Online wholesaler Boxed has announced two new shopping features, based on machine learning, that are aimed at simplifying re-ordering of frequently repurchased items for customers, Boxed told Retail Dive via e-mail.
Smart StockUp, which Boxed rolled out to its entire customer base this week after a limited pilot program, applies machine learning to customer data to predict when shoppers will most likely run low on a particular product. The feature is supposed to make re-ordering easier by sparing customers from having to make a mental checklist of needed items.
Another new feature, Concierge, Boxed described as an autonomous shopping concept that uses the same machine-learning technology as Smart StockUp but takes it another step further. Concierge preemptively fulfills an order of an item when the customer, according to predictive analysis, is expected to be running low. No customer engagement is necessary.
Doing your shopping without actually having to do anything. Many in retail saw such a future yet perhaps didn’t realize how quickly it might come.
Amazon gets credit for innovating on the concept of replenishment programs in creating, and then aggressively expanding, Amazon Dash. But others are now building on that concept. Boxed is doing it in two ways, using machine-learning technology to help predict needs and then actually pre-ordering items when the time seems right.
The latter capability takes us in the direction that smart appliances seem to be moving but without having to buy an expensive smart appliance or being limited to automated reordering of only the products those appliances would use.
Boxed CTO Will Fong readily acknowledged in an email to Retail Dive Amazon’s influence in this area, but he said Boxed is focusing on a much bigger picture — autonomous shopping. “While Amazon has innovated in this space, Boxed is the first to offer a feature like Concierge, which is true autonomous shopping,” he said. “Autonomous shopping is the future, and the e-commerce industry is certainly shifting in a new direction as retailers discover new ways to predict and personalize what customers want to order.”
Along with customer shopping data, Fong said Boxed also gives customers using Smart StockUp the opportunity, after receiving initial recommendations, to fill out an optional short survey that can help the company further refine its approach. All returning customers receive Smart StockUp suggestions, while anyone using Concierge needs to opt in first.
Returning Boxed shoppers should now start seeing recommendations for “Need These Now” and “Need These Soon” products that they only need to click on to add to a cart. Meanwhile, the Concierge feature is in the pilot phase now with a small group of business customers who have opted in to automatically receive regular shipments of certain products from Boxed. The wholesaler also is mixing the products customers typically need to replenish with “discovery” items, so customers can still try out new products. Boxed plans to roll out Concierge more broadly this fall.
The risk with Concierge is clear: Customers might not want those "discovery" items, or they may decide a restock order showed up too soon or contained too much. Boxed promises easy returns in those situations. So far, during the Concierge trial period, the company has not had to process any returns at all, Fong said.