Woolworths looks to large-scale conversational AI

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Woolworths looks to large-scale conversational AI

Expands focus on voice-enabled shopping experiences.

Woolworths is working on a “green field” conversational AI platform that it expects to run “at enterprise scale” in its operations.

The project forms part of what the supermarket giant says is “a roadmap of solutions powered by leading edge AI and ML” - artificial intelligence and machine learning - that will be used to create “future shopping” experiences.

It is being run under the auspices of Woolworths combined loyalty and digital arm, WooliesX.

The project came to light in a recent recruitment advertisement for a technology lead for conversational AI.

It appears the role could have input into some of the other virtual assistant and voice-enabled experiences that Woolworths has already built.

A Woolworths spokesperson said that “the job opening replaces an existing role on the team and will help deliver on the existing strategy we have in place with our partners.”

The spokesperson did not address iTnews' questions on the scope, timelines and goals for the greenfield conversational AI platform being built out.

The existence of an AI/ML roadmap within WooliesX has been known about since the back half of last year when part of the team behind it presented a closed-door session on aspects of the strategy.

Woolworths is also still experimenting with other voice-enabled platforms.

Notably, in October 2017, the supermarket operator launched an app for the Google Assistant that can be used to build a shopping list using voice commands.

In its current form, the app is less conversational than it is about providing voice responses to specific commands or phrases.

An FAQ published by Woolworths notes that the app has issues with generic commands.

“I used to be able to say ‘apple’ or ‘milk’ and it would be added to my list, but that doesn’t work anymore?”, one question asks.

“Please use the keyword ‘add’ when you want to add items to your list. Otherwise, our app gets confused about whether you want the price of milk, or to add or remove items from your list,” is the Woolworths response.

Another FAQ suggested a teething problem with logins for some of the earliest users of the Woolworths app.

“If you joined up before December 2017, after 30 days you will need to log in again. We are working closely with Google to resolve this problem,” the company said.

Woolworths’ spokesperson did not go into detail about outstanding limitations or challenges that the company had encountered working with Google Assistant.

“We're pleased with the way our voice partnership is progressing with Google and continue to work closely with them to improve the customer experience,” the spokesperson said.

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