Target piloting Amazon Alexa voice search rival
Through a special arrangement, what follows is a summary of an article from Retail Dive, an e-newsletter and website providing a 60-second bird’s eye view of the latest retail news and trends.
Target and three other retailers have partnered with natural language processing (NLP) startup AddStructure to roll out what an AddStructure co-founder describes as a “white-label” spin on Amazon’s Alexa virtual assistant, according to a Chicago Tribune report.
Chosen in June to participate in the Target + TechStars accelerator program, AddStructure has already worked with Target on a six-to-nine-month pilot program and is set to begin similar pilots next month with L’Oreal, Under Armour and the online antiques marketplace, 1stdibs.
“We’ve always been focused on language, so how are people searching for things, what are the priorities around different products through analysis of user reviews,” AddStructure co-founder Will Underwood told the Trib. “Now it’s just about using that knowledge of natural language to allow people to interact.”
During the accelerator program, AddStructure got to work with a Target.com vice president as a mentor and collaborated with three departments within Target to learn more about integrating new technology into a retailer and perfecting its product.
When combined with machine learning and artificial intelligence, NLP allows chatbots, virtual assistants and voice-activated search engines to interpret and understand customers’ questions and needs, helping them find the products they’re looking for as well as other items that might interest them.
Some aspects of NLP are in Amazon’s Alexa virtual assistant (which powers its voice-controlled Echo speaker), or at least in the systems backing up Alexa. In addition, office supplies retailer Staples is testing a souped-up version of its Easy button that leverages NLP and related schemes, and last December, The North Face said it was tapping Watson, IBM’s NLP platform, to help online browsers use natural conversation to receive outerwear recommendations tailored to their needs.
On Sept. 16, Etsy said it acquired Blackbird Technologies, which uses NLP to understand complex search queries as well as machine learning that analyzes user behavior and unstructured data to suggest relevant and personalized search recommendations.
“We believe we can enhance the buyer experience by making search quicker and easier and by surfacing even more relevant, tailored product recommendations,” said Chad Dickerson, Etsy’s CEO, in a statement.
- Target taps AddStructure to pilot Amazon Alexa voice search rival – Retail Dive
- Chicago startup teams with Target to take on Amazon Alexa voice search – Chicago Tribune
- Amazon Echo owners spend more on Amazon, says NPD – TechCrunch
- Etsy Acquires Blackbird Technologies to Enhance Search Capabilities – Etsy
- Staples brings bots to its Easy Button – Internet Retailer
- Will IBM Watson help customers make better choices? – RetailWire
DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Will natural language processing combined with machine learning take the online shopping experience to the next level? Do you see applications for voice search technologies at the store level as well?