Yes, artificial intelligence can be used to, say, garner award show accolades for Alicia Vikander in "Ex Machina" or hash out daddy issues with Tony Stark (a.k.a. Iron Man) in "Avengers: Age of Ultron" or, perhaps, clone your spouse in real life. But the hi-tech and seemingly futuristic system can also be used to enhance your online shopping experience, which is what luxury e-marketplace Orchard Mile is doing with My Mile, an e-boutique that's constantly being updated and personalized for each individual shopper. Behind the scenes, predictive and intuitive algorithms — not scary robots — use your shopping habits and preferences to essentially make your browsing and buying experience more focused (and less overwhelming), easier and hopefully, more fun.
Orchard Mile — named after two international luxury retail destinations Orchard Road in Singapore and the Magnificent Mile in Chicago — was founded in late 2015 by Jennie Baik, former Head of Strategy for Burberry Americas and Julia LeClair, founder of personal shopper start-up MyDROBE. The e-commerce site features full womenswear and accessories collections from designers and beauty lines from brands, including Tom Ford Beauty, Laura Mercier and By Terry. Orchard Mile either works directly with the brand or, in the case of designers who don't have full e-commerce build out, partners with Saks Fifth Avenue to drop ship the items. Essentially, Orchard Mile has the full, unedited collections, while My Mile allows you to hone down from there and create your own e-boutique that's targeted to your specific wants and needs.
"Everyone thinks that the passion project was Orchard Mile, which is a digital mall, but it's actually not," explains Baik at De Maria in the Nolita neighborhood in New York City. "Our passion project is really about My Mile and could you create a one-to-one relationship with a client, a shopper, consumer, where you knew before they came into the store what their preferences were."
Growing at the rate of 25 percent a month, Orchard Mile has been a way for Baik, LeClair and their team to determine their audience's browsing and buying habits and also identify the "pain points" from an online shopping experience. "Every time you go to a site, your filters are never saved," she says, about the common complaint. "They always assume from the very beginning that it's your first date." And shoppers don't fit into one mold, like "downtown" or "preppy," not to mention, many of our shopping missions and purchases tend to be occasion-based, like office attire, "beach vacation" or, as we all know this time of year, wedding season.
So with My Mile, which launches today, shoppers can scroll and set specific filters to details beyond favorite brands and clothing and shoe size (XS to XL and 5 to 9.5, respectively) — and the filters stay put. First, you first select which labels you prefer, then further cull through multiple category levels from there. For instance, for Zimmermann, I only want dresses, jumpsuits and "beachwear" (no tops or pants), or I like Rag & Bone accessories and can filter the shoe category down to just boots and flats and bags to only satchels and cross-bodies.
Once a customer joins My Mile, they're automatically signed up for a newsletter that is personalized based on set preferences (and ongoing shopping habits) and the email magically updates its product offerings and sale updates based on the moment you open the email. Because, if your inbox is like mine, the message might sit there for days. "So it's an exciting, real-time version of what's relevant to you, based on what's in stock today, not pre-order," Baik explains. "Consumers are immediate today. We're not going to be selling things that aren't relevant."
Let's nerd out for a moment: To establish the AI back-end, the Orchard Mile team both built out their own machine learning algorithms and partnered with various retail and fashion-focused AI companies. The process is constantly evolving and improving, based on customer's shopping patterns and habits and consumer feedback. The retail partners benefit from the intuitive data collected, too. Baik uses the example of a maillot. "Is this really being used for beachwear? Maybe people are wearing it on the street, like that bodysuit look. Or is it club-wear or are people just like wearing it underneath a jacket for work? The cross-shopping behavior is what's really interesting to brands," Baik explains.
In the future, My Mile will also further personalize the shopping experience to include invitations to special in-person designer events for New York-based clients, like fashion shows and secret sales. "The loyalty system within Orchard Mile is about is really tying products to services or [make the purchase] more experiential to make a handbag more than a bag," says Baik.
Although, interestingly, if not ironically, the customer service aspect of Orchard Mile prides itself in more low-tech — but high-value — experiences. I dialed the phone number listed on the "Contact Us" page and a real human person answered and talked to me! Baik and LeClair also handwrite thank you notes to shoppers. Of course, live-chat and email options are also available for shoppers to contact customer service with questions or issues.
As the back-end technology and consumer-end shopping behavior evolves, My Mile will constantly advance, too. "There's so much white space, this is the 2.0 My Mile," Baik says. "But once customer feedback comes back and we see how people are using it, it will get better and better." But she'll keep on hand-writing those thank you notes, of course.