IBM and The North Face seek to reshape ecommerce

Stephen Whiteside

While many retailers focus on giving bricks-and-mortar stores a digital edge, IBM, the technology group, and The North Face, the outdoor apparel and equipment retailer, have set out to tackle an equally vexing problem: making ecommerce feel more human.

At the heart of this effort has been the IBM technology that powered Watson, a "cognitive" computer platform capable of understanding natural language – namely, the way people talk in everyday conversation – as well as learning and generating hypotheses. This characteristic puts it at odds with all previous systems, which simply counted or had to be fastidiously programmed.