Businesses use AR/VR in CRM to boost customer experience

Glossy – Businesses are using augmented reality — and its cousin virtual reality — in applications across many industries. Where CRM is concerned, AR/VR may represent a big leap forward.

The inroads into the enterprise forged recently by augmented reality and virtual reality are already substantial. What was once a game system accessory is now changing the way businesses communicate with customers.

The gaming industry has seemingly delivered what was previously considered a toy but is now highly evolved, low-cost hardware to the enterprise, along with an army of well-trained, experienced VR developers.

Whatever its origins — and however coincidental its current ascension in the marketplace — AR/VR is ready for prime time. And as its two primary strengths are presentation and communication, it is finding its ideal role in CRM and CX.

An augmented customer journey

To discuss the impact of AR/VR in CRM, it’s first necessary to understand the difference between the two. VR is what most people think of right away — an entirely contrived digital environment, like what one sees in a video game. AR, on the other hand, visualizes the real world, but adds something along the way. For example, you may see a picture of an actual living room with a digital chair and lamp inserted into the photo. Both AR and VR have their place in CRM.

In the case of VR, the visualization of places that don’t yet exist becomes possible, such as the realized design of new buildings and the radical remodeling of entire floors within existing buildings. Buyers can walk through a building or renovation project before signing the construction contract.

With AR, the range of possibilities is even greater: there are already smart mirrors, which reflect a customer’s image — but donning an outfit being considered for purchase, a new hairstyle, or different cosmetics and accessories.

According to Zion Market Research, the global AR/VR market will surpass $800 billion by 2025.

Here, there and everywhere

So where is AR/VR taking CRM as it grows? There are a number of areas where it’s taking root and proliferating rapidly.

Retail. One of the most compelling reasons for CRM to employ AR/VR is simple: It attracts customers through its sheer “cool” factor. According to BRP Consulting’s 2018 Digital Commerce Survey, 48% of consumers surveyed said that they are more likely to patronize retailers who use AR. Smart mirrors and immersive experiences are part of the allure, of course. And Macy’s, for example, has implemented VR technology in a number of its locations, enabling customers to shop for furniture.

Publix Positions for the Future

Frozen and Refrigerated Buyer – While it grapples with how to translate its legendary customer service prowess to online shopping, the chain dips a toe in the loyalty card pool and debuts a new foodie-centric format.

Another day, another accolade for Publix Super Markets. The 1,220-store Lakeland, Fla.-based chain recently landed the top spot among grocers named to Newsweek’s 2019 America’s Best Customer Service list. Citing the “impersonal forces” currently transforming retail, the magazine’s editor-in-chief said it seemed like a good time to recognize ways in which companies like Publix nurture their relationships with customers through personal interaction. She added, however, “Analysts predict that by 2020, one-fifth of the country’s multi-trillion dollar retail business will have moved to the web, slashing the number of workers needed.” And therein lies one of the biggest challenges facing Publix as it moves into an increasingly digital future: how to translate a stellar in-store experience fueled by highly motivated, well-trained associates into a positive online experience as well? One thing’s for sure: It’s not gonna be easy.

Why? Publix recently entered into a partnership with Instacart to provide home delivery of online orders, completely eliminating any contact with store associates — the biggest thing that made the chain stand out. As a result, “Shopping online at Publix has been reduced to a more expensive alternative to shopping online at Walmart or Kroger,” says Don Stuart, managing director at Wilton, Conn.-based Cadent Consulting Group.

“It’s definitely not a long-term solution,” agrees another source close to the company, who believes the chain is still evaluating its options. In order to ensure an excellent experience, “The person who brings the order that last mile to the customer’s door should be a Publix associate. That’s part of the brand and shouldn’t be farmed out.”

Beyond that, says Hayley Howard, manager of business analytics at Cadent, “The company absolutely needs to find ways to personalize the online shopping experience or add value somehow in order to differentiate itself from other retailers.” Because right now, she says, its e-commerce

program is, at best, middle-of-the-pack.

“Just yesterday, I saw the first ad for BOPIS [buy online, pickup in store] from Publix,” reports Paula Rosenblum, co-founder and managing partner of Miami-based Retail Systems Research (RSR) and a regular Publix shopper. Honestly, though, “I think they hope customers don’t use it much.” Not only does it keep shoppers out of stores, “It’s also a real profit-killer,” she says. “But they’re working to keep it up.”

The good news for Publix is the company can afford to sacrifice some profit. While the best chains are operating on 1.5% profit lines, Publix is typically in the 4 to 4.5% range. “They may have to come to terms with a 3% bottom line instead,” says a source.

