The Macy's (NYSE: M) customer service person who answers your next question for the retailer may not in fact be human.
The company has begun testing "Macy's On Call," a tool that allows customers to interact with an AI-powered platform through their mobile devices. Using IBM's (NYSE: IBM) Watson via Satisfi, which Macy's described as "an intelligent engagement platform," in a press release, the tool will "deliver a first-of-its-kind solution that will enhance the customer in-store shopping experience at 10 test locations nationwide."
Using Watson's ability to understand real language, the digital helper can deliver customized responses to customers' questions, telling them, for example, where in the store a product is located, whether generally or a specific branded item.
A Spanish-language version of the tool is also being tested.
Why is Macy's doing this?
"At Macy's, we remain focused on identifying, testing and supporting new ideas and approaches that will help elevate service to our customers through technology. With an eye toward innovation, we are moving fast to test and scale up pilot programs that help enhance their experience with us," said Chief Growth Officer Peter Sachse. "This program, in partnership with Satisfi and leveraging the power of IBM Watson, will help us explore new ways to engage one-on-one with customers in-store, providing them another level of service right at their fingertips."
IBM also has high hopes for Watson as a consumer-facing product and believes that the AI should thrive in a retail setting.
"This particular use case takes Watson beyond helping consumers evaluate purchasing decisions, and influences another, equally important aspect of the in-store experience-ease of use in locating products, facilities and services," said David Kenny, general manager of IBM Watson.
Macy's will benefit from offering this tool because it will keep customers happy without requiring additional personnel. For consumers, at least tech-savvy ones, the benefit is that they'll be able to access help fast without having to track down an employee. That should lead to Macy's selling more stuff. And for IBM, this is a great way to show off Watson to potential retail partners.
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Daniel Kline has no position in any stocks mentioned.