding the company and their customer in-depth. This is all part of a Design Thinking approach that balances the desires of people (FWD’s customer), business objectives, and the application of appropriate technology. We looked at FWD’s goals and strengths, analysed their customer journey, before reporting back with an assessment of prioritised AI solutions.

The key insight came out of understanding why FWD was different. The company had an exceptional in-store experience, backed up by a wealth of product knowledge in the form of their unique tasting notes and product categorisation. It became clear that AI could be used to digitise and scale the company’s wine tasting expertise and in-store experience.

Natural Language Search

This opportunity led us to recommend a natural language search engine, Smart Search. This search engine ingested all available product information for over 2,000 products, including detailed tasting notes. The system brings together a number of AI services including Natural Language Understanding (NLU) to make sense of large unstructured datasets. One of the key benefits is making that information searchable using plain English.

To put this into context, now when customers search for wine, beer, or spirits on the FWD website, they can search using their own language. There is no need to have any particular knowledge about wine for a customer to find a good recommendation.

The system understands searches containing brand, product, varietal, country, region, awards, styles and flavours, along with the desired price range. Any combination of these can be used in a natural language search, no matter how much you know about wine. For example, “A dark, spicy Barossa Shiraz under $30,” or “Rich dark chocolatey beers”. You could ask Smart Search for “Craft gins made in New Zealand”. We even taught the system Kiwi colloquialisms. Smart Search knows what a “cab sav” is and knows that when we ask for “pinot” we mean, pinot noir, not pinot gris.

What FWD has done here is digitise deep institutional knowledge that was once only available by coming in store and speaking with a trained sales consultant. While the entire design and delivery of Smart Search only took six weeks, this solution has laid the foundation to further digitise and scale the company’s strengths and value proposition.

A retail reality

As the event theme proclaims, Humanity + Technology is a retail reality. There’s no doubt that emerging technologies, such as AI will play a significant role in creating innovative retail experiences. But it’s not always about looking at what everyone else in your sector is doing and following them. More often it’s about taking on the mindset of change, understanding in detail how you’re delivering value to the customer, and only then looking for ways to use AI to either digitise or augment that experience to be even better than before.

Whether you’re already experimenting with AI or looking to get started, I wish you good luck on your journey. While we’re geographically so detached from the rest of the world, there’s nothing stopping Kiwi companies from being industry leaders in AI, just like Fine Wine Delivery.

Spacetime is a team of New Zealand based Artificial Intelligence and Design Thinking specialists working to provide smarter interactions between people and computers. Spacetime adopts Design Thinking as a framework for identifying and understanding problems worth solving. Artificial Intelligence is leveraged to create solutions that enable insight into unstructured data, enhanced digital interactions, and the ability to automate business processes.

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