Read Full Article: Publix Positions for the Future

Study: Tariffs, terrorists & tsunamis are today’s retail supply chain threat

REFRIGERATED & FROZEN FOODS – The recent threat of increases in tariffs are causing disruptions to today’s retail supply chains, therefore supply chains are vulnerable to many unexpected disruptions, including terrorism and natural disasters, according to a new report from BRP, Boston.

The study, “Tariffs, Terrorists & Tsunamis: Minimize the Impact of Supply Chain Disruptions with Agile Strategies,” outlines why it is vital that retailers adopt an agile approach to the development and maintenance of their global supply chains. The need to have the right organization and processes in place to continuously review and adjust the flow of goods from supplier to customer is imperative.

“While tariffs are today’s area of focus, supply chains can be unexpectedly disrupted by the three T’s – tariffs, terrorists and tsunamis,” says Ken Morris, principal. “To combat these potential interruptions, smart retailers take an agile approach to the development and maintenance of their global supply chains and ensure they are able to rapidly react and respond.”

This report assesses the impact of tariffs and other disruptive forces on retailers’ global supply chains, and includes proactive steps retailers can take to build resilience into their global supply chains through the use of best practices in organization, processes and systems.

The steps to taking an agile approach to global supply chains are:

  • Energize the product lifecycle management process.
  • Gain total visibility into global trade management.
  • Focus on how well transportation spend is being optimized.
  • Develop a dynamic process model of the global supply chain.
  • Create a rigorous spend analytics capability.

Read Full Article: Study: Tariffs, terrorists & tsunamis are today’s retail supply chain threats

Hudson’s Bay Launches Omnichannel App

Chain Store Age – Venerable department store retailer Hudson’s Bay Co. (HBC) is providing a very modern mobile shopping solution.

Brampton, Canada-based HBC is launching a new bilingual iOS app that features functionality for customers shopping online or in store. Key features include a curated homepage featuring the latest brands and new arrivals, the ability to scan product barcodes to search for additional styles and sizes and detailed descriptions, free, fast delivery of in-store purchases, tracking of order shipments, and the ability to save favorite items.

“At Hudson’s Bay, the customer is at the heart of everything we do and their input drove many of the developments of our new app,” said Adam Powell, VP -commerce, Hudson’s Bay. “With mobile now exceeding desktop shoppers on thebay.com, the new app is fast, effective, and adds value, ultimately evolving our digital experience. In developing, we honed in on what would help make the Hudson’s Bay shopping experience easier and more engaging, from start to finish, both online and in stores.”

New features and updates will be made to the app over the next several months. The app can be downloaded from the App Store for iOS devices.

HBC’s new app appears to be well-timed. According to a recent survey from Boston Retail Partners, 41% of respondents plan to increase their shopping frequency on their phone or tablet within two years, while 51% consider product information a key mobile app/website feature.

Founded in 1670, HBC is the oldest company in North America. HBC’s portfolio includes 350 stores around the world, including Saks Fifth Avenue, Hudson’s Bay, Lord & Taylor, and Saks Off 5th.

Read Full Article: Hudson’s Bay Launches Omnichannel App

Mobile Retail Technologies Cut Down the Checkout Line and Aid Inventory Lookup

BizTech – The handheld tools can also help brick-and-mortar stores collect valuable customer data.

For some shoppers, the sight of a long or slow-moving checkout line — even at self-scan kiosks, which aren’t always a quicker option — might deter a sale. At the very least, an unexpected delay could create a negative impression of a retailer’s staffing and efficiency.

That concern has led some brick-and-mortar brands to deploy handheld devices to their employees with the intent of helping customers pay for items on the fly. Target and Walmart each did so last year before the holiday shopping season.

Among potential clientele: The 52 percent of shoppers who, according to the National Retail Federation and Prosper Insights & Analytics, skip the hectic Black Friday shopping weekend because they don’t enjoy the experience.

“We all know waiting in line is a massive pain,” regardless of the season, brand consultant Deb Gabor told the Los Angeles Times. Mobile in-store checkout technology, she said, is “lowering the barrier to getting people physically in the stores.”

That could help explain why two-thirds of North American retailers plan to offer a mobile point-of-sale (mPOS) option within the next three years, according the latest POS/Customer Engagement Benchmark Survey by Boston Retail Partners — practices that also include apps for customers to scan items and check out independently. Participating merchants range from Dollar General to Macy’s; both added a self-service feature for shoppers in 2018.

“To me, it’s a no-brainer and something every retailer should invest in,” Forrester retail analyst Sucharita Kodali tells BizTech. “Widespread customer adoption is going to take awhile, but it will eventually become a standard.”

