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IBM buys Fluid’s Expert Personal Shopper for Watson
This latest acquisition by Big Blue’s digital agency gives Watson a platform to become an expert recommender for clothes, insurance, travel and other products and services.
IBM wants its Jeopardy-winning supercomputer, Watson, to become a champ at finding the best product or service you need.
To help land that distinction, Big Blue’s digital marketing division, Interactive Experience (iX), has acquired customer experience provider Fluid’s Expert Personal Shopper (XPS) division. Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed.
The two companies had built XPS over the last three years. With XPS, a shopper employs natural language to conduct a dialogue based around questions and answers, leading to XPS’s recommendation of the best product or service. To date, two such product recommenders have been implemented using this “conversational commerce”: one for 1-800-Flowers and the other for The North Face. Here’s a screen shot of the North Face offering:
John Armstrong, IBM iX North America Leader, told me that his company’s ambition for the next generation of XPS goes beyond flowers and outdoor gear. He’s looking for this kind of Watson-powered, intelligent conversational engine to be applied to shoppers’ decisions about travel, insurance, and even car-buying, with specific buying recommendations based on users’ responses about what they want.
In XPS, he said, Watson has provided the cognitive analytics for understanding the meaning of users’ responses, as well as natural language conversational interaction. Fluid has handled the inventory data sources, an understanding of the differences between products, dialogue management, user interface and interactions with the commerce platform so purchases can be made.
Armstrong also pointed out that we’re moving away from page-based interfaces for online shopping and toward voice-based ones, with intelligent agents like Amazon’s Alexa or Google’s Assistant as the go-between. Armstrong contended that Watson, in large-scale deployments like consumer or B2B shopping, can be more personalized and useful than what’s currently available.
This purchase is just the latest in IBM iX’s recent buying spree. In January, it picked up interactive media specialist Resource/Ammirati in Ohio, and it bought two German digital marketing agencies, ecx.io and Aperto, in February. In May, it landed Salesforce partner and cloud consultant Bluewolf, headquartered in New York City.