Carhartt is Using AI to Make Smarter Merchandising, Marketing Decisions
Artificial intelligence (AI) was chosen as the emerging technology most likely to have the biggest impact on the retail industry in 2019, according to Total Retail's 2018-2019 Retail Technology Report. Retailers and brands are investigating ways to leverage the power of AI across their organizations, from marketing to logistics to customer service, and more. Workwear brand Carhartt is proof of that.
In a presentation at IBM's THINK 2019 conference earlier this year in San Francisco, Anna Cole, director of global D2C digital platforms at Carhartt, discussed how the brand is using AI technology to improve business processes, and the positive impact it is having on the brand. Total Retail conducted an exclusive interview with Cole on this topic.
Total Retail: Why has Carhartt decided to invest in artificial intelligence (AI) technology?
Anna Cole: We decided to invest in artificial intelligence at Carhartt because we believed it was the best way for us to be able to move the business forward. AI can help us recognize trends and developments, which allows us to move our business along at a quicker pace.
TR: What about IBM's Watson Commerce Insights (WCI) solution was attractive to Carhartt?
AC: We first learned about Watson Commerce Insights through our technology group partner, and discovered IBM was thinking about developing an AI-powered commerce platform. The Watson Commerce team approached us to see if we'd be interested in helping it create the platform. We looked at the processes we were currently using at the time and thinking of different ways to move our business forward. Once we understood the amount of work we had to do to synthesize the volume of data to come up with actionable insights, we saw this as a great opportunity to be able to make our merchandisers’ lives so much easier, while moving profitability and customer experience ahead.
TR: What are the business applications that Carhartt is using AI for?
AC: We use AI in several parts of our business. The two primary places we're currently using it are within our merchandising to ensure we have the right product at the right time and the right place, and we're also using it within our marketing as well. Being able to deliver the right content to the right person with right message through our email campaigns and website is essential, as is scalability.
TR: What challenges has AI helped to solve for Carhartt?
AC: Like any retail brand, we had many challenges we needed to solve. Some of it was having enough staff to be able to take a look at all the data that was coming in to be able to formulate actionable insights. What AI has done for us is enable us to look at large datasets and be able to predict what information we should be showing to consumers at the right time, essentially creating a merchandiser playbook. By enabling our merchandiser to project future business, we've been able to save countless hours of manual labor.
TR: Can you provide an example or two of actions that Carhartt has taken as a result of insights gleaned from WCI?
AC: Two examples of how we rely on AI-driven data by Watson Commerce Insights is by enabling more frequent touches to our merchandising, with that being at the heart of driving customer experience. One, being able to take a look at the data and extend that learning into our store environment as we start to see different product trends on our website and, two, looking at what's happening on our site to determine — or more aptly predict — if it’s the marketing or the merchandising that needs to change.
TR: What are the business benefits that Carhartt has realized since it implemented WCI?
AC: The main business benefits we've realized since implementing Watson Commerce Insights is the ability for merchandisers to feel empowered and confident about their business decisions. The other major benefit is recognizing the entire conversion path. Once we were able to roll this capability out across all of our categories and we had all of our merchandisers utilizing the AI-powered commerce platform, we saw conversions jump.
TR: Going forward, what are some ways that Carhartt is planning to use AI that it has yet to implement?
AC: I think there are so many different use cases for AI at Carhartt. One of the projects we're most excited about is how can we enable our consumer to quickly find a product they need for their everyday lives. For example, today we're able to do that through customer service representatives, but our customer service isn't 24/7 and many consumers don't want to call. That’s where we can inject AI to recreate our best brand ambassador through a conversational chatbot that allows a consumer to interact with the brand. This allows us to deliver an excellent omnichannel customer experience.
TR: What advice would you have for other retailers and brands that are looking to integrate new technologies such as AI into their businesses?
AC: The biggest piece of advice I can give to anyone who's looking to inject AI into their business is to first define the problem you're trying to solve, then clearly define the desired end state. Create a road map and bring others along. Find key influencers to champion the solution, and overcommunicate to retain momentum.
Related story: The 2018 Retail Technology Report