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Retail: The Experience They Crave, The Data You Need


The internet was created to share information, but it’s e-commerce that fuels it. While e-commerce sites still only account for about 12 percent of purchases, a converging world driven by customer engagement and physical and online data is now the holy grail of the new retail. At the heart of the change are technologies powering new customer experiences, data to help keep customers satisfied and efficiencies in systems from inventory management to a frictionless point of sale.

Traditional retail suffers from several problems ripe for technology to help solve. How do you satisfy your customers’ individual taste, needs and styles wherever and however they decide to shop?

Frictionless Shopping

“Frictionless” shopping, removing the pain points that stop people from purchasing, is one of the most talked about topics in retail. Notably, the new Amazon Go stores opening in multiple metro regions around the country allow shoppers who download an app to meander through the store, pick up their purchases, then check out without ever encountering a human salesperson or cash register. Video cameras throughout the store identify and track customers, recording each product put into the cart.

When customers leave the store, their items are billed automatically to their Amazon account. It’s been reported that Amazon’s rival, Walmart, announced a partnership with Microsoft to create a similar store. Elsewhere, unattended shopping takes other forms, including kiosks selling everything from electronics to pizza and sushi. They use a combination of robotics, automated payments and data collection to deliver unique retail experiences.

Frictionless shopping removes the pain points that stop people from purchasing.

Cosmetics and furnishing stores are rising stars in the use of augmented reality. Ikea Place lets customers use AR to furnish their rooms before walking into the store. Sephora’s Virtual Artist was one of the first to let customers experiment in-store, trying on makeup using augmented reality. There’s a home app version as well.

While you’d think technology might make shopping feel cold and impersonal, used correctly it personalizes the experience. YouCam, the augmented reality makeup app that’s powered by artificial intelligence (AI), lets clients try on makeup on their mobile device and place an online order with the company’s beauty partners. The startup Prose will whip up a personalized shampoo and StitchFix curates your personal wardrobe based on algorithms it creates from you and other shoppers. Hi-Mirror, a smart beauty mirror, promises to analyze a customer’s skin and then track changes over time, offering verifiable proof that the cream you bought really got rid of those wrinkle lines or dark circles under your eyes.

Marriages Made in Tech Heaven

Tommy Hilfiger and Awear have embedded their clothing with chips.

The tech driving the magic more often than not comes from partnerships. Lowes teamed up with Microsoft Hololens to create “Holorooms” where users can design their own kitchens in VR. InContext, a mixed reality company, works with companies including Walmart and Kellogg’s using VR to do things like test product packaging on the store shelves and help with merchandising displays before their customers do a buildout. Perch, an interactive display technology, worked with Kate Spade to allow customers to create a personalized handbag. Avery Dennison is developing new materials for interactive display signage and smart tagged garments giving retailers a new option for customer engagement.

Robots add to the customer delight/retailer data factor, too. Softbank’s Pepper Robot interacts with guests, asking them everything from what ice cream flavor they like to where they’re flying. This data helps create meaningful messaging and repeat customers. Oshbot is working at Lowe’s stores to find out what the customers want and guides them to the shelf.

One of the freshest examples of gaming-infused shopping is the partnership between Tommy Hilfiger and Awear. The duo teamed to create Hilfiger clothing with embedded chips. Used with the accompanying apps you get points for wearing your shirt and more points for collecting items in a Pokemon GO-like scavenger hunt. Hilfiger is creating walking billboards marketing its shirts while its customers gain loyalty points as they play.

Data Analytics and AI are the Secret Sauce

Finding and engaging the best shoppers is another tech-fueled arena. Visual search is becoming more sophisticated, relying on metadata and organization to present search data with increasing specific city. A new Snapchat feature lets users point their Snapchat camera at a barcode or object that goes directly to the Amazon link where it can be purchased.

As for voice-powered commerce, while it is not as big a player in online shopping yet, one in four U.S. online adults is likely to make a purchase using voice technology in the next year, according to CTA’s 2018 Voice Shopping Report. Performics, a data analysis and marketing company, recently founded an “intent” lab to get out in front of customers, knowing that if they recently bought a house, they might be in the market for other things, like a rug or a desk.

Trend Analytics, WPP and other data analysts firms are combining consumer data looking for patterns. According to Gartner, 89 percent of companies expect to compete mostly on customer experience, up from 36 percent four years ago. And new stores like B8ta create new revenue streams by selling the data amassed at retail back to manufacturers.

From Clicks to Bricks

Just a year ago, forecasters were predicting the retail apocalypse, but it turns out that retailers are having a renaissance where physical stores help inform online purchases. According to JLL Research, digital first brands are planning to open 850 physical stores in the next five years and include names like Away Luggage, Everlane and Blue Nile.

Companies like JGA specialize in creating physical experiences for online stores like James Allen Jewelers. ELSE Corp, a Milan-based B2B offers shoe-buyers the chance to scan their feet, design their shoes and have them shipped to eliminate excess inventory.

Rethinking retail has turned out to be a win/win situation. Customers are enjoying new experiences and are happy to provide some personal information as a trade-off for brands who want to meet their needs. Technology is removing many of the impediments to making shopping an immersive and fun experience.

Robin Raskin

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