AI Is Transforming the Way We Shop
Around the world, the disruptive technology of artificial intelligence (AI) has been bringing lasting change to virtually every industry, solving old problems, and creating more efficient business processes, both internally and externally. Tech giants (e.g., Google, Apple, IBM, Microsoft, etc.) have been steadily investing millions of dollars into AI for the last two decades, but the technology's powerful impact has become especially clear over the past few years. Although there is a concern over supplementing the shortage of skilled workers with AI know-how, research continues to show that executives at large companies consider AI technology to be an integral part of an increasingly digital-forward business strategy.
Market research firm IDC released a report in August 2020 forecasting that the global AI market, composed of software, hardware, and services, is expected to total $156.5 billion in 2020, a 12.3% increase from 2019. Although the COVID-19 pandemic slightly slowed the usual growth, the firm believes that the AI market will recover quickly and projected its value to double in just four years, reaching over $300 billion by 2024.
While the speed of AI adoption has varied across different industries, retail is one segment that has been slower to incorporate AI capabilities for a variety of reasons, including concerns over data privacy, job loss, and a lack of readiness. But with the recent ecommerce boom (largely driven by the pandemic), more retailers and “etailers” are finally taking a chance and exploring tech capabilities to create a more enjoyable, efficient, and tailored online shopping experience.
Some brands, like ASOS, Burberry, and Victoria's Secret, have successfully deployed AI-driven chatbots to improve the customer support experience for their online shoppers. Others, like Hanes Australasia, L'Occitane en Provence, and Wayfair, have implemented AI technologies to offer product recommendations and a more personalized shopping experience — an attempt to recreate the feeling of attention a consumer would receive when shopping in a physical store.
But to create a personalized digital shopping experience that seamlessly brings together many fashion brands all in one place — like going to the mall — is a whole different ball game, and it's one that AI startup The Yes seems ready to play.
Launched in May 2020, this startup's AI-powered shopping platform offers an easy-to-use, highly customized consumer experience and a large selection of brands all in one place. Amit Aggarwal, co-founder and CTO of The Yes, says that even today, “most online shopping experiences feel static and one size fits all. On the other hand, AI and machine learning have been applied to other categories, like music and movies, to build dynamic, personalized, and engaging consumer experiences.”
The potential for transforming the way consumers shop online for clothes is exactly why Aggarwal and CEO and co-founder Julie Bornstein — who oversaw ecommerce at Nordstrom's, Stitch Fix, Urban Outfitters, and Sephora — put their heads together to create this AI-driven app. It essentially “builds a store around the customer” and results in a store that's created by the customer and for the customer.
The Yes app, which is free, currently features over 200 fashion brands for women that range in styles and price points, from Everlane to Balenciaga. The startup decided to initially stick to women's brands because of the large market size for women, but the intention is to add brands for men and, eventually, children. “The ability for the shopper to discover a range of brands without being overwhelmed is the key value proposition of the product,” Aggarwal points out.
So, how does The Yes work? Once you've downloaded the app, the user takes a short, interactive quiz, which helps The Yes algorithm start ranking products according to the user's size, style, brand, and price preferences. From there, the user starts clicking Yes or No on products, similar to swiping left or right on dating apps. The algorithm that powers the platform then continues to adapt to the user's input in real-time, further refining which products appear in the content feed. The user's home feed becomes more and more accurate over time, so the more time the user spends clicking “Yes” or “No,” the more successfully it will reflect her taste. Simultaneously, the user is training the algorithm “to curate fashion trends, like Zoom-ready tops,” which also helps it recommend the right products to the user.
The Yes team wanted to make it simple for brands to partner with the app. To make this happen, the startup developed a proprietary patent-pending technology “to integrate with almost no lift on the brand side and integration in minutes,” says Aggarwal. It's no surprise then that The Yes has been adding new brands to its platform almost every day.
Since its launch, the app has had over 5 million yes and nos from users, and 80% of users who complete the YES quiz in 1 day make a YES list. Aggarwal believes that the success of The Yes app so far is based not only on the broad selection of brands — which includes the full set of products available from each brand — but also a distinct customization strategy and a very user-friendly experience.
“This combination of using image and text, user behavior data with content and human input is unique and differentiated. Also, our user experience that blends our AI-based algorithm seamlessly with the app makes The Yes effective. The algorithm is only as good as the [user experience], and the two need to work together to create a seamless, holistic experience for the user,” explains Aggarwal.
For now, the app is available only on iOS because it is a “constrained environment that would serve as a design discipline,” says Aggarwal. However, the startup plans to expand to a web experience this year, followed by an Android app. And The Yes is already looking ahead to this year's holiday season, which, due to the pandemic, will see a major surge in ecommerce sales. The Yes has become one of the few ecommerce partners that Apple is currently working with to provide an easy way to virtually give gifts online without downloading the app. The program will allow The Yes to streamline mobile gift purchasing.
While AI can be applied to ecommerce in many ways, The Yes is currently using AI to focus on personalization, search, and user experience. Aggarwal says that even within this realm, there are plenty of interesting and unsolved problems that AI can help with, including “understanding style, building recommendation models, improving search to include domain specific information, solving the size and fit problem for users. Beyond that, there is a lot of opportunity for new user experiences using voice, text, improving logistics and fulfillment. The recent advances in AI technology have been super disruptive: we believe that AI is going to transform every industry, and we see ourselves at the forefront of how we apply AI to ecommerce,” says Aggarwal.
About the Author
Suchi Rudra is a freelance writer who is passionate about covering emerging tech, entrepreneurship, and real estate. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, Fast Company, VICE, EdTech Magazine, and many other publications.
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