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Kennedy: ‘Lab’ developing ‘socially responsible algorithms’

Daily Gazette – I don’t mind that Netflix has me pegged as liking British police dramas or preferring series with strong female leads. But would I want my supermarket loyalty program to text me personalized product recommendations after I was “recognized” walking into the store?

Both are examples of using Big Data – our online clicks, visits and signups – to create algorithms that claim to know us and try to predict what we want. String algorithms together and you get artificial intelligence, or the science of making machines do things “intelligently” — that is, in ways that humans would.

AI, as it’s known, is top of mind with many retailers. Consultant Boston Retail Partners predicted last year that 45 percent of retailers will utilize AI by 2020, most to optimize their online interaction with customers.

Read Full Article: Kennedy: ‘Lab’ developing ‘socially responsible algorithms’

Fashion aggregators duke it out in a crowded market

Glossy – Google “Balenciaga sock boots,” and a line up of different retailers arrange themselves on the results page, all offering the same item for the same price. If you have the $995 needed to actually make the purchase, you’d be faced with options to buy from Nordstrom, Net-a-Porter, Farfetch, Ssense, Bergdorf Goodman, Matches Fashion, or Balenciaga’s own e-commerce site, in that order. Tweak the search — remove “sock,” for instance — and the same retailers show up again, this time in a new order.

Who ends up making that sale, and why, is a question marketers at emerging luxury marketplaces like Farfetch, Net-a-Porter and LVMH’s 24 Sèvres are fighting to solve. It’s crucial, since they’re largely competing on the same inventory, save a few brand or collection exclusives here and there.

Paid search drives business, but for these companies to move away from the expensive acquisition strategy, there’s more at work in the path to purchase than who appears first in a Google search.

“For this industry, it’s more nuanced than who can buy up the most SEO,” said Ken Morris, principal at Boston Retail Partners. “Luxury customers need to be taken care of and catered to, and there’s an different playbook to follow when it comes to both getting them in the door and keeping them there.”

“The luxury customer is not the average customer thanks to exclusivity,” said Morris. “There are savvy digital strategies behind sourcing potential customers by linking together lifestyles — people in certain clubs, yacht owners, travelers. You can sift through purchase histories across other industries and zero in, if you know how to use that data properly. It’s a matter of keeping track of these people, and then making sure the value of acquiring them is greater than the cost of doing so.”

“Taking care of the luxury customers you have isn’t a simple business. They need concierge, white-glove treatment and the people who provide it are the people who win,” said Morris. “This is incredibly important when you’re in a field where 20 percent of your customers drive 80 percent of your business.”

Read Full Article: Fashion aggregators duke it out in a crowded market

Retail and Consumer Goods Analytics Study 2018: May the Best Insights Win

RIS News – Challenged at one end by digital behemoths and at the other by nimble, born-in-the-cloud startups, retailers and consumer goods companies are under tremendous pressure to deliver exceptional, personalized customer experiences that drive revenue and repeat business. The emergence of an analytics arms race has forced companies to find ways to expend their limited resources on technologies and applications they believe will deliver the most bang for the buck.

As retail and CG executives seek to build their analytics infrastructure, governance and talent pools, they must also rethink internal processes and shift their cultures toward an analytics mindset. And even as they gain capabilities, new market demands emerge that continually raise the bar ever higher.

But the analytics marketplace is also evolving rapidly, offering new capabilities such as artificial intelligence and machine learning, supported by cloud architecture, that carry the potential to turbocharge analytics programs. These not only discern data patterns more quickly, but sometimes even generate their own algorithms to further fine-tune output.

Comments from Ken Morris, Principal, BRP:

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“While advanced analytics are valuable for almost all areas of retail, they are most critical for replenishment and customer personalization,” says Ken Morris, principal at BRP Consulting. “Advanced analytics are necessary to predict inventory levels across channels that are complicated by omnichannel fulfillment.”

Although analytics is important to every aspect of retailing, “You can’t over-emphasize the customer aspect of analytics, as it is imperative,” says Morris. “Understanding what loyal customers like and what makes former loyal customers leave will tell you where you need to focus.”

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“Retailers are recognizing the value of centralizing applications in the cloud: speed of deployment, faster software updates, lower software, hardware and maintenance costs, and a realtime, single version of the truth,” says Morris. “Real-time visibility and access to product and customer information is critical to effectively executing cross-channel fulfillment services. Without real-time data, information provided internally and externally is out-of-date and, therefore, risks being inaccurate and out of context.”

