1-800-Flowers Replicates In-Store Experience Online With A.I.

1-800-Flowers.com, Inc. has partnered with IBM to leverage Watson’s artificial intelligence technology to transform digital customer experiences with a smart virtual-shopping assistant.

1-800-Flowers has no physical retail locations, so the company has been working with IBM to replicate the in-store shopping experience on its Web site. Originally launched one year ago, GWYN (Gifts when you Need) is a Watson-powered gift concierge that greets 1-800-Flowers shoppers.  

The virtual assistant asks digital shoppers a series of questions to get to know them better, and to learn who and what the customers are shopping for. This data is then sent to the cloud, where retail inventory information is stored and linked to a unique customer profile, enabling GWYN to make personalized product recommendations to shoppers. 

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Jon Mandell, vice president of marketing and customer experience at 1-800-Flowers, describes this as “conversational commerce.” 1-800-Flowers has been leveraging the IBM Cloud for several years, says Mandell -- particularly IBM’s eCommerce solution Commerce on Cloud -- and he says IBM is a key partner.

“The in-store experience got lost on the Internet, but Watson brings back those old-school conversations,” says Mandell, who refers to GWYN as a “she,” describing how GWYN logs every customer conversation in the cloud to improve future communication.

Although Mandell has no specific metrics to share, he claims that GWYN has boosted customer engagement by a significant degree by helping customers find gifts across the company’s entire catalogue of brands. GWYN executes a multi-brand channel strategy by introducing shoppers of 1-800-Flowers to other brands, including the eCommerce gift shopping sites Fannie May, Harry & David, Wolferman’s, FruitBouquets.com, The Popcorn Factory, Cheryl’s and 1-800-Baskets.com. He says that generally customers interact with GWYN for more than two minutes, with an average of five questions per session.

No question is scripted, so customers have distinctly new experiences with GWYN every time they interact with her, Mandell says, adding that the virtual assistant “tries to get to the important information,” such as the celebratory occasion or the gift recipient. "Products are scored based on the amount of information GWYN is given, and she makes a personalized product recommendation “only when she has enough confidence that you’ll like a product,” says Mandell.  

Although GWYN is still at an early stage in beta, Mandell says, he looks forward to developing new ways to conduct commerce and maintaining customer relationships in the future, and envisions ways that GWYN can extend beyond commerce by checking on an order status or tracking shipping information.

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