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What The West Elm Pinterest Style Finder Means For The Future Of Retail

"The goal is to look at how users are interacting with the brand and figure out ways in which technology can make it even easier for customers to discover and purchase products that they love," says Luke Chatelain, VP of Innovation, West Elm.

While the use of artificial intelligence to support marketing programs from email to social media is commonplace, most retailers are still trying to figure out the range of predictive analytics and automation tools in a way that’s practical, not just another gimmick.

The recent launch of the West Elm Pinterest Style Finder is definitely positioned on the practical side. And at a time when retailers, and even grocers, are seeking ways to blunt Amazon’s march on online and offline shopping, the Williams-Sonoma home furnishings chain is squarely matching the e-commerce giant’s use of personalized recommendations and smart/visual search.

In an interview with Fast Company’s Sean Captain last week, Luke Chatelain, VP of Innovation at West Elm, described the West Elm Pinterest Style Finder as using AI and deep linking to understand a customer’s unique style profile from based on the Pinterest board of images they respond to.

As a result, the algorithm displays “a shortlist of furniture, rugs, curtains, mirrors, and other items in about 10 seconds.”

We followed up with Chatelain to get a sense of how the West Elm Pinterest Style Finder, which was developed by its image recognition platform Clarifai, fits into the brand’s online/offline discovery strategy.

GeoMarketing: What inspired West Elm’s use of Artificial Intelligence with Clarifai?

Luke Chatelain: A few years back, I had met Matt (Zeiler, Founder & CEO of Clarifai) when he was a PhD student at New York University. I got to test out some of his initial capabilities related to image recognition technology and immediately realized the genius of what he was doing.

When I joined West Elm in January, and we started discussing what we wanted to achieve through the West Elm Pinterest Style Finder, partnering with Clarifai was an obvious choice. Clarifai and West Elm have a shared appetite to use image recognition innovation to improve the customer experience, while simultaneously driving sales.

The West Elm Pinterest Style Finder uses tech from image recognition /AI platform Clarifai to present recommendations based on images people have responded to.

Was this part of a wider Williams-Sonoma initiative, or is this driven solely by West Elm’s individual brand strategy?

The West Elm Pinterest Style Finder is currently unique to West Elm, but it is a key example of how we are experimenting with new technology to enhance our customer’s experience across Williams-Sonoma, Inc. brands.

What are the goals of the West Elm Pinterest Style Finder?

At West Elm, we are focused on Design and Technology that Impacts. It’s about making the human connection, whether it is the people making the products, discovering LOCAL talent in our communities, or having a relationship with the local store manager/shopkeeper — technology doesn’t change that, but rather has the potential to enhance that. Since joining West Elm in the newly created role as VP of Innovation, the team has been focused on improving the customer experience and building customer loyalty at the various customer touch points we have, from in-store to online (+ mobile, social), and beyond.

The West Elm Pinterest Style Finder was inspired by the West Elm Style + Service team, which is a design service/consultation that is available at all our stores.

At the start of nearly every consultation, customers would share a Pinterest board for their dream room and ask designers to provide similar West Elm product suggestions.

In the Style + Service Basic complimentary style session, designers source inspiration, ideas, paint + fabric recommendations and more. In the same way that the Style + Service team seeks to make great design accessible, the Style Finder was founded on a similar objective of helping our customers on their journey to express their personal style at home.

West Elm: different images for different styles.

Are there any plans to incorporate this technology for search or other social media platforms, such as Instagram/Facebook?

The West Elm Pinterest Style Finder is still in its early phases.

Based on customer usage and feedback, we will continue to iterate the technology and capabilities across other social touchpoints, but I have nothing to share today about future availability.

Do you see a role for the use of AI in other marketing programs, such as email?

We believe AI has a role in all facets of the technology we create. From programmatic emails to personalized product recommendations, we’re working to create better, more streamlined customer experiences that are personalized to each user.

How does the Pinterest Style Finder reflect West Elm’s wider social marketing and technology strategy?

Across everything we do in-store to online and mobile, our top priority is about improving and enhancing the customer experience.

In my role, the goal is to look at how users are interacting with the brand and figure out ways in which technology can make it even easier for customers to discover and purchase products that they love.

So, for example, when we realized customers were using Pinterest to capture design inspiration, it was an exciting opportunity for us to make product discovery more seamless on WestElm.com.

Rather than asking customers to spend time searching through our website, we could instead integrate image recognition technology to serve up personalized recommendations – saving time and effort.

Is the Pinterest Style Finder program focused around select West Elm locations/regional areas, or is it meant to support all its 100 stores?

As mentioned earlier, the West Elm Pinterest Style Finder and our in-store Style & Services team share the same objective — of helping our customers on their journey to express their personal style at home — but the Style Finder is not restricted to the in-store experience. What’s so great about the Style Finder is its accessibility for those who might not be able to get into a West Elm store to speak with our Style & Services team. The tool is free and available to anyone, anytime.