The heritage jeans brand is taking on the brace new tech world with Virtual Stylist.
Artificial intelligence (AI) is one of retail’s hottest topics. Businesses of all shapes and sizes are experimenting with the potentially transformative powers of AI. Earlier this month, outgoing Shop Direct CEO Alex Baldock warned that ready or not, AI will shake-up every retail business in the UK. Fellow etailer Net-a-Porter, which leads the charge on AI, also recently unveiled new tech that can select products for consumers based on their future plans.
But how are heritage brands making sure they are staying ahead? Drapers talks to Levi’s vice-president of ecommerce for Europe Claudia Roggenkamp about the denim brand’s technology strategy and how its Virtual Stylist service, which launched on Levi.com and Facebook Messenger at the end of August, is improving the customer journey.
Talk us through Levi’s Virtual Stylist and how it works
Trying jeans on and how they fit is often the most personal part of a customer’s journey. We wanted to take the network of stylists we have in store into the online world. The virtual stylist can be accessed through our website if customers are on their laptops, or through Facebook Messenger if they are on mobile. It is a structured artificial intelligence-empowered bot, which can also recognise natural language.
We ask a set of questions around how customers like their jeans, such as fit, style, and wash. There’s also a “see it styled” option. Customers can see user-generated content on how other customers have styled the same item. It is designed to speak to customers in a very natural, easy way, as if they were shopping with a friend. It went live in the UK and the Netherlands in September and we’re looking at which other markets it could work in.
What challenges did Levi’s face when creating the Virtual Stylist?
This is a very different way of working – it is more like working in a start-up than the way big companies normally approach things. The tech is new, the partners you’re working with are often young and there was a focus on speed, so there were some barriers. The truth is a lot of these tech partners aren’t funded to survive the next five years and don’t have much experience, so you’ve got to make brave decisions. We had to do a lot of screening in the market to see who we could potentially partner with and spend time with the guys to see how they worked. (The chatbot is powered by Mode.ai and personalised fit data is from True Fit.)
How will you develop the technology further?
It’s very early days, so we’re still collecting data on how people interact with the stylist, where customers drop out of the process and how we can optimise it further. I’m not sure if the “see it styled” feature is prominent enough, but we have to see if and how people interact with. What we have seen so far is that consumers using the stylist are more likely to convert.
What impact do you see artificial intelligence having on the retail industry?
It is going to be massive for everybody and lots of people are talking about it, but we still don’t really know which areas AI will impact the most. That’s why our approach was to build something fast, rather than something perfect. We got the budget in April and in September it was live, which is pretty quick for a company our size. For us, that was the right thing to do because we wanted to get something out there in front of consumers quickly. That’s how you learn.
The Drapers verdict
Levi’s message of focusing on speed instead of perfection is shared by the sector’s tech innovators, including Asos, where digital product director Andy Berks has also stressed the importance of getting new tech in front of customers. Giving customers the option of seeing user-generated content is a nice touch, which adds value to the customer journey.