Not long ago, building AI into recommendation engines was a daunting, expensive task that could take years to get off the ground. But as Bazaarvoice has shown, with the help of cloud services, the time from AI investment to business outcomes is shorter than ever.
Bazaarvoice is the leading provider of product reviews and user-generated content (UGC) solutions that help brands and retailers understand and better serve customers. Its 2019 acquisition of Influenster.com, a community of consumer reviewers 6.5 million strong, expanded the Bazaarvoice portfolio with a platform where consumers can share their candid opinions — and share they have, over 54 million times.
After the acquisition, Bazaarvoice expanded the site’s product diversity by 53%, to more than 5.4 million unique products. To keep user engagement high, Influenster must be seen as both a source of trusted, transparent reviews and a place for customers to discover useful, relevant products for the first time. By introducing shoppers to new products Influenster not only provides value to customers but also helps brands collect consumer insights.
Influenster started out as a place where people gathered to share their honest thoughts on beauty products but quickly expanded to nearly every category, from Art to Wearables. Because of the much smaller scope, the site started and flourished under a rules-based recommendation engine. However, as Influenster expanded its scope under Bazaarvoice, a more robust recommendation system became necessary. In its earliest days, Influenster was successful because of the human perspective it offered: For every product there was a litany of reviews and images that made users feel as if they were getting an endorsement on a product from a friend.
The Bazaarvoice engineering team asked themselves how they could keep that same feeling of personalization with an ever-growing catalog of items and categories. They needed recommendations that could scale with the site, rather than requiring more rules be constructed each time a new product category was introduced. They also needed to ensure the Influenster experience would remain performant even towards unknown members.
Bazaarvoice tested out several recommendation engines, benchmarking each against their current rules-based system. In the end they decided on Google Cloud’s Recommendations AI because of its transparent billing, ease of integration and setup, and naturally, its proven results.
“Part of what the engineers loved was they knew exactly what it was going to cost as it scaled” says Nick Shiftan, SVP, Content Acquisition Services Product Unit for Influenster. The goal was to build once and innovate rather than leave a wake of technical debt only to be tackled when costs grew unexpectedly out of control. Google Cloud’s straightforward and pay-as-you-go billing allowed them to anticipate how costs would grow as user interactions did and plan accordingly.
Ease of integration
“I’m positively surprised how Google packed such a complex system in a very easy-to-use API” remarks Eralp Bayraktar, the Software Engineering team lead overseeing the project. Because the original team was made of just one full-time engineer the ease of integration became an even more critical feature. Not only does Recommendations AI pull from years of suggestion expertise in Google Search and YouTube, but in combination with Ad’s Merchant Center, it also creates a streamlined process for importing product metadata. From there, creating a model becomes a matter of picking the preferred recommendation type and then the business objective to optimize for. Once the model is created and the API integrated into the website, the code is already deployed at the global scale: There are no further architectural considerations to ensure recommendations are available to users worldwide. For Bazaarvoice, this meant going from ideation to production in one month.
“We have used it for product recommendations and off-loaded our DB-tiring business logic to Recommendations AI, which resulted in overall faster response times and much better recommendations as proven by our A/B tests,” Erlap continues.
Bazaarvoice began by A/B testing Recommendations AI against their rules-based system. Early on in the experimental phase they noticed a clear and consistent 60% increase in the click-through rate over their original recommendation system.
Even more impressive was the performance on Unknown Members. For every person that signs up for an account on Influenster.com there are many other visitors that come to the website and leave without fully registering. This is typically referred to as the “cold start” problem in the industry — how do you figure out what to recommend to those people without their history, behavior, or preferences? Recommendations AI gives you the option to input and train on unknown users, and by providing metadata on products, it can provide high-quality suggestions to registered members and first-time users alike.
With a mind to the future, Erlap concludes his thoughts on Bazaarvoice’s experience: “It enables discovery by adding an adjustable percentage of cross-category products [for] healthier [traffic distribution] across all our catalog. We are investing in data science and having the Recommendations AI as the baseline is a good challenge for us to thrive.”
To learn more about Recommendations AI and how it can help your organization thrive, check out our recently published 4 part guide which kicks off with an overview on “How to get better retail recommendations with Recommendations AI.” This series also covers data ingestion, modeling, as well as serving predictions & evaluating Recommendations AI. You can also easily get started with our Quickstart Guide.
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