Read Full Article: Retail and Consumer Goods Analytics Study 2018: May the Best Insights Win

The Role Artificial Intelligence in Improving Customer Experience

CustomerThink – We have all heard or read a lot about artificial intelligence. It is a controversial topic with many fearing that it may result in unemployment for humans. However, the big question is, what is artificial intelligence and what does it entail? Artificial intelligence (AI) is in other terms known as machine intelligence. This intelligence is demonstrated by machines which are programmed to perform tasks that humans would otherwise undertake.

The artificial intelligence history can be traced back to 1956 when it was first introduced as an academic discipline. Over the years, artificial intelligence research has been facing some drawbacks which relate to knowledge, reasoning, perception, and the use of natural language. During my research, I came across companies that are considered the biggest players in AI technology. These companies include Amazon, AlBrain, Anki, Banjo, Apple, CloudsMinds, Facebook, and Google.

However, one major thing I realized is that this technology is starting to replace humans in the business world. According to experts, AI has the potential to boost the economy but also bring a negative effect to humans in the job market. Companies have started relying on this technology when it comes to customer satisfaction, as we will discuss below.

In a recent study conducted by BRP Consulting, it was discovered that in the next three years, there will be a 45% increase in the use of AI by retailers. It is expected that retailers will use the technology to improve customer experience.

Read Full Article: The Role Artificial Intelligence in Improving Customer Experience

81% of retailers will use unified commerce platforms by 2020

Retail Dive – By the end of 2020, 81% of retailers will deploy unified commerce platforms, to support commerce across the enterprise’s stores, mobile users and the web, according to a survey by Boston Retail Partners (BRP). This is seen as essential to competing in the omnichannel environment.

In the online survey of 500 North American retailers, BRP found 28% of respondents had implemented unified commerce, compared to 9% the previous year.

This year’s BRP survey shows that retailers are making progress on implementing unified commerce platforms. Last year, BRP predicted 73% of retailers would have such a platform in place by 2019, and 22% already had one deployed.

Technology and consumer expectations are constantly moving the needle on what is expected from retailers across all channels of their operations.

BRP evaluated how retailers are doing in implementing solutions to meet consumer demands in its “2018 POS/Customer Engagement Benchmarking Survey.” Moving forward, the top three priorities of retailers for the year ahead are customer identification and personalization of the customer experience (62%), alignment of the customer experience across mobile apps and the Web (54%) and empowering associates with mobile tools (51%).

“Customers appreciate personalized offers and recommendations when shopping online or via mobile, and now they expect the same personalization, or better, when they shop in a store,” said Perry Kramer, senior vice president and practice lead at BRP in a statement. “As customer expectations have been reshaped by the digital retail experience, successful retailers have shifted their focus in the physical store environment.”

Retailers are modifying the technology used to identify customers in their stores by decreasing their use of mobile websites, which declined from 40% in 2017 to 28% in 2018, and increasing the use of Media Access Control (MAC) addresses as unique identifiers by 26%. Also on the rise are beacons (19%), and Bluetooth (16%). There will be continued increases in the use of beacon technology in the near future, according to BRP.

Read Full Article: 81% of retailers will use unified commerce platforms by 2020

Robot Associates

Robot Associate: Are retail jobs at risk?

Even though headlines may seem to scream otherwise, the store is not dead. Shopping is a social experience that people want to participate in and that’s not going to go away anytime soon. What is changing is the traditional customer engagement model, as customers now have more information and resources at their fingertips and demand more from their shopping experience.

Today’s stores must encompass both worlds – the sensory experience generally available in the physical world married with the unique and personalized shopping experience common in the digital world. To accomplish this, many retailers are looking to technology and automation to improve the in-store customer experience.

Robots, Automation & Retail

While automation and robots can be a good way to cut overall costs, there is a fine line as to where it makes sense to deploy. Operationally, RFID technology can automate inventory/cycle counts, augmented reality can help with merchandising and floor sets, and blockchain technology can be used to prove authenticity of a luxury good. Areas such as visual recognition and augmented reality displays can enable personalization of merchandise – choose a color, monogram, etc. – to create a custom order and deliver directly to the customer. While virtual mirrors can offer customers the ability to try on merchandise and feel comfortable with their purchase without the merchandise physically being there.

