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How will Google bust into brick and mortar?

RetailDive – It’s reportedly only a matter of time before the tech giant signs the lease on its first permanent store — and just what its physical strategy will look like remains to be seen.

It’s reportedly only a matter of time before Google signs the lease on its first permanent brick-and-mortar store. Last week, unnamed sources told The Chicago Tribune that the tech giant was mulling a two-level 14,000 square foot space in the city’s meatpacking district.

While Google hasn’t responded to Retail Dive’s request for information, nor has it spoken publicly to other publications, retail insiders aren’t holding back speculation over what a move into physical retail could mean for Google. In the past, the company has experimented with pop-up shops and other store-in-store concepts, but a commitment to a physical store of its own will make a brick-and-mortar strategy critical. Just what exactly that will look like has yet to be seen.

On the topic, the discussion forum RetailWire asked its BrainTrust panel of retail experts the following questions:

What kind of brick-and-mortar strategy, if any, makes the most sense for Google to support its hardware lineup? What lessons should Google take from pushes by Apple and Amazon into physical retail?

Do what Amazon did: Buy your physical footprint

Ken Morris, Principal, Boston Retail Partners: Physical stores make perfect sense to showcase Amazon’s current portfolio of tech products. It seems like a smaller footprint than 14,000 sq ft would make more sense, however, maybe they will lease some of the space to brands that are selling innovative products on Google Marketplace. Eventually, I expect Google to follow the lead of Amazon and expand its product portfolio significantly by adding private label brands of multiple product categories beyond technology.

I saw the barge idea in Portland and that was an ill-fated idea. Maybe acquiring a retailer with stores in key markets as a way to accelerate its physical presence — just like Amazon acquiring Whole Foods would be a better approach.

Read Full Article: How will Google bust into brick and mortar?

Can Conversational Commerce Fulfill Its Potential In Retail?

Retail TouchPoints – The remarkable growth of voice-assisted devices over the past year has expanded what “conversational commerce” truly means for retailers. While the term had largely been used to describe chatbot activity just a few years ago, voice now gives retailers yet another shiny toy to fulfill consumer needs — and hopefully create a new shopping channel. As such, there are high expectations around the technology: voice shopping is expected to account for $40 billion in U.S. consumer spending by 2022, according to a study from OC&C Strategy Consultants. However, for such a figure to be achieved, retailers must still surmount some high barriers.

It’s true that enthusiasm for the technology itself is high— voice-activated devices are set for 50% U.S. sales growth from the 2016-2017 period to the 2018-2019 span, according to NPD Group. Yet despite this popularity, interest in — or even awareness of — their commerce functionalities remains low.

“As much as retailers have made great strides over the past couple of years in being nimbler and more agile, this is such a unique technology that they will still struggle with,” said Jeffrey Neville, Senior VP and Practice Lead at BRP Consulting in an interview with Retail TouchPoints. “The thought of doing a pilot of a customer service/voice commerce program is going to be difficult because it’s so different. There’s a tendency to overthink the impact of something like this on their customers. As far as the base technology goes, you can get partners or cloud-based third-party applications to do a lot of the groundwork, but from a data integration standpoint and from an understanding of how you build and manage these tools — that’s going to be a struggle.”

“A big discussion in this space is: ‘Do we want the customer to think they’re speaking with a real human being or do we want the customer to realize that this is convenience with Watson or some other AI technology?’” said BRP’s Neville. “That’s a decision retailers have to make right now. Any AI using voice is probably going to mess up the conversation at some point, and the customer is going to realize that they’re talking to a computer.”

“If you look at apparel or luxury, you’re seeing companies like Burberry and Tommy Hilfiger use chatbots to be able to play the role of a stylist and provide fashion advice,” said Neville. “That’s where you may start seeing that relationship building through a chatbot, versus the stylist you’re used to going to at Polo Ralph Lauren. Not to bring this back to Amazon, but the Echo Look can take a picture of you in an outfit, and the long-term theory is to be able to combine this conversational commerce and voice shopping with image recognition. As you start to mix the concepts of being able to have a conversation with a computer-based stylist, and then having that computer-based stylist also be able to recognize patterns and colors, and making recommendations out of the existing retailer’s catalog, there’s some cool opportunities that retailers can tap into.”

