In many ways brick and mortar retailers are becoming the showrooms for online vendors. People check out the products at the shopping mall and then research and buy them on the web. Gadget shopping and review site Retrevo is trying to turn that around, by turning your smartphone into an in-store mobile sales clerk. Five-year-old Retrevo is in negotiations with big-box chain stores to offer in-store mobile users technology that provides real-time online buzz and information about goods on store shelves.
The mobile platform was introduced at the Shop.org digital retail conference in mid-September and is expected to roll out early next year in a handful of undisclosed national stores.
Called the product graph, the tech has been fine-tuned on the Retrevo website, which boasts more than 6 million viewers a month. Product snapshots are compiled by gathering and organizing "unstructured data and the wisdom of the crowd on the open web and via proprietary data sources," says the company. "Our AI engine translates all this data into user-consumable information in real time," says Vipin Jain, co-founder and CEO of Retrevo. "If, for example, you're shopping for a car, AI can help you quickly learn if that car is safe, if it's likely to break down, if it has a good feature-set, if other people and reviewers like it and what kind of horsepower it has," he says.
The company says its mobile tech is best used for big-ticket items such as electronics, autos, appliances, home and garden equipment and sporting goods. Retrevo's use of AI has been endorsed by Microsoft's BizSpark program, which supports promising startups.
In addition to the fact that such a mobile service can put stores on more equal footing with Amazon, Retrevo's smart phone platform serves as a virtual sales clerk in other ways. It can recommend products in the store that have both a "good value" and "good review sentiment" based on web-wide data analyzed by algorithms daily. It can then guide shoppers to those products on the sales floor. It can also upsell. Since the product graph understands which products are compatible with which accessories, it can help shoppers find the right batteries, cases, and other goodies related to their major purchase. "AI enables a vertical shopping experience, where [outside] research and commerce come together, making for smarter shoppers," says Jain. "This multi-dimensional view of a product is a new way to shop today, but in the future, we believe shoppers will demand it."
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Joan Voight is a Contributing Editor to ClickZ. Based in the San Francisco Bay Area, she has covered online and offline media, marketing and advertising since the mid-1990s for several business publications. She spent nine years at Adweek magazine, where she was San Francisco bureau chief, national senior writer and contributing reporter.
March 19, 2014