IBM's Watson unit invests in Fluid, eyes personal shopping applications

IBM has invested an undisclosed sum in Fluid, an e-commerce and omnichannel shopping company, to create a Watson-powered personal shopping app prototype for The North Face.
Written by Larry Dignan, Contributor

IBM said Tuesday that its Watson unit has invested in Fluid, a digital commerce firm, to develop personalized shopping applications using Big Blue's cognitive computing tools.

When IBM formed the Watson group earlier this year it set aside $100 million to invest directly in ecosystem partners. The company recently announced an investment in Welltok to develop healthcare applications for Watson.

Fluid has worked with The North Face to develop its digital commerce strategy. On tap: A Watson powered personal shopping app for the outdoor apparel company.

For IBM, success of the Watson ecosystem is critical. The company is losing the patience of Wall Street for lack of growth and earnings quality and ditching slow growth businesses for ones with better prospects like big data and analytics, commerce, mobile, and cloud. The issue is that these transitions take time.

Terms of the Fluid investment weren't disclosed. Fluid's new app, the Fluid Expert Personal Shopper builds on Watson and aims to create natural human interactions to learn shopping preferences.

Expert Personal Shopper (XPS) is a cloud application that answers questions on the fly and gives product details. Marketers plug into the app to interact with consumers.

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IBM has provided Fluid with experts and access to technology and intellectual property. The first Fluid XPS prototype is being developed for apparel retailer The North Face. For instance, a shopper could ask XPS what gear would be best for a five-day hike in Utah in September and get recommendations. Fluid has worked with The North Face for more than eight years to develop its digital experience.

The overall goal of Fluid and IBM is to provide technology that will offer the expertise and advice provided by a store sales rep and help consumers cut down online research time before a purchase. Fluid XPS will absorb North Face data, reviews, and online content via Watson to make recommendations.

Fluid earlier this month acquired 8thBridge, a social commerce technology company.

In a statement, Kent Deverell, CEO of Fluid, said the partnership with IBM is designed to infuse digital retail with "the same experience we have in real-world stores with great sales reps every day."

Previously: IBM Watson heads to Africa with $100m investment | IBM CEO Rometty: Watson, cognitive computing mainstreaming begins | IBM forms Watson Business Group: Will commercialization follow?

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