And we are seeing retailers embrace some of these technologies. According to the 2018 POS/Customer Engagement Survey, 41% of retailers plan to utilize augmented reality within three years and 23% plan to utilize virtual mirrors in the same time-frame. These technologies offer further ways to personalize the customer experience in the store. But their best use is as a supplement to knowledgeable, well-trained, technology-enabled human sales associates.

Customer ExperienceCustomer Experience & Personalization

The real-time retail trend of identifying a customer and guiding the customer through the sale via human interaction won’t soon be replaced by automation. The process of customer engagement and personalized context (understanding the time of day, how the customer is dressed, what department they are shopping, if they have a wedding ring, if they are well dressed, etc.), as well as cross-selling and up-selling require a finesse that today’s robotics cannot replace.

However, there are opportunities to utilize technology to enhance relationships by improving associate’s ability to sell to the customers while making them more efficient operationally. Much of the recent automation focus has been on reducing the dependence on cashiers. For example, the elimination of a traditional POS via a “scan and go” technology, allows retailers to redesign their stores and eliminate the classic cash wrap desk to enable more customer-associate interaction and personalization.

While there is a fascination with robots in retail and we are certainly seeing more uses for technology in the store, the adoption will be a slow process with sales associates still a necessary role.

Four reasons why artificial intelligence belongs in your customer service strategy

Outsourcing-Today – At its core, artificial intelligence (AI) is about simplifying, streamlining and organizing information. Machines take on duties that have traditionally fallen to humans, freeing them up for more important and nuanced tasks.

When you break it down like this, it’s no wonder AI is becoming such a big part of customer service. With tools like chatbots and intelligent analytics platforms applied to the customer experience, contact center agents now have more time to deliver the personalized attention customers crave.

But that’s only one of the benefits of integrating AI into your customer service strategy. Leveraging this evolving technology can also have a positive effect on your business operations, brand and bottom line.

According to a recent study conducted by retail management consulting firm Boston Retail Partners, 45 percent of retailers intend to use artificial intelligence to enhance their customer experience within the next three years. In the travel and hospitality industry, 58 percent of businesses are already automating areas that include customer service and AI is becoming increasingly prevalent among financial services companies.

Read Full Article: Four reasons why artificial intelligence belongs in your customer service strategy

5 Building Blocks For Retail Consumer Centric Success

Retail TouchPoints – Cross-Channel Demand Planning Drives Results For Aldo, Nebraska Furniture Mart, Groupe Dynamite And Others. Although 71% of retailers currently lack formal omnichannel planning processes, those that do are achieving gains, such as:

  • Aldo eliminated 95% of aged inventory;
  • Groupe Dynamite boosted automated replenishment to 80% of orders; and
  • Nebraska Furniture Mart made organizational shifts to support cross-channel collaboration rather than internal competition.

Download this white paper to find out how your company can benefit from an integrated retail optimization solution.

EXCERPTS OF FINDINGS FROM BRP SURVEY REPORTS:

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However, retailers typically aren’t organized that way. So, when consumers cross channels during their shopping journeys, retailers have limited, silo-based visibility of available inventory. While the store might be out-of-stock, the e-Commerce distribution center may be in stock and able to ship that day. Avoiding out-of-stocks, backorders or delays in delivery requires both visibility and synchronization across all inventories to allow each channel the opportunity to meet demand and its financial targets. One channel is unable to meet demand for certain products, while excess inventory languishes in a separate, disconnected supply chain. The fact is, as many as 38% of retailers still plan their brick-and-mortar locations as an individual channel, according to BRP’s Merchandise Planning Survey 2016.

A collaborative, cross-channel planning solution is essential to enable retailers to look at inventory investments in aggregate, as well as in granular detail. This o ers better buying leverage and ensures there is one version of the truth, one plan for a business that can be served through multiple channels or across multiple regions. However, the BRP report found 71% of retailers currently lack such formal omnichannel demand processes.

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A more rapid  ow of allocations to the warehouse also helps the retailer satisfy consumers’ intensifying demand for faster deliveries. According to BRP’s Digital Commerce Survey 2017, the number of retailers offering same-day delivery has more than tripled over the past year, from 16% to 51%; and within two years, 65% plan to offer this service.

