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How Lowe’s and Levi Strauss are using A.I. to reinvent retail

November 9, 2021, 12:45 AM UTC

Most consumers don’t want (or need) to know what technology retailers are developing to improve the shopping experience. The average customer just want retailers to make their lives easier, more interesting, and offer up a more personalized experience.

At Lowe’s, that means consumers who have a LiDAR-enabled phone can now hold it up and, following some easy-to-follow directions, measure their room for new carpet, and order it from right inside the Lowe’s app. No installer appointment (or waiting at home through a four-hour time slot) necessary.

“I think the best products we can ever make is to put A.I. into product and not make it complex for our customers,” said Seemantini Godbole, Lowe’s EVP and CIO. “They don’t know they are using an AI powered product but they find it really easy to do their most complex tasks and that’s what we are achieving.”

The goal: make the “complex space” of home improvement and renovations easier to navigate, leaving consumers to think about what they want to buy, not the steps they need to take leading up to those decisions.

That focus on using A.I. to create better experiences for customers was a key point both Godbole and Levi Strauss & Co. SVP and chief strategy and artificial intelligence officer Katia Walsh made during a session about Reimagining Retail at Fortune‘s Brainstorm A.I. conference.

One sector that has been slow to put technology to work for it is the apparel industry. Katia Walsh joined Levi Strauss & Co. two years ago, just before the COVID pandemic slammed into retail.

The apparel industry has always been manufacture first, then sell. Walsh says the new technologies are helping push her company to flip the script. In the future apparel will be “first sell and then manufacture” so customers can order their exact body size and pattern of choice. Customers will create their “dream garment and we will make it for you.”

To help drive change within the company, Walsh’s team runs boot camps for existing staffers who want to integrate analytical and computer skills into their existing jobs. One of the boot camp graduates is an apparel designer who is now “applying computer vision to create new Levi’s trucker jackets.”

The designer created a “style transfer algorithm [and is] feeding thousands of art imagines into the iconic trucker jacket and out comes a Van Gogh Starry Night trucker jacket or a David Hockney trucker jacket…which we’re actually going to manufacture and that is mind blowing. It’s completely new and done by someone who just picked up machine learning skills.”

While the investment in putting all of this technology to work—as well as the training and/or new hires that go along with it—is significant, Walsh says Levi Strauss & Co.’s experience during the COVID pandemic makes it clear that it can pay off. In the two years since Walsh joined Levi’s, her team has delivered ten times the return on the company’s ROI.

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