How much do e-tail algorithms need humans?
“Data-driven” is one of the retail world’s biggest buzzwords. But as tech companies bring on experts to build out personalization solutions, it’s raising the question of how much of a human touch needs to remain to give customers the personal feel they’re looking for.
As Amazon.com has pursued its foray into apparel, it has hired people with backgrounds in fashion to train the e-tailer’s algorithms on what kind of recommendations customers are looking for, according to the Washington Post. Describing the workday of a person who held such a job, the Post describes a fashion school graduate making split-second decisions between photos of two outfits and voting on which was more fashionable. The idea of bringing on a large number of stylists with varied tastes to train the algorithm was done with an eye toward creating a “universally trendy master stylist.”
And yet similar attempts by Amazon to automate taste making haven’t necessarily gone well.
Amazon Books, for instance, curates its entire assortment based on what’s popular on the website and other data and uses localized information to inform a featured section in the store. In the e-tail giant’s perfect world this would lead to an experience that would meet a customer’s needs. But reviews of Amazon Books locations have been mixed. For instance, an account of a first interaction with the stores published in Quartz last year disparaged the New York City location as being impersonal and sucking the joy out of the bookstore experience.
Pursuing a more human but still data-driven model, Stitch Fix employs 3,700 remote stylists that make choices based on trend data and automated suggestions as well as personal data about the customer, the Post reported. The company says that the model improves both the stylists’ work and the algorithms over time. The retailer has created 16 private label brands based on what it has managed to learn.
Others argue, however, that this hybrid human/data model doesn’t provide the real personal touch customers are looking from a personal stylist.
- The personal stylists who are training the bots to be personal stylists – The Washington Post
- Amazon’s first bookstore in New York City sucks the joy out of buying books – Quartz
- Will lessons learned at Amazon Books translate to Whole Foods? – RetailWire
DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Where do you come down on the data/human split when it comes to retailers making product recommendations? Do you think a hybrid model is superior to ones that rely solely on data or humans?