Read Full Article: Mobile Retail Technologies Cut Down the Checkout Line and Aid Inventory Lookup 

Solving the In-Store Personalization Challenge

RIS News – Every savvy retailer knows just offering merchandise isn’t going to draw shoppers into stores today. For brick and mortar to thrive, stores need to offer a personalized customer experience that fosters loyalty between the shopper and the retailer. But how do you solve this seemingly simple, but extremely complex, challenge?

While there’s a plethora of ways to make shopping in stores more personal, one thing rings true for most shoppers. Eighty-seven percent of consumers indicate an interest in a personalized and consistent experience across channels, according to BRP’s 2019 Unified Commerce Survey.

“The growth of online and mobile is driving the demand for increased digital capabilities bundled with personalization across all channels,” said Perry Kramer, senior vice president and practice lead at BRP.

Knowing who the shopper is and when they are in your store is the foundation of providing personalized offers. And when it comes to physical stores, 68% of consumers would choose to shop at a store that offers personalized promotions and discounts over a store that doesn’t offer these services, according to the BRP Consumer Study.

Read Full Article: Solving the In-Store Personalization Challenge

Expanding Use Cases for RFID – Enabling BOPIS, Cutting Inventory and Speeding Checkout

Retail TouchPoints – The increasing popularity of omnichannel initiatives such as BOPIS and ship-from-store has given new urgency to a perennial retail problem: executing store-level inventory accuracy. Reducing out-of-stocks always has been critical to boosting sales: after all, customers can’t buy what they can’t find. Now, however, with many stores doubling as online fulfillment centers, there are new requirements for quickly locating items ordered online so they can be prepped for shoppers coming into the store to pick them up. That makes its more vital than ever for retailers to know exactly what items are where at any given time.

Comments from Ken Morris:

The growth of BOPIS and other omnichannel services has ramped up retailer demands for more accurate inventory across the entire enterprise. For many retailers, “it’s not just inventory for the stores, it’s also e-Commerce, mobile and call center [channels],” said Ken Morris, Principal, BRP Consulting in an interview with Retail TouchPoints. Many retailers maintain separate inventories for each channel and still rely on technology that syncs them up nightly, or even less frequently than that. This is the equivalent of “trying to cross Fifth Avenue at noon with yesterday’s traffic information,” he added.

When retailers lack up-to-the-minute inventory data, “they use safety stock to account for the lag time,” said Morris. “For example, if the safety stock level for an item is two, and that’s how many are in a store, someone placing a BOPIS order will get a message that the item is out of stock. That’s crazy, because it means retailers are over- inventorying and buying more than they need.”

Costs go beyond just buying more items than are needed: retailers with excess inventory in the wrong places are “marking down product that they could have sold at full price, so they are often making little or no profit,” on those transactions, said Morris.

However, when armed with RFID-enabled inventory data from stores and distribution centers, retailers can enhance the profitability of individual transactions. For example, while most items bought online and shipped from a store are sent from the location that’s geographically closest to the customer, this isn’t always the most cost-effective move.

“I’m on Cape Cod, so most retailers would automatically ship an item from their Hyannis store,” said Morris. “But the reality is that if it’s a seasonal cold-weather item and it’s Cape Cod in the winter, they are quite likely to sell the item at full price in the store itself. But the same product might be sitting in ‘dead’ inventory in Jacksonville, Fla. If the retailer can get a full-price sale on the item, it can more than cover the extra shipping cost to send it from the Florida store.”

Integrating RFID and IoT also can help with in-store task management, providing associates with real-time data about misplaced products or items that need to brought onto the sales floor from the back room.

Retailers that have deployed IoT technologies in their stores also can get more out of their RFID investment. “There are a lot of devices — products themselves and smart shelves — that could be enabled, or already are capable of, broadcasting information, but no one is listening,” said BRP’s Morris. “Even the lights in the store are broadcasting, because when they fail they are providing an alert that they need to be replaced. We think that everything will broadcast in the future, so for example a smart shelf label could alert a system that an item is out of stock.”

Integrating RFID and IoT also can help with in-store task management, providing associates with real-time data about misplaced products or items that need to be brought onto the sales floor from the back room.

There are customer-facing applications as well: “We built a custom app for one of our furniture clients that leveraged RFID for product location,” said Morris. A customer that viewed a living room set online could later go to the store, and if the customer had opted in as a member of the retailer’s loyalty program, “they could bring up what they had previously viewed on the app, and get a map around the store to every product in the set, leveraging RFID,” said Morris. “People are merging the online and in-store experience in this way today.”

