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Online furniture retailer Wayfair is embracing the power of generative AI with a thoughtful, measured approach that involves a council of stakeholders and a core thesis to help accelerate business productivity.
In a session at today’s VentureBeat Transform 2023, Wilko Schulz-Mahlendorf, head of pricing and marketing science at Wayfair, offered insights into how the company is using generative AI today and what its strategy is to integrate more AI in the future.
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A key tenet of the Wayfair approach to generative AI is to take a cautious and mindful strategic look at the technology before it is rolled out to production; it’s an approach that also makes sure to include humans.
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“At Wayfair, we have exacting standards on quality and we don’t want to put any content in front of our customers or suppliers that could involve hallucinations,” Schulz-Mahlendorf said. “We have really placed a premium on humans in the loop.”
Giving Wayfair employees ‘superpowers’ with generative AI
As part of Wayfair’s approach to generative AI the company looked at applications where the technology could augment the workforce’s productivity — what Schulz-Mahlendorf referred to as giving employees “superpowers.”
Schulz-Mahlendorf explained that Wayfair identified a few specific tasks where gen AI technology could help its inbound sales and service teams. Those tasks included text summarization, product recommendations, and suggestions to agents for best actions.
Wayfair also needs, and writes, a lot of content for its site, a critical area where generative AI is helping.
“We’re bounded by the amount of copywriters that we have in terms of how much copy we can actually get out there,” Schulz-Mahlendorf said. “We evaluated a number of different products, including some of the vendors that are here at the conference, to see if we could double or triple the efficiency of our human copywriters.”
Generative AI copy generation is not intended to replace humans, but rather to help them be more productive. Schulz-Mahlendorf said that the goal is to generate a first draft that can then be polished and fine-tuned by humans to meet Wayfair’s exacting standards.
“There’s a lot of blank space on a lot of websites that were previously left unfilled, where we can now create engaging content for our customers,” Schulz-Mahlendorf said. “It’s not about replacing content that already exists, it’s about putting content in places where we may not have had something before.”
How Wayfair decides where to use generative AI
Schulz-Mahlendorf said that Wayfair has assembled an internal generative AI council to help evaluate strategy for and potential uses of the technology.
He explained that the council is a group of people pulled from different business units across the company. It helps to evaluate terms and conditions of individual technologies, deployment ideas and business value.
The council also helps to determine whether Wayfair should buy or build gen AI technologies as the company develops its strategy. Schulz-Mahlendorf emphasized that to date, in terms of vendor technologies, there is no clear winner across the board for all of Wayfair’s use cases.
“We’re taking a really pragmatic approach, which is: Let’s think about the cost of each of these licenses, let’s think about what each of these things can do best, and let’s work with vendors and partners that are willing to work with us to customize things down the road,” he said.
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