Read Full Article: Can Conversational Commerce Fulfill Its Potential In Retail?  

Alibaba is piloting AI-enabled shopping experiences

Luxury Daily – Chinese ecommerce giant Alibaba has opened a concept store that offers shoppers and luxury retailers a look at a new frontier for fashion retail digitization.

Dubbed “FashionAI,” the pilot boutique harnesses artificial intelligence capabilities for a stress-free shopping experience. While it is only open for a few days, the store will act as a temporary testing ground for innovative retail formats.

“AI-assisted shopping brings the compelling elements of online purchasing to the physical store, creating a truly unique, personalized customer experience,” Laura Sossong, consulting manager at Boston Retail Partners, Boston. “Consumers who desire a meaningful in-store experience but want the added benefits of styling tips, convenience and individualized customer service are sure to embrace this hybrid offering.”

Ms. Sossong is not affiliated with Alibaba but agreed to comment as an industry expert.

“Predicting fashion trends is imperative for the success of luxury retailers, and in-store AI technology will allow retailers to glean invaluable insight into marketplace preferences and trends,” Ms. Sossong said. “By gathering rich reportable data on customer shopping choices, retailers can then predict trends, demand and inventory needs and shape assortment direction and strategy based on findings.”

“The plethora of insights created by AI will enable luxury retailers to make smarter merchandise planning and assortment decisions,” BRP’s Ms. Sossong said. “We are bound to see elements of AI technology being incorporated into the luxury space, particularly in high end markets where implementing AI will bring ROI by inducing further purchases.”

Read Full Article: Alibaba is piloting AI-enabled shopping experiences

CLOUD STRATEGIES: Proving Key to Personalization, Product Content Enhancement

Retail TouchPoints – The retail cloud business segment is expected to reach more than $28 billion by 2021, growing at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 20.9%, according to research from MarketsandMarkets. As many as 70% of retailers say cloud will be a major factor in their business by 2020, according to a report from The Economist Intelligence Unit. But as more retailers jump aboard the cloud bandwagon, they should strive to gain a competitive edge with the technology that goes beyond the basic benefits of a cloud implementation.

This Retail TouchPoints Special Report will spotlight innovative strategies facilitated by cloud solutions that can help retailers achieve new business goals with speed and efficiency.

Many retailers already are leveraging cloud servers for business basics like POS processes, order management and fulfillment and communications across the enterprise. More advanced cloud offerings can help them:

  • Personalize offers even before the purchase journey begins;
  • Improve delivery and quality of product content offerings, especially as the number of SKUs they carry increases;
  • Unlock and unify customer data from disparate sources; and
  • Assist with in-store, mobile-powered guided selling.

ELIMINATING THE ‘SAFETY STOCK’ PROBLEM

Despite the introduction of cloud services, many merchants still haven’t taken the proper steps to give shoppers true “real-time” access to their inventory across channels. Many retailers still struggle with “safety stock” — additional quantities of an item held in inventory to reduce the risk that the item will be out of stock, according to Ken Morris, Principal of BRP.

“Let’s say I’m selling Tag Heuer watches — I must have a safety stock of two to account for this lag,”
said Morris. “If I have two or less items in a store, I have to tell corporate I have no items, because I have to account for the lag in updates to inventories between all the distribution centers and all of the stores. Although I may have two each in every store of 1,000 stores, it’s going to read as zero to someone trying to buy online and pick up in store.”

With a cloud service that incorporates data from all stores and distribution centers, retailers would be able to generate more accurate real-time stock numbers throughout the enterprise, without worrying about products going out-of-stock. Additionally, associates would be able to access this information quicker within the store, so they could assist consumers with real-time inventory data.

MOBILE APPS GUIDE IN-STORE SALES VIA SHOPPER DATA

Cloud platforms also can help retailers match products within the store to shoppers via guided selling. Morris described how an app recently designed for a BRP retail client offers guided selling in-store based on prior shopper behavior.