Read Full Article: Expanding Use Cases for RFID – Enabling BOPIS, Cutting Inventory and Speeding Checkout

‘There are a lot of uncertainties’: The impact of the first direct-to-consumer brand IPO

Glossy – Late last year, DTC footwear brand Allbirds surpassed a $1 billion valuation, making it one of the largest DTC success stories of the last decade. But while an eventual IPO from either Allbirds or one of the other comparable DTC juggernauts like Warby Parker seems inevitable, it won’t necessarily open the floodgates for others in the space.

While competitors like Bonobos and Warby Parker have all hit the $1 billion mark, as well, Allbirds, launched in 2016, outpaced them both in terms of how fast it achieved unicorn status. Now that the company is one of the largest DTC fashion brands out there, the question is whether it will be pursuing an IPO. When reached for comment, the brand denied that an IPO was imminent.

“We have seen a shift in the last few years, as a number of manufacturers have moved to direct-to-consumer offerings,” said Kathleen Fischer, director of marketing at Boston Retail Partners. “This disintermediation offers significant benefits that brands such as Allbirds and Casper have used to their advantage. If [a major DTC brand] has a successful IPO, we will likely see additional DTC brands testing that route. But as they look at this option, these brands need to remember that IPOs require companies to release public metrics and answer to shareholders, which may make it not as desirable as finding a partner to acquire the brand.”

Read Full Article: ‘There are a lot of uncertainties’: The impact of the first direct-to-consumer brand IPO 

Local Logistics Prospects Bright on Better Quality and Service

Total Retail – Same-day delivery, quality 24-hour service and a slowing price war with Chinese logistics firms are brightening prospects for the Thai logistics sector, says Shippop, a local logistics aggregator.

E-logistics services are booming, the startup said, driven by the popularity of e-commerce, even in the face of an economic downturn and fierce competition among global e-marketplace providers.

Thailand’s e-logistics services are expected to grow up to 15% in 2019, up from 31 billion baht in 2018.

“There are still new logistics providers, particularly from China, waging price wars to attract new customers, but overall logistics services will return to focusing more on service quality and delivery prices will surge,” said Sutthikead Chantarachairoj, chief executive of Shippop.

The lower price of 10-19 baht per parcel leads to poor-quality delivery that frustrates customers, he said.

“Some Chinese logistics providers can slash prices in order to build a customer database and add new services such as loans, but other rivals will focus on delivery fees that will not escalate into a price war and the situation will improve in the second half,” Mr Sutthikead said.

Logistics providers will expand same day deliveries this year, mostly focusing on upcountry, as well as next day delivery.

Same day delivery will serve Thais that might be willing to pay extra for faster deliveries as surveys found 47% of consumers were willing to pay extra, according to Boston Retail Partners. In 2018, same day delivery services grew 43% accounting for 22% of total deliveries.

Read Full Article: Local Logistics Prospects Bright on Better Quality and Service

How Retailers Can Capitalize on Instagram Checkout

Total Retail – In March, Instagram publicly announced a new e-commerce feature. Rather than tagging items in posts and redirecting interested parties to an online shop, “Checkout on Instagram” enables brands to sell products to users directly inside the app. The promise is that companies can minimize any extra steps in the transaction process, and therefore decrease the likelihood of abandoned shopping carts. Furthermore, they can better capture consumer interest — while they’re heavily engaged on social media — and thereby increase sales conversions.

Currently, more than 20 brands are beta testing the feature, including Adidas, Burberry, Dior, MAC Cosmetics, Prada, Warby Parker, and Uniqlo. Among these select brands, Adidas has already been generating results. CEO Kasper Rørsted shared on the brand’s earnings call that, in the first quarter of 2019, online sales saw a 40 percent year-over-year jump, which he largely attributes to the new Checkout feature and product launches via the Instagram app.

This makes for a more personalized experience, where people see products that they truly like, which leads to a higher likelihood of conversion —and means increased profits and less wasted ad spend. According to BRP Consulting’s 2019 Real-Time Retail report, 87 percent of customers today want a personalized and consistent experience across all shopping channels.

BRP Consulting’s Real-Time Retail report also notes that 56 percent of consumers are more likely to shop at a retailer that offers a shared cart across channels, yet only 7 percent of retailers currently offer that capability. With Instagram becoming a viable sales channel, there’s an opportunity now to incorporate social media into a greater omnichannelretail experience, where there are no barriers between online and offline channels.
Read Full Article: How Retailers Can Capitalize on Instagram Checkout