How Sears is shaking up the tire buying experience
Helping your customer select the right tire for their car from the dozens of different brands and models available can be a trying experience.
Many sites that help consumers select tires use a simple dropdown menu system where the customer inputs certain data such as vehicle year, make, and model. They are then provided with anywhere from one to more than a dozen tire options.
In a bid to make this process more intuitive and make the tire selection processes easier for buyers, Sears has rolled out a pilot program that uses artificial intelligence.
Introducing Sears’ tire selection tool
Sears teamed up with IBM to make use of IBM Watson’s Natural Language Classifier to produce what they call the “Digital Tire Journey” — a tire selection tool that (for now) uses a single question to help the buyer select the correct tire for their car. Prospective tire buyers can use the tool from home or they can get a Sears tire specialist to help them with it in store.
It looks like this:
According to the president of Sears Auto Centers, Brian Kaner: “Our vision is to put our members’ lives in drive. We do that by investing in people, products, and technology to keep them moving safely on the road of life. The Digital Tire Journey is an innovative service that helps customers cut through the clutter while integrating digital, mobile, and online with in-store technology.”
The Sears tool uses a single question: “When it comes to tires, what’s most important to you?” The user can answer this as a sentence (for example, “I’m looking for a tire that delivers good treadwear and high performance”) or just a collection of words (like “performance, safety, economy”) and the Natural Language Classifier will classify the buyer as either a Safety Seeker, Comfort Warrior, Value Seeker, Off-Roader, High Performer, or a Winter Warrior.
The tool will then search through the tires that fit the car to give the buyer the best option(s) available for that classification of driver.
Sears admits the tool still needs a little work
Sears told Traction News that the tool’s responses and capabilities will improve as more people use it. It is currently in pilot program status. The responses from the tool are somewhat ambiguous right now. If the buyer uses only a single word such as safety, the tool will return the tires that offer exceptional safety characteristics. However, the tool seems to key on that word safety when it’s used in conjunction with other terms.
Traction News tried the tool out and used the following phrase: “I want a tire with a mixture of good wet and dry handling performance and fuel economy mixed with safety.” We were told that we are “Safety Seekers.”
Lisa Curran from Zeno Group — the company that helped Sears with the code for the tool — spoke to Traction News. She said that since choosing the right tire can be such a difficult process, Sears thought it was time to help buyers make informed buying decisions with options that are aimed at their driving style instead of just what fits.
Curran said they foresee the full adoption of this tool as more input is given and responses can be refined to a higher degree. She said the tools creators would “continue to monitor the different profiles we have built into the IBM Watson Natural Language Classifier service to ensure we are providing the most applicable profiles for driving styles and lifestyles to meet the changing customer’s unique needs.”
“Overall, we look to enhance the intelligence, capability, and depth of the tool as we continue to gain additional insights from our members. Focusing on our member’s true needs and desires and leveraging the latest technologies, we will provide value in recommending the right products and connecting them to our stores. We’re excited by the potential to expand this tool to other parts of our business.”
Check out the tool here.