NEW YORK: Outdoor apparel retailer The North Face has provided a pointer as to how ecommerce might become more human in the future thanks to a tie-up with digital shopping consultancy Fluid that leverages the latest "cognitive" technology.

Fluid's "Expert Personal Shopper" system is powered by IBM's Watson, a cognitive computing platform which previously proved victorious on television gameshow Jeopardy! in 2011.

As an early partner of IBM's Watson Developers Cloud, Fluid developed the "Expert Personal Shopper" app, which uses natural language and dialogue-driven interaction to bring the in-store experience onto the web.

Ginni Rometty, IBM's chairman/president/CEO, told delegates at the National Retail Federation's Big Show that the new tool seeks to answer a pressing question: "If you could bring the best behaviour, the best insight, of any store associate and put that online, what good would it do?"

Watson itself is qualitatively different from the interfaces most online retailers currently employ, according to Rometty. "It is not a search engine. It finds a needle in a haystack; it knows what the haystack is," she said.

As such, Rometty suggested, The North Face/Fluid application of this system offers a "feel" of the next steps for retail – on the internet and beyond. (For more, including a walk-through of "Expert Personal Shopper" on, read Warc's report: IBM and The North Face seek to reshape ecommerce.)

"This is not just a new era of technology. This will be a new era of commerce," she said. "This is about business paradigms that are going to change.

"I assert this will radically change your industry. It will allow you to build relationships in a way that builds trust that you never had before."

The need for retailers to adapt is powerful, given that 2.5 gigabytes of data are now created every day, stretching the capacity of traditional software and programming to their limit.

"You're going to be very frustrated with all that before it gets better," said Rometty. "You're going to have to find, just in time, a way to deal with it. And that's what this era will do."

Data sourced from Warc