Michael Rhodin  IBM Watson Group with Fluid Expert Shopper  app and  Brooke Aguilar VP Global Business Development Fluid.jpgFor those whose only association with IBM's Watson is its $1 million win on Jeopardy, that could be about to change. IBM announced Tuesday that it will partner with digital retail developer Fluid to turn Watson into ... a personal shopper.

Unfortunately you won't see Watson trying on lipstick in the aisles of your local shopping mall any time soon, but Watson will power Fluid's shopping advisor to offer personalized shopping tips.

Selling Watson

This may sound a bit of a come down for Watson after the glory days of Jeopardy, but Watson was always about business for IBM and it needs to earn its keep.

IBM invested $1 billion to develop the Watson business following the creation of a separate Watson unit in January, but until now it hasn’t been clear what direction it would take.

Enter Fluid and a new partnership that will focus on the development of superior customer experiences all of which will be powered by Watson’s ability to interact with people and learn about their preferences.

According to a statement from the two companies, IBM and Fluid will work together to “redefine today's e-commerce experience by evolving it beyond the traditional criteria of price, convenience and selection.”

Consumers already take shopping suggestions through use of social, location and mobile technologies to gather information and reviews from peers before buying products. So, IBM asks, if consumers take advice over social networks, why shouldn’t they take advice from their devices? 

This is particularly true when you consider how much time traditional online searches take and how much quicker Watson can do the legwork. IBM cited recent research from from the e-tailing group PowerReviews which reported 50 percent of consumers spend 75 percent or more of their total shopping time conducting online research.

IBM's solution is the Fluid Expert Shopper (XPS) made with IBM Watson. Consumers can ask the app highly specific questions -- as they would a sales associate in a store -- and receive personalized advice shaped by their needs.

Watson will not only ask questions, it will also learn from experiences to build better and evolving future interactions, that will help it offer targeted suggestions for products in context.

The Watson Group will invested part of the $100 million fund that IBM has earmarked for direct investments in cognitive apps into the Fluid app to get it up and running.

Watson’s Mission

Fluid was one of the first organizations to join IBM's ecosystem of developers and growth companies that are building apps and services based on Watson's cognitive computing intelligence, so this is likely to be only the first of many such e-commerce and customer experience apps. IBM expects this partnership to be a market disrupter:

By tapping into IBM Watson’s cognitive intelligence, Fluid is infusing the personalized, interactive feel of an in-store conversation into every digital shopping interaction. This is what positive market disruption looks like, and it’s a key example of how a new era of cognitive applications will revolutionize how decisions are made by consumers and businesses alike,” Mike Rhodin, Senior Vice President, IBM Watson Group said.

While the application of Watson to the retail experience will undoubtedly improve it, it still doesn’t deal with the basic problem of poorly designed e-commerce experiences with poor to non-existent content. Maybe that could be the next area for Watson to tackle?