Technology Navigating the generative AI revolution: Wayfair's pragmatic approach to...

Navigating the generative AI revolution: Wayfair’s pragmatic approach to embracing emerging technology


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The buzz around generative AI has caught the attention of major corporations, and online furniture and home decor retailer Wayfair is no exception. Fiona Tan, the company’s CTO, recognizes the importance of this technological trend while also stressing the importance of not losing focus on the company’s core objectives.

In a recent interview, Tan discusses her take on the year’s top technology trends. She provides valuable insights for executives struggling to integrate generative AI into their strategies. The conversation, which can be viewed in the embedded video below, took place in anticipation of VB Transform, an annual networking event dedicated to AI and data for business technology decision makers.

Held July 11-12 in San Francisco, Transform will delve into generative AI and examine how organizations are adapting to this emerging trend. Tan is a regular speaker at the conference. In July, co-Wayfair CEO Wilco Schulz-Mahlendorf, director of data science, will provide further updates on the company’s quest for generative AI.

Wayfair’s take on the promise of generative AI

To ensure a thoughtful approach to generative AI, Wayfair first established a cross-functional council made up of data scientists, engineers, marketers, and legal experts. This collaborative effort addressed potential risks and privacy concerns while exploring the technology’s potential applications. The council organized generative AI into three main categories:


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Possibilities for long-term disruptions: Wayfair’s forward-thinking team, Wayfair Next, focuses on the big, future potential impacts of the emerging technology. It developed proof-of-concept projects in areas such as text and image generation. (Wayfair’s Schulz-Mahlendorf will talk more about this at Transform.)

Short term opportunities: The council also explored how generative AI can improve customer service, with an emphasis on maintaining a human touch. By incorporating AI-generated suggestions, Wayfair ensures agents have the final say in drafting responses to customers. The company also wanted to use the technology to optimize marketing copy and supplier content.

Daily Incentives: Wayfair recognized that generative AI could be valuable in day-to-day business operations, such as helping engineers code more efficiently.

To keep a finger on the pulse of emerging trends and best practices, Tan meets regularly with a network of fellow CTOs. By sharing their insights and experiences, the group ensures that they lead the way together. Tan says most members are at about the same point in their generative AI journey, though some may be a month or so ahead in areas like risk assessment and navigating licensing complexes.

To address licensing issues, Tan recognizes the need to balance using APIs from closed large language models offered by partners like OpenAI and using open source models trained on proprietary data. While the former provide a faster route to market, the latter require a greater investment but can provide a competitive advantage through differentiation.

Like everyone else, Wayfair is in the early stages of its generative AI journey. But Wayfair’s pragmatic approach to generative AI provides a thoughtful blueprint for companies navigating the uncharted waters of this breakthrough technology, striking a balance between embracing innovation and preserving core values. We look forward to further updates on Schulz-Mahlendorf’s Wayfair story during the upcoming Transform. His insights will be one of dozens of talks at Transform about this changing enterprise response to the promises and challenges of generative AI. Register now to join the conversation.

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Shreya Christina
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