The gift concierge service that uses artificial intelligence is part of 1-800-Flowers’ technology and service strategy.

Consumers scrambling this week to find the perfect Mothers’ Day gift can find a helping hand in GWYN, an online “gift concierge” that helps shoppers narrow the selection of products sold through Inc.’s nine gift-oriented brands.

1-800-Flowers added a test version of GWYN—an acronym for Gifts When You Need—to’s home page Tuesday. Accessible to desktop and mobile shoppers, the tool asks shoppers to answer a series of basic questions, such as the delivery ZIP code and date, and then to tell GWYN by typing in their answer about the gifting occasion and product preferences. GWYN then returns a handful of results it deems most likely to fit the shopper’s needs, with each flagged by how well they match the criteria entered, such as high or medium match.  Consumers can continue the back-and-forth exchanges with GWYN to get more choices.

It is the latest in a series of technology-infused shopping options the e-retailer, No. 57 in the Internet Retailer 2016 Top 500, has rolled out recently. Last week, 1-800-Flowers enabled customers who own an Inc. device that runs its Alexa software to order flowers and gifts by verbally asking Alexa to place an order with Earlier in April, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg demonstrated how consumers can order from the e-retailer via the Facebook Messenger mobile messaging app, which applies interactive software that uses artificial intelligence to simulate human conversation.

GWYN, too, is rooted in artificial intelligence software and can ask questions and interpret the meaning of the answers. GWYN uses digital design agency Fluid Inc.’s Expert Personal Shopper software platform, which uses an application protocol interface to run the exchanges through IBM Corp.’s Watson supercomputer. The more exchanges consumers have with GWYN, the more it will learn and fine-tune the results. Apparel manufacturer The North Face, a division of VF Corp., No. 92 in the Top 500, also is using the Fluid/IBM Watson combination to help consumers select products.

The recent technology rollouts are meant to satisfy shoppers’ morphing shopping expectations and to position 1-800-Flowers where consumers are, CEO Chris McCann says. The initiatives  feed into the push for so-called conversational commerce—the use of technology to enable a more natural back-and-forth in facilitating transactions—and of distributed commerce, which is the ability to conduct transactions beyond the confines of the e-retail site.


“This is a combination of where the consumer is and where the technology is going,” McCann says.

The e-retailer is no stranger to being an early adopter of technology, although not every approach has panned out. 1-800-Flowers was among the first retailers to open a store on Second Life, the online virtual world that grabbed headlines in the mid-2000s but ultimately didn’t attract a large user base. 1-800-Flowers also was among the retailers consumers could buy from via Facebook Gifts, a shopping service the social network launched in 2012 and closed in 2014.  

1-800-Flowers has been able to build or hook into these services because it designed its technology to adapt to and accommodate emerging technologies. “We’ve been trying to build a technology stack in a flexible fashion that can anticipate change and be agile,” McCann says. “The ability to move into these areas as fast and quickly as we did is a byproduct of that.” He characterizes the additional investment required to build out the Facebook Messenger, Amazon Alexa and GWYN services as “moderate.”    

The goal, McCann says, is to convey to consumers that 1-800-Flowers is their “total gifting solution.” The e-retailer has nine gift-oriented brands under its umbrella now, spanning flowers, candy, cookies, popcorn and meat. With GWYN, the e-retailer is able to offer product results that match consumers’ gift needs. “It displays our total value proposition to you as a consumer in one representation,” McCann says.