The North Face’s digital shopping assistant takes personalisation to the next level, as it quickly and intelligently determines customers’ needs.

For years, personalisation has been among the hottest buzzwords bandied around at NRF’s BIG Show. But could the trend for putting customers’ individual demands at the centre of retailers’ strategies be completely turned on its head in 2016?

For outerwear specialist The North Face, the answer is a resounding yes. The retailer has been busy devising and beta-testing a pretty nifty new tool – one that, if you believe the results they say they’ve had in the US, is successfully pushing information to the shopper, not the other way round.

What the customer wants

The North Face’s digital shopping assistant, powered by artificial intelligence, is as exciting as it is unnerving.

The artificial intelligence shopping assistant can provide real-time recommendations to an online shopper simply by asking a series of intelligent questions that allows the consumer to respond using their natural language. No box-ticking what colour or size you’re looking for here.

In less than two minutes it can ascertain what the customer wants, for what purpose, what style they’re looking for, what specific colour… the detail it can drill down into is endless.

By running algorithms based on different scenarios, the assistant can work out what to ask to ensure it provides the quickest, most accurate results. Tell the assistant you’re travelling to a particular location and it can even match recommended products to current weather conditions including temperature, levels of rain and wind speed.

Great leap forward

This is artificial intelligence retail tech as its best – it’s mimicking the processes and decision-making that store assistants make, in real time – something all online users are demanding. In-store consumers may be able to have that experience with real live human beings, but online it’s far harder.

This conversation with shoppers, powered by a machine, is a new force to be reckoned with in online retail and something that’s changing the face of personalisation. The results The North Face has had in beta testing – 50,000 US users in 60 days and a two-minute average session – demonstrate the extent to which artificial intelligence technology is in demand by shoppers.

We are just at the beginning of understanding how artificial intelligence can be used in the retail sector, helping retailers compete on engagement and experience, not price. The question is, how far could it go?