SXSW: Google, J.Crew Execs Discuss Online Shopping In the Age of A.I.

Gen Zers see shopping as a form of entertainment.

Deadline Studio at SXSW 2024
Gen Z shoppers increasingly search with their phone cameras, instead of just typing in keywords. Wes Ellis/Deadline via Getty Images

Artificial intelligence (A.I.) is affecting every industry. In retail, A.I. means an increasingly personalized experience for shoppers. Tech giants and traditional retail companies are using the technology to create as close of a shopping experience online as a person can get in a store. At this year’s SXSW, Lilian Rincon, Google (GOOGL)’s director of consumer shopping, and Danielle Schmelkin, the chief intelligence officer at J.Crew, discussed how they aimed to achieve that for their respective companies. 

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During a presentation yesterday (March 8), Rincon spoke about existing “gaps” in online shopping between customer satisfaction and the products they purchase. She cited data showing that as much as 60 percent of online shoppers return a purchase because it doesn’t meet their expectation and more than half of shoppers “don’t feel represented when they go online.”

Rincon demonstrated technology from Google’s try-on feature, which uses A.I. to show how clothing would look on models of different shapes, sizes, skin tones and genders. For her, A.I. can be used to effectively show how clothes and fabric move and mold to the contours of different body types. The feature can also show the clothes look in different poses. Merchants only need to take pictures of a clothing item on a flat surface, and Google’s generative A.I. will then turn it into an image showing a person wearing the item.

J.Crew’s Schmelkin pointed out that A.I. can help improve discoverability for shoppers. Oftentimes, a shopper can’t find the item that they’re looking for because they are using a different or wrong set of search terms, according to the intelligence officer. Attaching more attributes to the clothes will make them easier for customers to find. 

What we want to do is augment every one of our products with probably close to 90 attributes and synonyms,” Schmelkin said. “Because we’re finding more and more people are getting a lot looser in how they’re searching for things, we want to make sure you can find what you’re looking for, this helps us tremendously.” 

The two executives are also thinking about how Gen Z will shop with A.I. According to Rincon, the age group of 11-26 sees shopping as a form of entertainment. This demographic group also takes to visual searching, or searching with their phone cameras, instead of typing in keywords.

“Ten years ago, a lot of it was text. Now we see lens actually being much more popular,” Rincon observed. “A lot of the younger generation is actually searching with their camera.”

SXSW: Google, J.Crew Execs Discuss Online Shopping In the Age of A.I.