Intelligent virtual agents bridge automation with meaningful in-store interactions to enable efficient and engaging pickups
Inference Solutions, a global provider of Intelligent Virtual Agents (IVAs), announced that Stein Mart is using the Inference platform to enable its Buy Online, Pickup In Store (BOPIS) experience. The national retailer expects about 15 percent of its online orders to shift to in-store pickup.
Headquartered in Florida, Stein Mart offers current season fashion apparel, shoes, accessories and home fashions at prices competitive with off-price retail chains. In early 2019, the retailer launched an initiative to expand its fulfillment channels to include BOPIS−a differentiator that has become increasingly important to retail consumers, said Maurice Louwerse, Director of IT Technical Services at Stein Mart. While some retailers provide BOPIS via merchandise lockers where customers can claim their orders without interacting with store associates, Stein Mart favored a different strategy.
“We didn’t want the experience to be anonymous, or to miss an opportunity to connect with our customers,” Louwerse said. “We wanted in-store pickup to be a unique touchpoint, where store associates could interact with customers and provide engaging experiences.”
Louwerse and his team envisioned a “smart button” that BOPIS customers could push when arriving in store to trigger an overhead page, alerting store associates to welcome the customer and ensure a delightful pickup. To develop the components of the smart button system, Stein Mart expanded its partnership with Inference, which also powers the retailer’s IVR system. Inference’s APIs, cloud-based code-free platform and flexible pricing allowed Stein Mart to quickly acquire additional virtual agents and easily integrate them with AWS IoT Enterprise buttons, which are programmable, WiFi smart devices that trigger cloud-based services. Stein Mart and Inference programmed the buttons to trigger virtual agents that can automate an overhead page to store associates with minimal delay.
The smart buttons enabled Stein Mart to bring its vision for an engaging BOPIS experience to life. BOPIS customers are catered to quickly and efficiently, and Stein Mart store associates can recommend additional purchases or relevant promotions during order pickup. Because the solution was easy to configure and deploy at scale, Stein Mart was able to make the experience available in all 283 stores ahead of schedule, by August 2019. Stein Mart’s speed to market established the company as the first U.S. off-price retailer to offer BOPIS.
“Inference has been a tremendous partner, and we are very happy with the entire infrastructure and the ecosystem we engineered,” Louwerse said. “Inference solutions are easy to implement and simple to maintain, and, because of the success and nimbleness of the BOPIS solution, we are in the process of leveraging smart buttons for customer assistance in other areas of our stores.”
Inference CEO Callan Schebella added, “Inference virtual agents are helping retailers tackle many of their most pressing challenges and opportunities. We were pleased to expand our partnership with Stein Mart to enable an elegant BOPIS solution, and we look forward to continuing shared success in the retail market.”