Some of the Lucidworks gang is in Chicago this week at the annual Internet Retailer Conference + Exhibition (IRCE). Be sure to come say hello at booth #281 if you're looking for AI, search, or a complimentary Americano. If you're not familiar with IRCE, it is a huge conference for retailers, and the vendors and partners that serve them. Everyone is here, all of the big names you know - from Oracle to MailChimp to the US Postal Service - are present and accounted for.

If I had to decide on a theme for the year, it is definitely AI. Lucidworks was here last year with “AI-powered” on our booth and this year everyone  claims to be “AI-powered.” The theme was further reinforced in a keynote with Accenture’s Vish Ganapathy coining “XAI” for “explainable AI” and explaining that AI might not be the panacea everyone is expecting.ia

I hate fun facts hat

One of the great things about this year’s conference is that you can hear from people working in the trenches in both omnichannel and online channels, like Born+Made CEO Jackie Dew. Rather than a hundred aimless vendor spiels, you get a host of actionable insights for how other retailers worked their way through the business and technical journey to a more viable and profitable business.

It is only day two, but here are five major takeaways for customers looking for solutions in this space:

One. “Nothing is ‘out-of-the-box,’ it may be in the box, but you have to put in the work to get it out of the box.” This advice comes from Rodney J. Woodruff, VP of Engineering at Weight Watchers. For solutions like Lucidworks Fusion, this means making sure you get your signals into the system and test which combination of collaborative filtering, search tuning, and AI-based recommendations work best for your customers.

Two. For the love of all that is good and holy, perform A/B testing. When the crowd was polled on the first day of the conference, most retailers responded that they were not doing A/B testing on their online properties. Guido Campello, CEO of lingerie company Cosabella, explained how essential this had been to their efforts. They were not just A/B testing their search experience but even what tagline goes on the top of the page. Lucidworks built A/B testing right into our Fusion platform so that you can test what changes work best for your site.

Lucidworks Fusion screenshot

Three. There are a lot of vendors. I have pictures that don’t capture the sheer scale of the conference and accompanying vendor expo. There are vendors who build machines that take 360 degree photos of your product so shoppers can virtually walk around the item. Nearly every software vendor claims to have implemented AI in the last year. However, unless they have a holistic solution and proven customer references on how that will lead to increased conversions, keep in mind that some firms will stamp whatever buzzword is currently cool on their product. IRCE had a whole workshop on evaluating the AI capabilities of vendors. For Fusion, we not only have customer references but we can also educate your team on strategies that you can use to produce better results than Amazon using AI.

irce exhibts

Four. Speakers from the most successful vendors like Rodney Woodruff of Weight Watchers and Nathan Richter, head of digital strategy for Urban Outfitters said avoiding any monolithic closed software that doesn’t provide an API was the best way to go. Your second best choice was building a REST API on top of it so that your organization can adapt to an ever changing and more competitive landscape. Both Lucidworks Fusion and its Apache Solr core have been API-based, modular, and extensible from the beginning to give retailers the most flexibility and power.

irce audience

Five. Bernardine Wu, a consultant with retail experts Fit for Commerce, polled the room and found that about 80% said they were looking to “re-platform” their technology stack in then next 18 months. “You just heard all of the vendors gasp.” They were gasping because they knew this meant that they hadn’t delivered results and technology compelling enough to keep a customer around.

lucidworkers in booth

I’m excited for tomorrow’s sessions on managing the technology stack particularly the session on machine learning. I’ve found a lot of further validation for all of the hard work Lucidworks has put into its AI solutions. Many of the technology vendors are starting to catch up to where we were last year, but customer success is what speaks the loudest.

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