How do you take the personal experience of being in store – where you have shop assistants to act as ‘browser arousers' – and translate that human touch online? It’s a question many retailers have asked. But designer eyewear retailer, Sunglass Hut, reckons it has the answer using artificial intelligence.

For something as personal as buying sunglasses, the global brand felt the tools it had for its online store didn’t quite cut it. So the retailer used deep learning and image-recognition technology from San Francisco-based Sentient to create a more personalised and responsive experience.

When online shoppers click on a style of sunglasses they like, its “My Frame Finder” application throws up similar suggestions using its image recognition algorithm powered by Sentient’s ‘Aware’ technology. This solution is instead of the more clunky recommendations that pop up on other sites, based on what other people who bought that purchase also liked. Instead it simply responds to the images customers click on.

Sentient characterises this facility as a "visual conversation" with shoppers to understand what they are most interested, analysing hundreds of different aspects of an image they were interacting with. That is based on image analysis, rather than crunching data on buying behaviour. 

Since using the technology nine months ago, the company has reported 21% higher conversions from shoppers exposed to the personalised experience over previous search methods, with average order values up 8% higher. The next plan is to deploy the technology for use on smartphones. 

Shannon Rose, senior director of eCommerce for Luxottica Brands, the company’s parent business, said:  “One area where ‘Aware’ really excelled was in replicating the one-to-one shopping experience of working with sales associates in one of our stores. No other technology could accurately interpret the user’s sense of style and match it to products in our catalogue.”

It’s not the only company to be trialling this type of technology. Amazon has been investing in AI for some time, as has Italian lingerie brand Cosabella and the Burberry Group.

However, when it comes to buying prescription sunglasses – or simply needing someone to tell you your face doesn’t look round in those shades – the technology still probably has a long way to go to fully matching the in-store experience.