“Whatever they visited or put on their wish list or basket as they walked into the store, the app would guide them around to look at what they saw online and direct them with a Google map around the store,” Morris said. “This makes retail experiences way more relevant than most are today, especially because stores are changing. Having that data while the customer is in the store is key. To be able to affect the sale before checkout is what Amazon does every day online. They know who I am, they know what I buy, they know what I’m likely to buy and they help me through that sale.”

Read Full Article: CLOUD STRATEGIES: Proving Key to Personalization, Product Content Enhancement

Amazon’s “style assistant” offers guidance, product suggestions

Luxury Daily – Online retail giant Amazon is looking to become a key source of fashion inspiration and advice through the nationwide roll out of its style-centric Echo Look device.

Originally launched last year on an invite-only basis, the Echo Look uses machine learning and artificial intelligence to help consumers pick between outfits or add to their closets. The Echo Look has the potential to change the way consumers shop for fashion and interact with their wardrobes, opening doors for Amazon and its brand partners.

“Echo Look is a logical extension to integrate with Amazon’s commerce platform,” said Laura Sossong, consulting manager at Boston Retail Partners. “It’s the perfect complementary offering to stimulate incremental sales and create cross-selling opportunities for Amazon’s existing fashion pieces and Alexa technology.”

“Fashion marketers will absolutely look to leverage Echo Look’s Style Check function to boost sales and increase exposure to their brand offerings,” Ms. Sossong said. “The social component of the device will allow sharing of look books, raising awareness and demand for labels and trending merchandise across social communities.”

“Playing upon successful components of social media, Echo will bring outside influence and inspiration to a consumer’s closet,” Boston Retail Partners’ Ms. Sossong said. “It will promote social shopping by introducing shoppers to new style ideas and brands that inspire purchases.”

Read Full Article: Amazon’s “style assistant” offers guidance, product suggestions

Why achieving unified commerce should be a priority

TheRecord – If unified commerce is high on your priority list this year, you’re not alone. Citing a recent survey by Boston Retail Partners (BRP), Retail TouchPoints reported that 81% of retailers will be using unified commerce platforms by the end of 2020.

And BRP “identifies cloud-based unified commerce — the use of a single platform to support commerce for stores, mobile and the web — as the linchpin to competing in a fast-changing, omnichannel environment.”

Increasingly, a unified experience is also defined as a personalised experience. “Consumers no longer ‘need’ to go shopping — if a consumer wants an item she can pull out her smartphone, click a button, and the item will be at her door within a day or two. The advent of online shopping has made us constant consumers,” said BRP in a 2017 report, Personalising the Customer Experience. “Because of this constant ability to shop and easily research the lowest price, retailers — especially those with brick and mortar locations — need to further differentiate themselves to entice customers into the store. Providing a more personalised experience and offering value-add services can help even small retailers differentiate and compete successfully against companies like Amazon. The best and most powerful way to succeed is through personalisation.”

BRP’s report cited these findings from other studies, 84% of consumers choose to interact with sales associates when at a physical retailer (Salesfloor), 87% base purchasing decisions from the advice of a retail employee (Salesfloor) and 46% of shoppers will buy more from a retailer that personalises the shopping experience (eMarketer).

Read Full Article: Why achieving unified commerce should be a priority

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 associate is the key to the customer experience

As technology continues to advance and consumers change the way they shop, the customer experience also needs to evolve. The key is that it is all about the customer. Convenience and reducing frustration and aggravation are key priorities for most consumers. Whatever retailers can do to personalize the shopping experience and make it easy will go a long way towards earning loyalty and increasing sales.

While leveraging technology and self-service options are compelling options, I think some retailers are losing focus on customer service. As retailers look to cut costs by reducing staff in stores, it can have a negative impact on the customer experience. The big advantage that physical stores have over online shopping is the ability to provide a truly personalized shopping experience. However, if you don’t have enough sales associates in your store, you risk frustrating customers that are looking for assistance but can’t find an associate.

Consumers continue to spend time in stores because they seek unique experiences and the ability to touch and feel products. Creating the necessary customer experience also relies on well-informed and available sales associates. Today’s information-savvy consumers are not satisfied with just a ‘warm body’ or ‘one size fits all’ experience – they expect retailers to put time and effort into establishing and offering a personalized experience. Associates are a vital component of this effort, which means retailers need to effectively, train, educate, motivate and arm store employees with tools to ensure that they can and will fulfill the customer’s desire for a personalized experience.

