‘Autonomous Shopping’: How Boxed Is Using Machine Learning for a Better User Experience

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Mobile wholesale retailer Boxed is implementing two new smart features to make re-ordering of frequently repurchased items as easy as possible.

The first feature is StockUp. This is available to all customers. Essentially, it is recommendations saying “Need These Now” and “Need These Soon” for ordered products the system has decided may be depleted soon.

Retail Dive:

Smart StockUp, which Boxed rolled out to its entire customer base this week after a limited pilot program, applies machine learning to customer data to predict when shoppers will most likely run low on a particular product. The feature is supposed to make re-ordering easier by sparing customers from having to make a mental checklist of needed items.

​Customers can fill out an optional survey to make the recommendations better.

The second feature is Concierge. Concierge automatically re-orders items when the system determines the customer is running out of stock. Obviously, this is opt-in. Concierge will be available to all customers this fall.

Retail Dive:

Boxed CTO Will Fong readily acknowledged in an email to Retail Dive Amazon’s influence in this area, but he said Boxed is focusing on a much bigger picture — autonomous shopping. “While Amazon has innovated in this space, Boxed is the first to offer a feature like Concierge, which is true autonomous shopping,” he said. “Autonomous shopping is the future, and the e-commerce industry is certainly shifting in a new direction as retailers discover new ways to predict and personalize what customers want to order.”

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TechCrunch:

“Another way you can think about it is if you had a virtual shopper assistant,” [Co-founder and CTO William Fong] said. He acknowledged that some customers might be perfectly fine on their own figuring out when they need to buy more toilet paper, but he predicted that others will embrace it as “this ultra-convenient way to shop” that “really unlocks time savings.”

It is not time savings that make this attractive to customers but savings on the mental costs of having to re-order at the right time. Think families with small children and other very busy people.

Boxed has been testing Concierge with business customers first. TechCrunch:

In fact, the company has already gone further in that direction with a small group of business customers who are testing a system where they automatically receive regular shipments of products from Boxed. (Fong said those shipments mix the goods you need for restocking with “discovery” items, so customers can still try out new products.)

Why test this with businesses first? Fong said there’s “a greater margin” for error when you’re ordering for a whole office.

“You don’t have to be super accurate,” he said. “If we send them a little something extra, it’s not a big deal.”

‘Autonomous’ or predictive shopping is going to play a major role in the online retail space for fast-moving consumer packaged goods.

Concierge is, essentially, another form of subscription e-commerce. It is just not based on a time frame, but on usage patterns.

Amazon of course has a good data set on those goods as well and an almost perfect data set through Dash Buttons in particular. It is only a matter of time until Amazon will be pushing similar features.

​Boxed has raised in total $133 million over four rounds.

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