Game Changers: How AI & Data Create the Instant Outfit
Volume 1: Michelle Bacharach, Co-Founder of FINDMINE
At The Next Brick, we’re deeply interested in companies that are transforming retail through technological innovation—companies that are changing the game by elevating customer experience, streamlining the path to purchase, enhancing loyalty programs, or rethinking store layout (among many other efforts)
We chatted with Michelle Bacharach, founder of the startup FINDMINE, to pick her brain on the origins and evolution of her company. FINDMINE’s automated "Complete the Look" technology actually matches products to create complete outfits, generating tremendous incremental sales for apparel retailers and e-tailers alike.
Could you give us some background on how FINDMINE came into being?
I had moved to New York for business school, and I was frustrated as a consumer in my shopping experience, because I thought there was too much friction in the after-sale process.
I would buy an individual product, because most retailers sell things to you in an individual capacity, but then have to figure out what to do with it.
So I’d buy this and think, oh I love this crop top, but wait now I need a specific bra that goes with it and high-waisted pants would probably look better. Can I really pull this off for a non-weekend or beach context? I'd have all these questions and it felt like the retailer was selling it to me and then saying, “okay, bye, good luck.”
That poor user experience and the allergic reaction to friction I had was really the starting point of wanting to solve that problem.
I've been trying to solve the basic problem since 2010, but my co-founder and I didn't actually launch something to retailers until August of 2015.
How does FINDMINE work, and how does your technology pair together items?
We're taking our cue from the merchant, whereas personalization technology takes its cue from the customer, and I think that's a big differentiator.
What we're doing is saying what particular brands or retailers think is stylish and whether they would be comfortable sending you out into the world having dressed you in their stuff. And so the data source that we use is actually the merchant’s outfit that they've created in the past.
We look at a range of facets to try to figure out why something works, and then we just do more of what works and less of what doesn't.
What we think about ourselves doing is scaling the expertise of the brand or the retailer. Every single product comes with a recipe for how to use it or how to be successful with it.
Have you observed any challenges retailers encounter in accepting more data-driven tools versus their own fashion know-how?
The way our system is set up is that we're reacting to the vision, taste, and instincts of the merchants themselves. If you're a merchant in a large organization, you're really good at what you do, and what we're trying to do is scale that.
It's really fun to make 10 outfits but not so fun to make 500 outfits. There are diminishing returns to the fun, creativity, and usefulness of a person making the 500th outfit. So, what we do is we say you make 10, you tell us what is stylish, and we're going to react to it and make the rest of them.
And then you get your time back to do all the things your creative human brain can do that automation can't.
Can you tell us about the different applications of your tech across touchpoints?
When it comes to e-commerce, the product detail page is a great example. The other places in e-commerce that make sense include Add-to-Cart, when you can pop something up that tells customers how to wear what they just added for the complete look.
In-store, there are two areas. One is customer-facing—digital touch-screens, magic mirrors that we can plug our tech into. And then the other area is store associates. In an app or even just on the point of sale computer, the associate can look up top-performing outfits in my geography and say, “Oh, this customer has this jacket, I'm gonna make an up-sell to them.”
We’ve also used a virtual stylist on Facebook messenger. So, you're chatting with the style expert and they're making these outfits for you, but it's actually using FINDMINE intelligence.
What are the results your clients are getting with FINDMINE?
We’ve found that spend is three times higher for customers who interact with the complete outfits.
And, for customers interacting with FINDMINE technology, we've consistently seen 6% incremental revenue. So, if you're making $100 million dollars a year on e-commerce and you sign up for FINDMINE, we should drive six million incremental dollars in revenue.
What do you think are the most powerful shifts in brick-and-mortar retail these days?
I think what Amazon Go is doing and other companies that are working on technologies that let you just walk out with the product are huge. It killed the line! The death of the line is gonna be the best thing ever for retail.
The other thing is IoT, which enables you to take something and just walk out the door with it. But also IoT for other purposes, like tracking products within the overall supply chain and life cycle,
I don't think we know which technology type is going to be the winner for tracking physical product, but there's really cool stuff like a digital ID woven into the fabric so that you know where it's been. Sustainability actually becomes possible as a score and attribute on a product level, because you know the factory it came from and how much water was used to produce it, all digitally embedded in that particular product.
What technologies do you see customers flocking to in retail?
Messaging. It's not really the next e-commerce yet, but e-commerce wasn't the next e-commerce until it was. It’s possible everyone's going to be buying everything through messaging apps like Dirty Lemon, which lets you buy directly via text.
Whether it be Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram, or SMS, it’s such a powerful channel. And the definition of where messaging happens is quickly evolving, because consumer adoption is just pretty crazy.
Are there other challenges you're seeing retailers and e-tailers experience with innovation?
I feel like the ability to tie strategy to tactical action and then measure the effect of that action is something that I've seen less inclination or ability to do consistently in retail than in other industries.
I think there's a lot of fear about innovation. And there's a lot of throwing the baby out with the bathwater: “We tried this chatbot and it didn't work, so chatbots aren't for us.” Maybe the one you picked was wrong. Maybe the use case was wrong.
Learning how to test and learn rather than test and throw away is essential.
Retailers already take massive risks with the products that they sell. They're too risk-taking in that area and not data-driven enough in the area of innovation. The danger is being so risk-averse because they’ve used up all their risk capital on the product side.
♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦
With the help of AI, retailers can use the data already available to them to boost employee productivity and wow shoppers with superior customer service. Products like FINDMINE give brick-and-mortar stores a way to answer product dilemmas in real-time while customers are still in the store. Emphasizing customer experience is what drives incremental sales and deepens customer loyalty. When the experience is personalized, customers are that much more likely to come back again and again.