E-retailers The North Face and 1-800-Flowers use Fluid’s Expert Personal Shopper, also known as XPS.

IBM Corp. has purchased the Expert Personal Shopper or XPS division of digital agency Fluid Inc. XPS is a web-based service that enables consumers to ask questions and receive answers and recommendations from a computer system that learns and perfects its responses over time. The companies did not announce the purchase price.

XPS already is powered by IBM Watson’s machine learning technology. Watson is a computer that builds upon advances in artificial intelligence so that it can engage in dialogue with people, learning over time how to improve its answers and its conversation skills, according to IBM. Retailers including Macy’s Corp., No. 6 the Internet Retailer 2016 Top 500 Guide, are using Watson technology in various ways to grow sales. Additionally, The North Face, which is owned by VF Corp. (No. 92), and 1-800-Flowers.com Inc. (No. 57) use XPS. Both of those retailers will become IBM clients with the acquisition, IBM says.

IBM invested in XPS in 2014 as part of a larger pool of $100 million in funding earmarked for direct investment in technology using Watson. The XPS product and several members of the XPS team will become part of IBM iX, or the IBM Interactive Experience team, IBM says.

“We look to incorporate the Expert Personal Shopper platform into the customer engagement and commerce solutions that we create for our retail clients,” says Paul Papas, global leader, IBM iX. “In addition to retail, we believe XPS can be leveraged and applied to the digital properties for brands across a variety of industries.”

1-800-Flowers earlier this year tested adding XPS-powered GWYN—an acronym for Gifts When You Need—to 1800Flowers.com’s home page. Accessible to desktop and mobile shoppers, the tool asked 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 their gifting occasion and product preferences. GWYN then returned a handful of results it deemed most likely to fit the shopper’s needs, with each flagged by how well they matched the criteria entered, such as high or medium match. Consumers could continue the back-and-forth exchanges with GWYN to get more choices and the tool would improve its answers over time.


The North Face also has conducted a trial using the Fluid/IBM Watson combination to help consumers select products.

Macy’s earlier this year began testing Watson technology in its mobile site on the macys.com/storehelp page. Consumers in a Macy’s store can submit questions about locations of products, brands or facilities, and services regarding the Macy’s store they are in. Shoppers will quickly receive a response and can chat further if they need more information.