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Macy’s is set to launch an in-store shopping assistant powered by artificial intelligence. Photograph by Andrew Burton — Getty Images

Macy’s Is Teaming Up With IBM’s Watson to Make Shopping Easier

Jul 20, 2016

As technology continues to advance, so does in-store shopping.

On Wednesday, Macy's launched a shopping assistant called "Macy's on Call" at 10 locations nationwide. The cognitive mobile web tool is thanks to a partnership between IBM Watson, via Satisfi, an intelligent engagement platform.

As Macy's tests the platform through its pilot stage, Macy's On Call will "enhance the customer in-store shopping experience" by helping shoppers as they navigate through the retail giant's stores.

Through a mobile browser on a personal device, customers can ask questions in natural language regarding where departments, brands, and services are located in each of the participating stores. Macy’s (m) is also incorporating a Spanish language feature to widen its user base.

Macy's says the idea comes as more and more consumers are increasingly preferring to use their smartphones to answer their questions, as opposed to asking an in-person store associate for help when physically shopping.

Here’s where IBM’s Watson and Satisfi come in: Although the tool is already programmed with popular search categories and highlights the most frequently asked questions, the system will continue to evolve as it begins to learn more about each store's customers. Aside from studying other potential uses of the technology, Macy's says it also has the goal of implementing Watson’s full cognitive dialog capabilities as the program progresses.

Five of the 10 locations that were chosen will act as base learning stores, with the tool acting as a customer-led self-serve initiative, while the other five have an additional feature that enables shoppers to request assistance from a Macy’s associate face-to-face.

“At Macy’s, we remain focused on identifying, testing, and supporting new ideas and approaches that will help elevate service to our customers through technology. With an eye towards innovation, we are moving fast to test and scale up pilot programs that help enhance their experience with us,” said Peter Sachse, Macy’s chief growth officer in a statement.

Macy's has 734 locations in 45 different states, so 10 pilot locations is a small start for future expansion. But the bigger issue may be technology’s further encroachment on jobs.

A recent report shows that telemarketers, cashiers, and tellers and drivers, among other jobs, all have a great chance of one day being replaced by a computer. In fact, telemarketers have a 99% chance of being replaced. Other jobs—such as dentists, surgeons, nutritionists, and other professions that require higher human finesse—only have a 0.4% chance of replacement.

Macy’s On Call pilot stores are as follow:

Base learning locations:

Macy’s Montgomery – Bethesda, Md.

Macy’s Woodbridge Center – Woodbridge, N.J.

Macy’s Clackamas Town Center – Portland, Ore.

Macy’s Santa Anita – Arcadia, Calif.

Macy’s Miami International – Miami

Macy’s locations with additional sales associate support:

Macy’s Short Hills – Short Hills, N.J.

Macy’s Mall of Georgia – Buford, Ga.

Macy’s Lenox Square – Atlanta

Macy’s Aventura – North Miami

Macy’s Roosevelt Field – Garden City, N.Y.

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