Even if your brand had a solid e-commerce strategy in place before the pandemic, you would still be struggling to ramp up 5 years’ worth of e-commerce growth in less than a year.

Everybody’s vying online for the same customers, and they’re competing at delivering a memorable, omnichannel customer experience (CX).

Not discounts, low prices, or free shipping — experience is what consumers are voting for with their dollars this year. The key ingredient is personalization. However, there are varying degrees, and brands need far more than the bargain basement features like first name, last name, and basic demographic data to get it right.  

UK fashion retailer Sports Direct, managed by their parent company Frasers Group, has just proven that not only is it possible to significantly improve the CX in a short period of time, but with the right personalization tools — like the Emarsys AI Stylist — a retailer can offer the same high-caliber experience online that customers once had in-store.

Shifting to Digital and Amping Up Personalization at the Same Time

Like so many retailers around the world, Frasers Group suffered when the pandemic hit, forcing them to close brick-and-mortars, their main source of revenue. Sound familiar?

The brand had to act quickly and furloughed employees, a harsh yet necessary measure to survive, but that made things twice as hard: Frasers Group and Sports Direct had to reclaim their revenue stream as consumers flocked to digital channels, and they had to do it with a smaller team.

The challenge with putting an in-store experience online is that you can’t touch or try on anything, and there’s no in-person staff to answer your questions.

But what about providing a dependable online automated version of all that?

Sports Direct decided to pursue a live chat with a stylist, something few companies offer. Sure, you can expect live chat with support if you have an issue with placing your order or understanding the returns policy. But what if you could talk with a digital, professional stylist to answer questions or provide advice that customers would appreciate?

This is exactly why Emarsys has recently launched AI Stylist, a powerful personalization tool that uses AI in the background to match product data with customer behavior and preference signals across all channels. The big question: Can an automated stylist provide true value to consumers?

How AI Stylist Solves the Personalization Challenge

AI Stylist is the first tool of its kind that can truly deliver an automated personalized experience for every single one of your customers. While it’s a great boon for your marketing team, it also rewards your customers by making sure the individual gets treated like an individual.

The Customer Gets a Better Experience with the Brand

As its name suggests, AI Stylist relies on data and machine learning to customize the online experience. Adding an AI element to your e-commerce capabilities allows you to access customer information faster and more accurately. Here are a few of the things AI Stylist can do for your customers:

  • Similarity: AI Stylist shows a customer something similar to what she’s looking at based only on the image property – not based on other people‘s behavior – so AI Stylist offers up products with a similar look and feel.
  • Affinity: The tool recommends other products to customers based on their unique likes, dislikes, lifestyle, purchases, and browsing history.
  • AI has no ulterior motives: Recommendations are factual and neutral. As opposed to a sales assistant in-store who may just want to clear out old inventory, AI Stylist shows the customer a relevant choice.
  • Accurate recommendations generate more revenue: AI Stylist can really put the right product in front of the right person and give a brand its optimal chance to bring in that purchase.
  • Customers never have to wait for AI Stylist to assist: Waiting to be assisted often discourages people from actually seeking help through a live chat feature. With AI, customers don’t have to wait, and regardless of whether they are a VIP or a one-time purchaser, everyone gets tailored recommendations based on actual purchase history, not the generic assumptions of segmented personalization.
  • Consistent channel-agnostic shopping experience: Automated personalization is the soundest way to provide consistent, relevant, and value-added experiences for customers across online and offline channels.

But AI Stylist is designed to do a lot more in the background to ensure the customer experience is tailored to the individual. In fact, AI Stylist is not an AI starter kit. It goes beyond basic capabilities. For example:

  1. AI Stylist relies on Google Cloud’s image recognition technology to analyze the touch-and-feel properties of each product, focusing on the specific characteristics that humans may miss. If you’re a clothing retailer, AI Stylist would identify materials, textures, colors, patterns, and fitting for clothing available on the brand’s website.
  2. AI Stylist then cross-references this data with the behaviors of each customer to determine preferences for certain features. As a customer goes on to repeat purchase, the AI Stylist ingests every new product viewed or purchased to add a new point of reference that helps define genuine interest in a product.
  3. Using visual recognition, AI Stylist eliminates the need for a human to manually tag product images or provide written descriptions — which is especially helpful for big department store brands that sell thousands of continually changing products from multiple brands on one website.

What the Brand Gets

This unprecedented level of personalization enables your brand to drive huge improvements in sales and customer satisfaction, by using all of your customer purchasing data and behavioral signals to determine the individual’s product range.

Another massive benefit is that it helps to minimize returns, which are a big problem for most fashion retailers because of how it severely impacts profitability. Leveraging AI Stylist is one way a brand can reduce the number of returns,

Improve your conversion rate by introducing more products that match the most popular characteristics for each customer, while also promoting less popular items to those who are actually interested in them. Another benefit is that AI Stylist helps you launch and promote new products to the right people at full price due to the deeper level of personalization and the elimination of deep discounts to clear out stock. 

AI Stylist helps reduce overstocking and streamline supply chains, allowing your brand to clear out unpopular stock by understanding that these products have an affinity to specific individuals. Plus, you can optimize your operating costs by fine-tuning what customers really want.

Frasers Group’s Success with AI Stylist

The UK retailer implemented AI Stylist with their brand Sports Direct, revolutionizing the experience for millions of the brand’s customers. Within the first few months of using AI Stylist, Sports Direct recorded a huge 10% increase in web traffic and a 20% increase in email engagement, but it’s not just because of the AI. They also made a critical shift in their approach to customer engagement, the same shift a lot of brands still need to make.

“It’s about shifting from thinking about broad terms like ‘demand’ to the individual preferences and need of individual customers. One of the things that COVID highlighted was the fact that trends are very difficult [to identify] if you’re always looking at them in retrospect, and AI Stylist enables us to automate in a way that recognizes trends as they’re being created.” — Paul Gunn, Head of Digital Marketing and CRM, Frasers Group

A big part of serving customers these days is having an open mind about what’s possible and what makes the most sense for keeping your customer at the center of everything you do.

Agility has been key. For some brands, the tightening of resources and the turbulent macro environment could bring e-commerce strategies to a halt. But even with a leaner team, Frasers Group has seen digital growth mostly by leveraging automation and making real-time adjustments to best convert customers. The luxury consumer, if confident in their financial position, continues to spend with their perceived higher disposable income, which has been felt across the digital landscape.” — Thomas Tregelles, Group Head of E-Commerce, Sports Direct

Final Thoughts

AI-driven personalization is the quickest and most efficient path to 1:1 marketing. The machine does a lot of the grunt work of putting data together, and now with a deeply data-driven program like AI Stylist, the machine comes closer than ever before in knowing each customer. In turn, the brand can improve engagement across every channel digging down deeper and deeper into each customer’s preferences and deliver just what they want.

“AI Stylist is the forerunner for the next level of personalization, incorporating some really leading-edge techniques in terms of image recognition and artificial intelligence. Being able to personalize on a genuinely one-to-one level with customers, based entirely on their behavior and preferences, is something that even Amazon can only dream of.” — Raj Balasundaram, SVP AI, Emarsys

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