This past year will be remembered as one of the most turbulent years in retail history. Retailers and brands across the globe have undergone tremendous pressure to quickly transform their business and adapt to the challenges created by Covid-19.
As retailers closed store doors and limited the amount of in-store traffic to keep employees and shoppers safe from the pandemic, consumers have taken to their phones, laptops, and tablets to shop more than ever before. While it’s hard to predict what 2021 will look like for the retail industry, one thing is certain: the rise of online shopping.
Online shopping took the front seat this year and has been the predominant sales driver for most retailers, creating a perfect storm for ecommerce innovation. As retailers and brands develop their plans for the upcoming year, most will prioritize and invest heavily in their digital and online strategies.
THE YES, a newly launched online shopping platform built upon recommendations from iconic and up-and-coming fashion brands based upon your preferences, is a great example of the innovation needed in the retail sector, and I’m thrilled Google Cloud is able to help power its platform. The company has completely rebuilt the traditional ecommerce stack and embedded artificial intelligence (AI) at the foundation to curate a customized online catalog for each and every shopper, pulling from hundreds of iconic global brands.
I was able to speak with Julie Bornstein, founder and CEO, and Amit Aggarwal, co-founder and CTO, at THE YES to hear more about their company and how they’re leveraging Google Cloud throughout their platform.
Carrie: It’s been a big year for you all. And coming right out of the thick of the holiday shopping season, I have to ask: how did the app perform this holiday season? Meet your expectations?
Julie: Thank you, it’s been an exciting year for us and the holiday season was no different. With COVID-19 keeping more shoppers at home, app-first shopping saw a surge on Black Friday, with 65% of Black Friday’s online sales happening on smartphones. For THE YES, we saw our sales double in the holiday season. But interestingly, as the world is focused on sales and deals, we are seeing two-thirds of our sales coming from full priced items-- this is the power of AI. The recommendation engine proves that with good suggestions, you can continue to drive a healthy full price business as well. Our bet is ultimately not about the Black Friday sales cycles but on harnessing technology to help shoppers find what they want in the overwhelming and nuanced category of fashion.
Carrie: Amit, as a former Googler, how is it being on the other side and being the one implementing our solutions?
Amit: It’s been a fun journey! Our AI-powered app is building unique “stores” for each shopper so every recommendation is specific to their style and favorite brands. To make this possible, we’re creating a new way of shopping which requires technical infrastructure to be built from scratch. I’ve been able to use my experiences from Google to shape the way we build THE YES. Being on the other side now, I get a first-hand look at how technology can give shoppers more personal experiences, and that is a rewarding process. And of course, it’s great to work alongside a retail expert, like Julie, who is shaping the future of the industry.
Carrie: Can you describe how THE YES and Google Cloud are working together?
Amit: Technology is the foundation of our marketplace and is paving the way for the future of ecommerce. At THE YES, we set out to build AI to understand and encode fashion and to develop one of the most extensive search and recommendation engines in fashion. Google Cloud was a critical partner in making this come to life. What would have taken us three to four years to develop was accelerated because Google Cloud technology makes it easy to try new things, train models, and experiment and learn fast.
We re-built the tech stack of ecommerce in real-time, using a one-to-one model to adapt results and recommendations to each user as they shop. This is usually a very expensive and very hard way to build. Google Cloud’s tools such as Pub/Sub, Spanner and Kubernetes Engine, allowed us to do this in an efficient, performant and cost effective way. Also, to make it easy to integrate with our brands, we are using Cloud Vision API, and are using machine learning models to intelligently ingest data from a large number of brands in a way that does not require human involvement. With that at the foundation, we then used BigQuery and Looker to really understand the data and trends in real-time and make decisions for our company and with our brands to achieve our business goals.
Google Cloud let’s us focus on our own core tech and domain expertise rather than spending the time on the infrastructure, our developers have the tooling to make it easy.
Carrie: What are the benefits for brands? How have you been able to partner with so many iconic names in fashion?
Julie: We partner with 225 brands from Balenciaga and Prada to Everlane and Levi’s. At a time when shopping and retail are more online than ever before, THE YES offers brands a new channel to get in front of highly relevant, yet net-new, customers that might not think to search for a particular brand. It’s hard to grab the stay-at-home shopper’s attention beyond investing heavily in ads. Brands are looking for unique ways to reach the right audience, especially in the discovery phase of shopping. Brands see the value and love the fact that shoppers can easily checkout within the app, without being transferred to a separate app or browser.
On top of this, there’s almost no work for brands themselves to integrate their products onto the app, while still keeping it true to their brand aesthetic, product description and price.
Carrie: What are your immediate challenges and how is technology helping THE YES overcome these?
Amit: Today, users are overwhelmed with choice, and conversely brands are struggling to reach customers in a way that maintains their brand value and identity. The one-size fits all model for ecommerce no longer works. Consumers are tired of scrolling through pages of product before finding the styles and sizes that work for them. Our advanced technology helps bridge the gap between consumers and brands. Other ecommerce platforms have access to consumer data but don’t know how to capitalize it to tailor the shopping experience. THE YES uses a sophisticated algorithm that leverages AI to give the consumer what they want, in their size, right at the top of their feed.
Carrie: The rise of online has been an exhausted topic in retail. However, the pandemic really progressed this trend as we’ve seen record breaking online holiday sales this year and overall unprecedented levels of online traffic. What do you think the future looks like for retail?
Juie: You’re right, we’ve been talking about the rise of online retail for awhile now, but the global pandemic expedited this process for many retailers across the world. With Black Friday online sales up 20% just this year, it’s safe to say that some of what we’ve seen over the past year will remain a part of many retailers’ strategies. Consumers are looking for more ways to shop online and brands need to to diversify and grow their distribution channels. We’re going to continue to see more brands look for new ways to digitally expand their presence and implement advanced technology, like AI, to reach more consumers with a more personalized experience.
Carrie: How does this impact THE YES? What can consumers and brands expect for 2021?
Julie: With the holiday season wrapping up, we’re looking forward to what's to come for THE YES team. This year, we built the most extensive taxonomy in fashion that includes a software system to understand every dimension via text and images of every product from hundreds of brands' catalogs. Today, shoppers can find us on the iOS App Store, and as we look to the future we’re excited to keep building innovative technology with our Google Cloud partners and bring even more brands to our customers.