Israeli startup use artificial intelligence and NLU for a conversational – virtual shopping assistant

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When you walk into a clothing store, it usually doesn’t take very long to hear the question “can I help you?” from a hopefully very helpful store assistant.

Some of us welcome the interruption while others do not.

And for those of us who do, the shopping experience can become a real adventure. We may be looking for a summer outfit, or a swimsuit, perhaps even digs for a special occasion.

The sales assistant may be very knowledgeable, and often very good at the job, asking questions and offering shoes, glasses, hats or other accessories that may bring the look together.

You may leave the store happy and relaxed, with a heavy bag and a lighter wallet but content nonetheless. 

According to TimeTrade, 90 percent of all consumers are more likely to buy something when helped by a knowledgeable associate.

Mmuze (pronounced “muse”) is an Israeli startup that brings the advantages of an in-store representative to online retailers, using artificial intelligence and NLU (Natural Language Understanding) for a conversational, virtual shopping assistant.

Mmuze was founded in 2014 by Ran Zfoni, CEO, Efrat Blaier, CTO, and Dorit Deddi, CPO, all with tech-centric backgrounds. Before growing Mmuze’s R&D and business development teams, which now make up around 30 people in offices in Tel Aviv, London, and New York, the founders worked for a few years to solidify the algorithms for their AI conversational product.

Mmuze helps take the experience of an in store associate and brings it online.

Now the latest product information, style, beauty and recipe recommendations are all available to customers online, in app, or via smart speaker through one consistent cross platform experience.

No scrolling, or filtering required. Instead a virtual personal shopping assistant waits to ask and answer all of the most relevant questions, guiding them through the ultimate online shopping experience via natural language two-way dialog.

Giving retailers a ‘voice’

Leah Naaman, VP of marketing at Mmuze, says the founders essentially created a “brain” that can hold two-way dialogue with customers “without anyone powering it on the other end.”

What Mmuze provides to retailers is the infrastructure to utilize this two-way dialogue technology to “strengthen their relationship with customers and guide them to purchase.”

Mmuze provides retailers with a solution “to speak with, and personalize, the product discovery and purchase journey for each and every one of their customers,” the company says.

Customers can communicate with the retailers via Mmuze’s platform through text, voice, or chat (or a combination) on mobile or desktop.

“Using Conversational AI technology that understands a user’s intent, Mmuze interchangeably supports both mobile and desktop usage, as well as conversation through text messages and smart speakers, meaning a user can begin by using the voice functionality on one platform and then switch to a different device to continue that same experience through text functionality,” Naaman explains in an email exchange.

The technology has been available since 2018 and Mmuze says it works with a number of fashion and beauty retailers including Clinique, Estee Lauder, US Polo, ASOS, and Perry Ellis to name a few.

Naaman describes the shopping experience with Mmuze as “product discovery in a unique way.” Instead of having the consumer do the heavy lifting when sifting through thousands, or tens of thousands of products on an online store, Mmuze’s technology helps narrow down the list to provide an easier and more efficient digital shopping experience.

“If you are being specific you can give customers a high-quality experience from the beginning,” she explains.

This summer, Mmuze announced that its voice shopping platform would become available to grocery retailers. The company declined to disclose any of its partners in this sector but offered a short video that helps to visualize the possibilities Mmuze technology has for grocery stores.

Leveling the playing field?

Mmuze’s tech can comprehend both text and voice to guide customers to specific products as well as related items. It can “up-sell” an individual purchase by recommending additional items that the customer may not have known about, or may not have known they needed.

“It’s essentially leveling the playing field for retailers who are looking for a way to compete with the big players using voice shopping, namely Amazon,” Naaman says.

“Voice commerce sales last year totaled $2.1 billion and it’s expected to skyrocket to over $40 billion by 2022, so retailers really want in on this but since it’s such a new technology, they don’t always know where or what to begin with.

Mmuze is providing the technology that gives retailers the ability to offer their customers a more personalized shopping experience – essentially, a personal shopper, that can actually produce what the customer is looking for and make relevant suggestions, ultimately leading them through the sale cycle.”

Mmuze says it can not only increase cart value by 28 percent, but also boost conversion rates (visitors to a site vs sales) by 107 percent.

“If you walk into a physical store today, there is a likelihood of 20-40 percent that you are actually going to walk out having bought something.

If you go to an online store today, there is a 2-4 percent chance, so a tenth of that, that you will leave that website having actually bought something…We know one experience is more successful than the other,” she says.

Smarter voice tech

Mmuze’s tech appears to be more versatile than other AI voice recognition software, because Mmuze personalizes the infrastructure to the company by basically flooding the “brain” with knowledge of the products.

“The problem with most voice technologies happening today is they are not designed for retail, so they are generic. They intend to solve many different cases,” Zfoni was quoted as saying by The Spoon earlier this year.

Mmuze created a “shopping dialogue” that is unique to a retailer.

Naaman explains: If you take fashion, for example, our technology reads all the material it can on fashion, whether it be media, social media, public data, or online conversations, and it essentially creates its own fashion ontology. So, it creates its own conversational structure about fashion,” and is ready for use with knowledge on the industry.”

Mmuze has raised some $4 million to date and won a $1 million prize last year as part of the international startup competition NYC Play hosted by Jerusalem Venture Partners.

Earlier this year, it was named a “cool vendor for conversational platforms” by Gartner, a leading American research and advisory company for information technology.

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