Retailers can enhance their customer service offerings by empowering associates with mobile tools to access customer information based on providing associate-facing and customer-facing applications on their phones that leverage customer information. Knowing what is in the customer’s closet, what they have previously purchased, or even what other customers with similar profiles are mixing and matching together offers associates valuable data that can be used to tailor the shopping experience. In BRP’s 2018 POS/Customer Engagement Survey we found that 51% of retailers agree that empowering associates with mobile tools is a top customer engagement priority.

Providing associates with the tools needed will go a long way towards making the customer’s shopping experience personal and convenient without any added aggravation. The key is to remember the customer is the center of the universe.  Do your customers feel this way?

I appreciate your feedback on this topic. Please share your comments and opinions below.

Ken

Think Tank: Fixated on Data? OK, but Don’t Forget the Customer

WWD – Sam Kliger, founder and chief executive officer of KWI, explains. I love shopping. Yes, it’s my business, but personally it’s my passion, too. For example, I recently felt the need to write a letter to the owner of a high-profile fashion brand. I walked into the store, expecting to come out with a few new things as I enjoy the clothes — the quality, the minimalist look. Instead, I walked out with conviction for what companies such as KWI are doing for the retail business.

There’s a lot of talk about unified commerce, the move toward omnichannel retail that integrates your online and in-store platforms (and full disclosure, we’re talking a lot about it, too). Boston Retail Partners estimate that 81 percent of retailers plan to have unified commerce within three years. There’s a lot of talk about unified commerce, the move toward omnichannel retail that integrates your online and in-store platforms (and full disclosure, we’re talking a lot about it, too). Boston Retail Partners estimate that 81 percent of retailers plan to have unified commerce within three years. In its 2018 POS/Customer Engagement Benchmarking Survey, BRP noted that retailers are putting a laser focus on these priorities:

  • Customer identification/personalization of the customer experience (62 percent)
  • Alignment of the customer experience across mobile apps and the web (54 percent)
  • Empowering associates with mobile tools (51 percent)

By unifying your retail systems, you’re actually building a state-of-the art customer service vehicle. Yes, the data may indicate that customers in St. Louis buy jeans at 4 p.m. on Fridays. And that’s great for your inventory. But how can you better service your customer and build brand loyalty? The real ROI here is a repeat customer. Retailers agree: According to the BRP study, 62 percent of retailers indicate customer identification is their top customer engagement priority and 83 percent will use suggestive selling based on previous purchases within three years.

Read full article: Think Tank: Fixated on Data? OK, but Don’t Forget the Customer

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Personalization is Key to Customer Loyalty

Personalization is Needed to Compete Against Amazon

As consumers become more technologically savvy and have access to better information, there is a widening gap as retailers struggle to meet consumers’ escalating expectations. Personalization is one of the best ways to create and maintain a connection with the brand’s most valuable and loyal customers. The 2018 Special Report – Personalization is Key to Customer Loyalty identifies how retailers are personalizing the shopping experience for their most valuable customers.

“Personalization is the best way for retailers to enhance the customer experience, especially for those customers who are already invested in your brand,” said Perry Kramer, senior vice president and practice lead at BRP. “Identifying and rewarding your most valuable customers with personalized offers and services is imperative to cultivating loyal, brand enthusiasts.”

The key customer loyalty trends identified in the study include:

Customer Identification and Incentives – To engage with customers on a personal level requires retailers to identify the customer early in the process at any touch-point.

• 53% of retailers extend specialized offers to encourage customers to identify themselves with personal information

Most Valuable Customers – With 80% of a retailer’s business typically coming from 20% of its customers, identifying your most valuable customers and understanding their shopping habits is critical to cultivating loyal, brand enthusiasts.

• 77% of retailers identify their most valuable customers, however, 69% of those feel the process needs improvement

Personalizing the Experience – Retailers that identify customers when they enter the store and equip their associates with the proper mobile tools can personalize the shopping experience based on customer context.

• 69% of retailers that identify their most valuable customers share this information with their associates, which represents missed opportunities for the 31% who don’t share customer information with associates.