Two major shopping malls — Mall of America in Bloomington, MN and Fashion Island in Newport Beach, CA — have rolled out new artificial intelligence-driven shopping assistants using technology from IBM Watson and its partner, location-based intelligence firm Satisfi.
Mall of America has debuted Experiential List Formulator (ELF) just in time to help visitors manage their holiday shopping and other activities at the mall’s 500-plus stores and theme parks, spread over 5.6 million square feet. ELF is available on Facebook Messenger and at the Mall of America website.
Fashion Island has launched a pilot program for a mobile concierge called At Your Service, which allows shoppers to communicate with an AI system via text to help them navigate the mall, and get answers to questions about general categories of products or even specific brands.
'Tis the season to invest in artificial intelligence, natural language processing and machine learning: Prior to this announcement, Nordstrom, Starbucks and eBay all made news with AI rollouts timed to the holidays.
This may be the first we have seen of malls getting into the AI game, but the holiday shopping season is a great time for them to do it, as they can give visitors the gift of automated assistance at a time when everyone is a bit frazzled and often not sure quite where to turn. Both ELF and At Your Service address this need and seem like useful solutions, although we have to give Mall of America extra credit for giving its machine a warm, holiday-themed acronym.
The team of IBM Watson and Satisfi also was behind an AI-powered virtual shopping assistant announced by Macy's last summer, and it's now clear that the two technology providers had a lot retail sector work on their plate in recent months. It's also clear from these two latest announcements that as AI moves deeper into the retail sector, it's not just for individual retailers. Malls, credit card companies like MasterCard and many others can implement AI-based solutions for a number of applications, from messaging chatbots to virtual shopping assistance to shopper navigation to fraud monitoring.
The race to invest in AI is clearly on, with a lot of the recent activity following in the very large footsteps of Amazon's adventures with Alexa. Amazon recently redoubled its efforts to build a broader ecosystem around Alexa, and enable other companies to build solutions using Alexa technology, but it's also important to note that Amazon isn't the only AI company on the block. IBM Watson has been around for a long time, and with help from Satisfi, Watson is working its way into retail.