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Kent Deverell, CEO, Fluid Inc.

Kent Deverell, CEO, Fluid Inc.

By Kent Deverell

After a long, cold winter, spring is finally arriving – meaning shoppers will be out in full force looking for the latest in warm weather fashions.

As consumers begin the process of researching these products, they’ll be looking for the most complete, immediately available source of information. So it’s very likely their visits to a retailer’s store will segue into visits online. Of course, retailers want that brick and mortar experience to transition to their websites; close the loop, make the sale.

But, consumers’ online shopping experiences don’t always compare to what they’ve come to expect when entering a retail store. Online, is there a helpful rep to guide consumers to the right products, based on asking the right questions and taking into account your unique needs?

Chances are, the answer is no. My company, Fluid, Inc., is changing that.

Today we’re seeing greater demand for a more intelligent breed of mobile app that can instantly provide personalized advice, anywhere and anytime. And yet, the average experience for today consumers who visit and navigate retailer’s websites is not much different than what they experienced at the onset of digital shopping years ago.

We still comb through myriad menus and links to find the products we seek. We still type keywords into a rudimentary search engine box, hoping for the best. Even via mobile commerce… the consumer is forced to adapt to someone else’s view of what digital shopping should be. Consumers dig through data-driven content like a pile of clothes — with no sales rep there to say “Can I help you?”

How do we answer the demands of an increasingly Millennial consumer base that demands personalization? By tapping into the power of cognitive computing.

At Fluid, our mission is to create personalized, digital experiences that will change the way all consumers shop. Thanks to IBM Watson’s ability to interact naturally with human users and discover insights from massive amounts of data, we’re building an interactive shopping experience and taking consumer engagement to a new degree of personalization and service.

Our Expert Personal Shopper (FluidXPS) app aims to shift the paradigm of how we shop – from linear to conversational dialogue. Now, rather than simply typing keywords into an online search, shoppers can ask actual questions of the app, as they would a sales associate in a store. The app will draw data from underlying sources like product information, customer loyalty data, sales histories, user reviews, blogs, relevant magazines and publications and travel documents to give users a thoughtful answer and a highly unified, enhanced, enriched and personalized shopping experience.

Fluid is currently building customized prototypes of the FluidXPS app for several brand clients, including leading outdoor apparel and equipment retailer, The North Face.

Imagine buying technical gear, like a tent, online today. You would visit a retailer or marketplace website and search for tents by narrowing down factors like size, style, and a pre-determined list of features. Compare that to the in-store experience of engaging with an associate and saying, “I am taking my family camping in upstate NY in October and I need a tent. What should I consider?” Fluid’s Watson-enabled mobile app will enable consumers to make this same query online in plain English to find the perfect tent as well as unexpected items needed to complete the experience.

Through our partnership with IBM, we are taking consumers into a new era of computing. Soon, you’ll no longer type the word ‘backpack’ in a retail website’s search box and spend hours poring through dozens of options, reviews, and more in finding the ideal product. Instead, you’ll ask Watson what type of backpack is appropriate for a 14 day hiking expedition in Patagonia and quickly receive personalized, data-driven responses to efficiently guide your decision.

The power of advanced technologies like cognitive computing, coupled with the ability to access information online and through mobile devices, offers consumers the most accurate, applicable information for their situation almost instantly. Shoppers who leverage apps that learn from experience and answer complex questions with data-driven insights will be empowered to make smart, satisfying purchases.

As new products hit the market every day, consumers need to make sure they have information on all the choices they have when they’re shopping. Rather than trying to do it all themselves, the Fluid XPS can provide access to the information consumers are looking for instantly. By creating this interactive experience, we’re changing how decisions are made by both consumers and businesses.

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