4 minutes

Together, these AI retail recommendations showed what's at stake for retailers, team members and customers alike.

Artificial intelligence (AI) crossed over into numerous conversations at February’s eTail West conference in Palm Springs, Calif. Panelists from Minted, Stitch Fix, Sur La Table and other brands shared how retailers are using AI, as well as why they are being cautious and — importantly — how they are balancing rollouts to value human expertise. All of these AI retail recommendations together showed what’s at stake for retailers, team members and customers alike.

In a Feb. 28 panel, Jeff Cooper, the director of data science at the personal styling service Stitch Fix, made the case for leveraging AI while keeping human touches active and visible in customer experience. Cooper wasn’t alone with this perspective, which was also front and center during other retailers’ panels at the show.

The importance of human expertise

Identifying when AI tools need expert oversight can be a challenge, according to Jeff Cooper, director of data science at Stitch Fix. As he articulated during an eTail West AI panel, a company may be able to save resources in some areas. Nevertheless, in his view, brands should not lose sight of the human domain expertise that may still be required to use AI resources in the best possible ways.

AI panel at eTail West 2024

Stephen Curial, chief technology officer at Curial, and Jeff Cooper, director of data science at Stitch Fix, speaking at eTail West 2024 | Photo credit: eTail West

Stitch Fix is No. 42 in the Top 1000. The Digital Commerce 360 database ranks North America’s online retailers by web sales. In it, Digital Commerce 360 categorizes Stitch Fix as an Apparel & Accessories retailer.


“Much of the data collection has already happened for these large-scale generative tools,” Cooper said. “You don’t need to worry about collecting your billions of data points to get started with some of them, but you do need to be able to bring in your expertise and your data and find people in your organization who are willing to help teach those models as to what they can do for your client.”

Controls and limits for AI

Cooper emphasized the importance of “appropriate controls and moderations and humans in the loop” for achieving results that provide positive experiences for customers. In one example, he shared how Stitch Fix as a retailer uses AI in its recommendations. As AI helps to optimize clothing recommendations, he said Stitch Fix also ensures that human judgment and creativity are still driving decisions.

“We are using for our outfit completion model the judgments and creativity of our human stylists to help train a model that can then generate tens of millions of outfits a day,” he said. “We’re not turning our trend predictions completely over to an algorithm where we don’t have full control over which direction it might go in — but instead we’re using our stylists to train a model where we believe in its understanding of current fashion trends and where the market is going.

Cooper also underscored the value of visible human presence in customer experience. In doing so, he brought up its role in customer experience when Stitch Fix’s boxes are delivered.


“Similarly, our stylists for our clients deliver rich, personalized advice via written notes to our clients in every box that they get,” he stated. “That’s an important part of the experience, but also one that we can help speed up with AI.”

AI retail recommendations and customer experience

Angela Hsu, the former chief marketing officer at Bed Bath & Beyond, flagged the same enduring need for human connection. In her onstage remarks the same day at eTail West, she praised what it has enabled for retailers and marketers. At the same time, she urged the audience to maintain a sense of perspective, even as technology pushes boundaries.

“It all depends on the data, right? And the ID graph and how you train the model,” Hsu said. “And I feel like there’s still a long way to go. We’ve been talking about personalization for decades or longer and probably the latest technology is going to take it to the next level.”

Hsu brought the conversation back to fundamental goals that AI does not necessarily displace.


“At the end of the day, we’ll still have to come back to what’s best for the consumer,” she said. “How do you make it easy and personalized? And don’t get off track by the shiny object and then forget what’s most important.”

In Hsu’s view, those two priorities should be “the shoppers that spend money” and building “a brand that lasts.”

Editor’s note: This was the second in a two-part series about AI perspectives at eTail West in 2024. Read more from leaders at Minted and Sur La Table in the first part of this story.

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