Jack Ma, the incredible co-founder of Alibaba who has recently retired, famously said:
“The future of retail is not just about total domination of e-commerce, rather it is the complete digitisation of all commerce.”
But one of the biggest challenges in digitising everything is maintaining exceptional consumer engagement. Even in the heavily automated realm of online retail, personalised support is still paramount, and despite huge leaps in technological advancements, no robot, chatbot or AI has managed to fully eclipse the human element (yet).
But thinking about our shoppers, they have expectations around being able to shop whenever, wherever or however they choose.
As in the famous words of Freddie Mercury: “I want it all and I want it now.”
Our new retail normal changes at such pace it’s often difficult to understand, as a retailer, what to do. Sometimes it feels like gambling and hoping to hell that you are backing the right solution and not end up going home with nothing.
Retail is facing challenges from myriad different directions and it’s up to us to turn these challenges into opportunities. Retail is everywhere. In an age where I can wander into an Amazon Go store, scan my app and take whatever I like from the store we are within a revolution - machine learning, computer vision and artificial intelligence and people. Blending people and technology.
That is the critical point – blending people and technology.
One of the most interesting retail developments of last year was Tommy Hilfiger’s Xplore project. This range of smart-chipped clothing could tell when it was being worn and rewarded customers with points for each usage.
The company behind the concept is Awear Solutions. Focused on smarter engagement between brands and consumers, Awear wants to help us better understand how customers interact with what they buy, so we can communicate with them effectively.
They are effectively a smart engagement platform that rewards people for wearing your item. The currency of loyalty today is based only on purchases and they are trying to create a new currency for engagement based on usage.
The idea is that your item of clothing has a smart chip in it and the more you use your item the more points you get. The process is automatic. You only need to activate your smart item once. From that moment on you don’t need to open the app again and you will still collect points.
When you visit certain locations that are important for the brand to increase visibility in you can earn even more points. It could be at Coachella Festival. It can be a stadium or a university or it could just be the park. It doesn’t matter.
The insights are incredible to understand usage and different type of usage. Are you wearing the brand casually or for business? Do you love wearing it to parties or to parks? Based on the way that you experience the brand we they know how to better communicate with you. Furthermore, it can help influence what to design in the future.
It is a big thing to be able to keep people engaging with clothes that they bought a season or two ago. A retailer who used the Awear application recently was quoted “We had a 53% retention rate to the app after six months, which showed that people were wearing the items.”
Sprucebot is dubbed as an intelligent agent built to augment you and your team's natural abilities to create unforgettable guest experiences.
So what is Sprucebot? It’s a bot that lives in your store and in the cloud.
The Sprucebot makes sure staff remember every customer, enables guests to make bookings and provide feedback, and so much more. The organisation behind Sprucebot is one that focuses first and foremost on experience. Regardless of the medium or environment, their goal is to have customers walk out of a store and go ‘that was the answer and I didn’t even know what I was asking’. You get the right experience and you interact with the right product, even if you didn’t know that you needed it or wanted it, you know when you enjoyed it and want to do it again.
Sounds simple doesn’t it. Now Sprucebot has cracked the big time as Ulta starts their journey rolling them out.
This is a great piece of technology that provides a big differentiator between physical and digital retail.
Now this is one of my favourite retail solutions which is winning retailers and accolades all around the world for excellent execution of customers’ expectations.
I was very fortunate to spend some time with the founder, Adam Levene in NYC last year. Launched in 2015, HERO works with global retailers to transform analogue retail space into smart stores of the future – by empowering their people.
Through Hero, everyday across the world, stores and associates are no longer standing idle, but are proactively assisting millions of online shoppers - creating a formidable advantage against pure-play online retailers. These retailers are in many different categories from luxury, leather goods, apparel, homeware, beauty and technology.
What I love about this is two things:
1. For online shoppers – it’s the next best thing to being there. At the tap of a button, HERO offers digital shoppers all the benefits of being in store, through personalized chat and livestreaming, increasing conversion and average order values. This is a real competitive advantage.
2. It empowers sales assistants to drive a better experience and better outcomes for customers. No longer do they feel threatened by ecommerce, they feel like an active participant in driving engagement with their brand, engagement with their shoppers and empowered to deliver more results.
Human thinking, human application, human insight and human creativity. The commonality. Humans. Our new retail normal is an ever-evolving intersection of technology and humanity and the best way to harness that is by amplifying incredible human interactions.