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Observations In Luxury

Could AI help reduce the headaches of those shopping for second-hand luxury goods?

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Artificial intelligence (AI) may seem to be one of those subjects we can’t get away from at the minute, but it is also one that is hardly likely to relent in importance anytime soon. 

This much has been further highlighted by the rollout of a new generative chatbot that is designed to enhance the shopping experience, in association with resale platform Hardly Ever Worn It (Hewi). 

But what is the true significance of this move, and are ordinary shoppers even as convinced by the merits of AI as many of those who enthuse about it? 

Not everyone loves spending time digging for resale items 

For many of us who most love second-hand fashion – and we’re sure there will be no shortage of you reading this article – much of the joy of seeking out pre-owned items lies in the search process itself. 

Significant numbers of people, especially many Generation Z shoppers, like to scour platforms such as Depop, The RealReal, and Vestiaire Collective, on the lookout for excellently priced second-hand clothing and other items that suit their aesthetic just perfectly. 

And we aren’t merely claiming this is the case. At least one recent resale report, as mentioned by Vogue Business, stated that the opportunity to have more fun while shopping was one of the top three incentives for fans of buying second-hand, alongside sustainability and the chance to save money. 

But of course, this isn’t something that every fashion shopper loves – especially if they are accustomed to an in-person sales associate helping them with their luxury purchases. 

So, the introduction of the Maia chatbot – the brainchild of AI startup Sociate – could be a significant development for such consumers. Maia has already launched on Hewi, a British second-hand luxury resale platform that offers some 30,000 items for purchase. 

Maia: just one more step towards a drastically AI-optimised future? 

Yes, for those of you wondering, Hewi does have a search engine to enable would-be shoppers to begin whittling down those tens of thousands of goods. 

But Maia promises to go a lot further than the search-engine technology we have all known for years. That’s because it draws upon the concept of curious AI and is multimodal, which means that it “sees and speaks” in order to develop its understanding of the customer’s requirements. 

According to the founders of the Sociate tech, it doesn’t even require items to be labelled so that it can function, as it is capable of understanding images and context. 

So far, then, so impressive. But Maia faces major challenges that it needs to overcome if it is to become a central plank of how ordinary consumers shop for pre-owned goods in the future. In short, can it win – and keep – the trust of such shoppers? 

That question remains unanswered, but Sociate is well aware of the importance of answering it. The company has said that three metrics will be used to judge the extent to which Maia is successful: engagement (ensuring that people stay on the site and keep searching), discoverability (how many products users of the site look at), and conversion (people actually making purchases through the site). 

Overall, it’s about bolstering the user-friendliness of the shopping experience. And the AI has already shown how good it can be when responding to queries ranging from “I want to dress like Wednesday Addams” to a request for “Andy Warhol-inspired clothes” (according to Sociate founder and CEO Yasmin Topia, who said that the latter query brought up a soup-can dress in the Hewi inventory). These are queries that a traditional search engine would not be able to handle with the same effectiveness as the most recently developed AI solutions. 

But on the other hand, with half of consumers that Forrester polled in 2022 indicating that they were “often frustrated” by their experiences using chatbots, Maia faces the test of demonstrating to such sceptical shoppers that it is far from ‘just another’ chatbot. 

Here at Skywire London, we reckon that innovations like Maia are more than up to that particular task of convincing people. But at the same time, let’s not underestimate the challenges inherent in trying to apply AI to consumer-facing solutions. 

Would you like to find out more about the work our own digital creative and marketing agency can do to support your fashion, luxury, or lifestyle brand’s growth throughout 2023 and future years? If so, we’re ready and waiting to take your call or email, right here at Skywire London.  


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