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Just 11% of retailers have integrated their planning teams across channels in a way that’s working for them, and only 9% are satisfied with their approach to integrated assortments, according to the BRP study. When retailers plan their businesses separately by channel, they confuse the customer and introduce ine ciency into planning, assortments and inventory.

Read full article: 5 Building Blocks For Retail Consumer Centric Success

2018 Review & Outlook

RIS News – 2017 is coming to a close, and for many retailers that is a good thing. The past 12 months will go down in the record books as the year of the store closing — with over 8,500 retail locations closing up shop. As consumers continue to embrace digital shopping, retailers are undergoing an adjustment period and are redefining the path to purchase and investing in cutting-edge technologies to reinvigorate the customer experience.

With constant change as the backdrop, RIS News’ asked leading retailers, analysts and solution providers to comment on the 12 months ahead. We asked them one simple question: “What are the key themes, trends and technology that will define retail in 2018?” While the answers were as varied as the participants, a common message rings out in each response — 2018 will be all about the consumer.

Whether in-store or online the retailers that are going the weather the volatile retail landscape and succeed in these highly competitive times must put the customer first. They need to find new and exciting ways to differentiate their brands from the competition and continue to invest in their digital capabilities to streamline and invigorate the shopping experience.

Our panel of experts believes that redefining omnichannel strategies with a focus on unified commerce will remain a top priority for 2018 and beyond. A key aspect of that focus will be on reinvigorating the store with a heavy investment in IoT, RFID, fulfillment and mobility. In addition, cutting-edge solutions like artificial intelligence and voice-assisted shopping will continue to cement themselves into the retail tech stack and will forever change how consumers shop and engage with retailers.

What will the next 12 months bring for retail? No one knows for certain. But what is definite is the customer will remain front and center.

JEFF NEVILLE, VICE PRESIDENT, BOSTON RETAIL PARTNERS

With store closings up 218% during 2017 and competitive pressure increasing from Amazon and Walmart, changes are occurring quickly and will continue to accelerate through 2018. We see three major trends affecting retail over the next year: voice-assisted shopping, artificial intelligence and same-day delivery.

Voice-assisted shopping. With an estimated 55 million individuals in the U.S. using voice-enabled digital assistants at least monthly this year and Amazon Echo estimated to have an install base of more than 128 million by 2020, voice assistants will become the norm. Voice assistants are replacing traditional search engines and offer an easy hands-free way to shop, especially for basics. Retailers need to accelerate their plans to integrate their offerings with voice-assisted technology to meet this demand.

Artificial intelligence. According to BRP’s “2017 Customer Experience/Unified Commerce Survey,” 45% of retailers plan to utilize AI within three years to enhance the customer experience. AI offers the ability to exploit the data gathered on customers and their preferences to personalize their shopping experience. Amazon and other multi-channel retailers are already experimenting with AI to offer purchasing suggestions based on short surveys and purchase history.

Same-day delivery. Consumers’ preference for convenience and immediate gratification drives this trend. Consumers would rather receive merchandise at home than drive to a store, but they also want their products immediately. The number of retailers offering same-day delivery has tripled in the past year to meet elevated customer expectations. Retailers are testing different ways to effectively execute same-day delivery: Walmart is utilizing store associates to perform the delivery while other retailers are using third-party delivery services like Deliv, Postmates or Uber.

To stay competitive, retailers are transforming their business models, skills and cultures to experiment with and adopt these new trends.

Read Full Article: 2018 Review & Outlook

AI: The Ultimate Personal Shopper?

IT an Us – As the madness of Black Friday and Cyber Monday draws to a close, many of us wish we had experienced a better shopping experience in-store — or wished we had turned to our mobile devices and searched for our bargains online. For many retailers, the experience for shoppers is broken and needs to change.

AI is being increasingly implemented across the fashion and retail industries as bosses introduce new technologies designed to improve the customer and shopping experience.

According to retail management consulting firm BRP, 45 percent of retailers intend to implement AI within three years to enhance the customer experience.

Customers want a unique experience, personalized to them across all of the channels they choose to buy from. AI technologies have the ability to track personal style, location, behavior, and other preferences. They will eventually be able to present customers with items that they love or never even knew they needed — which will increase the retailer’s revenue.

Read full article: AI: The Ultimate Personal Shopper?