Though we have a number of Amazon and Google voice assistants scattered throughout my house, the only shopping we’ve ever done is when my 8 year old son once ordered hot chocolate via Alexa, mostly because he thought it was neat. And my family isn’t a fringe case, voice shopping has been slow to take off with surveys showing people are concerned about privacy, order accuracy, or are just not interested in buying stuff by speaking (raises hand).
Mmuze (pronounced “M-uze”) is looking to change all that with its conversational AI technology that allows retailers to offer shopping by voice or text. The company has been working with retailers like Jordache and Perry Ellis and today announced that it is expanding into grocery. Through Mmuze’s APIs, grocery stores can offer voice/text shopping through their own mobile app, web site or smart speaker app/skill.
“The problem with most voice technologies happening today,” Ran Zfoni, CEO and co-founder of Mmuze told me by phone, “is they are not designed for retail, so they are generic. They intend to solve many different cases.”
To challenge this generic approach, Zfoni told me that the first thing Mmuze does is create a domain expertise around a particular vertical. “A shopping dialogue for pasta is not the same as ordering an Uber,” Zfoni said.
There are two parts to obtaining this domain expertise. First is the basic level of understanding a grocer’s catalog of products. What they are, how much they cost, different brands, etc. The second layer is bringing in data from the social web to understand how people are using these products to better understand a shopper’s intent.
For example, a shopper could be ordering hot dogs, hamburgers and buns, so Mmuze’s chatbot will ask if they are hosting a barbeque because it understands that those items are often used at cookouts. If they are, Mmuze can then suggest other items such as charcoal, or it can access your purchase history to see if you want to re-order particular items.
Additionally, Mmuze can also act as a regular shopping list. The technology can work across platforms so you could add to your list of groceries to get throughout the day as you remember or run out, no matter what platform you are using. You can then complete your purchase and have the groceries ready for pick up or delivery.
AI-powered recommendations is a hot topic right now. Halla is another startup using machine learning to make better recommendations for grocery retail apps. While it’s a different type of retail, over in the fast food world, Clinc raised $52 million last month for its conversational AI for drive-throughs, and earlier this year McDonald’s bought Dynamic Yield to have their menus make smarter recommendations.
Founded in 2014, the Tel-Aviv-based Mmuze started as part of a Microsoft accelerator and was also part of the eBay Innovation Lab. The company has raised $4 million in funding. According to Zfoni, Mmuze is focused on the U.S. and Europe and is working with unnamed grocery retailers in tests. Mmuze will have a usage-based pricing model, but didn’t disclose any specifics at this time.
If Mmuze’s technology works as promised, perhaps it could give voice shopping a shot in the arm. But the biggest barrier to getting grocers to adopt the technology could be the grocers themselves. As Trung Nguyen, VP of eCommerce for Albertsons said at our recent Articulate food automation summit, the retailers don’t just want great technology, they also want easy implementation. If Mmuze can get that piece as well, then they’ll definitely have something to talk about.