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1-800-Flowers wants to transform its business with A.I.

Sharon Gaudin | Oct. 27, 2016
A company focused on change uses IBM Watson to connect with customers

At IBM World of Watson, there’s a lot of discussion about conversational commerce, since companies like 1-800-Flowers.com and Staples, are talking about how IBM’s artificial intelligence system can help them make sense of an increasing flood of data, while answering customers’ questions, taking their orders and helping them feel more connected to their brand.

“Last January I was at a meeting sharing articles about A.I.,” said McCann. “I said it’s time to get in. We can’t wait any longer. In April, we launched our first commerce bot in Facebook Messenger. Then we launched on Amazon Echo.”

Then, going all in, they launched a beta version of an IBM Watson-powered digital gift concierge in early May.

The concierge -- named GWYN, for Gifts When You Need – takes customers’ questions and offers suggestions for products, from all the brands the company offers, that might meet their needs.

A customer, for example, might need a birthday gift for his dad, who is trying to keep on a healthy diet. GWYN might suggest a box of Harry & David gourmet pears.

For an Easter gift for your mother, GWYN might suggest several floral bouquets.

“The challenge we have had is how do we get consumers to know that we can solve more of their gifting needs than just flowers,” McCann said “When they have other gifting needs, they go somewhere else. GWYN helps the customer find what they need while looking across all of our offerings and brands.”

GWYN also helps 1-800-Flowers.com remain on the leading edge of retail.

“GWYN positions us at the forefront of this new emerging world of technology that, in no question in my mind, will change consumer behavior,” added McCann. “In the early 90s, we saw the technology changing. We didn’t know where it would go but we wanted to be ready so we could learn and grow along with the consumer. We want to do that again.”

The company launched GWYN on its website in May in what was called a very early beta. A second beta, launched about three weeks ago, will run through the holiday season, providing information on how well the service works, what customers like about it and what changes they may need to make.

McCann said he expects an official version of GWYNN will launch in the first quarter of 2017. There are no plans for a GWYN app, but the company is considering it.

The company is focused on adding to the GWYN features it already has, enabling it to one day offer users reminders about birthdays and anniversaries.

McCann said the company considered other A.I. platforms but went with IBM Watson because it was “out in front” of competitors and had more capabilities.

 

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