- Sears Auto Center announced the pilot launch of an artificial intelligence-enabled web application, Digital Tire Journey, that uses IBM Watson's Natural Language Classifier service to help customers looking to buy tires obtain recommendations that take into account their personal needs and driving habits.
- After providing license plate and car make and model information, Sears Automotive customers will be prompted to answer the question "When it comes to tires, what's most important to you?" to identify the appropriate tires to fit their driving preferences within the following categories: Comfort Warrior, Value Seeker, Off-Roader, High Performer, Safety Seeker and Winter Warrior.
- Digital Tire Journey then presents several purchase options: Buy the tires online, schedule an appointment for installation at the nearest Sears Auto Center or reach a call center agent to ask additional questions and purchase the tires by phone.
Are you so over people saying "There's an app for that"? Well, soon we may start hearing, "There's an AI for that." Sears' pilot project is just the latest example how how retailers and related companies are turning to AI capabilities to enhance the customer experience and drive sales growth. IBM Watson seems to be getting its fair share of these opportunities, working with Staples and several others.
AI capabilities such as machine learning and natural language generation and processing have tremendous potential to to bring quicker and more personalized service and response to just about any app that relies on conversation and customer interaction — which of course means just about any retail app you can think of.
Still, at the moment, AI for many retailers remains in a pilot phase. Retailers still may be measuring the performance of these tools, as well as how customers feel about interacting with them. That said, Sears may have more riding on the success of this pilot than other companies in the space do, given its ongoing shaky financial status.
Sears recently made a deal to sell its Craftsman tool operation, which puts even more pressure on the Sears Auto Center business to help rescue the retailer. That's a lot to ask of Digital Tire Journey, and ultimately, its potential to enhance the customer experience in one specific aspect of the Sears Auto Center operation can only contribute so much to the business.
The app does line up pretty well with Sears' Shop Your Way partnership with Uber, which allows the ride-sharing service's passengers and drivers to earn and use Shop Your Way points at Sears Auto Center. Plus, the app's ability to tie together mobile and online shopping with in-store tire purchase and installation showcases an omnichannel thinking at work for a retailer that certainly could use a boost.