IBM is pushing Watson into all areas – such as retail

The Watson system is IBM‘s synonym for cognitive computing, and IBM is betting high on this emerging technology. This also applies to retail solutions.

In the run-up to the NRF's (National Retail Federation) 2016 conference to be held in New York on January 17-19, 2016, IBM has outlined the future direction of its retail offerings. Based on mega trends like "mobile only", "Internet of things", or "prediction of consumer behavior", IBM's retail offering will now also make use of cognitive computing in several solutions.

The pace of market developments no doubt requires a permanent modification of retail‘s core business processes: multi-channel marketing is a concept of the past, today‘s channel is the customer. Retailers are constantly forced to radically optimize non-selling functions to fund innovations. The pure integration of classic analytics solutions into retail applications and/or customer experience systems may no longer be enough.

Given that the relevant channel is the individual customer, each and every available piece of information on the customer and all available environmental data need to be taken into account to meet customer expectations. This includes the classic information from a shopping history as well as that from similar shoppers with a comparable profile. Today, however, social media info streams, weather data, news feeds or a customer's response to a concierge robot or an avatar also need to be considered to generate a unique customer experience for individual customers. This may require a lot of visual analytics, but also emerging trends such as the recognition of crowd-sourced fashion trends and styles.

The Watson-like cognitive computing technology implemented as a component of the IBM retail solutions may help retailers bring the digital experience to the physical store, and also bring the physical experience of the store to the digital experience after a presence in a shop.

IBM‘s retail solutions (e.g. pre-built analytic solutions, customer behavior prediction, e-commerce and merchandising offerings, and eCommercemond inside, marketing cloud, etc.) help gain insight into retail management without an analytics middleman. Additionally, a design thinking-based approach helps significantly improve the user interfaces.

Bottom line: With the introduction of cognitive computing-based retail solutions, IBM is increasing the gap to its competitors. However, IBM‘s approach to the retail market is a 360° approach. On the other hand, it must be kept in mind that retailers often invest in point solutions to implement quick fixes and experiment with new approaches. Retailers should expect IBM to try and position as a point solution provider, too.