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Retail technology

Mall of America launches elf hologram concierge to help guide gifting

Mall of America has launched an interactive hologram called “Ellie the Elf”,  which acts as a concierge and helps advise customers on which gifts to buy their loved ones this holiday season.

Activated via voice command, customers can interact with the hologram, which lives on a screen in the shopping center, by standing next to a small control board, and speaking into a microphone. 

The experience operates much like a chatbot, going down the route of a decision tree to get to suggestions for users. When users ask “Ellie, I’m looking for a gift for my mom”, for instance, it then responds by asking further questions to determine the perfect gift.

The aim of the experience, which was created in partnership with VNTANA, is to both ease the shopping journey for customers, and create a fun interaction.

“At our core, Mall of America is an experiential retail destination,” said Sarah Townes, VP of marketing at the company. “VNTANA’s hologram technology is a great way to capitalize on our multi-channel chatbot we launched last year and provides yet another interaction for guests to experience that not only offers a fun interaction but also assistance to those searching for gift ideas this holiday season.”

When approaching the hologram, customers are also invited to find gifts via different categories of suggestions. These are broken down into women, men, teens, kids and babies, for instance, after which new categories emerge such as “tech” or “experience”. 

The concierge can then also show customers where they can find the specific items they are looking for, by explaining on which level and area of the mall they are located.

How are you thinking about interactive retail experiences? We’re all about finding you the perfect partners to do so. TheCurrent is a consultancy transforming how fashion, beauty and consumer retail brands intersect with technology. We deliver innovative integrations and experiences, powered by a network of top technologies and startups. Get in touch to learn more.

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e-commerce Editor's pick Retail Startups technology

H&M Home to launch Google Assistant app for voice-enabled style advice

H&M Home - google assistant
H&M Home

H&M has teamed up with Google to experiment with voice technology for its homeware brand, providing customers with personalized style advice through Google Assistant.

Announced during Stockholm Fashion Tech Talks, the voice app provides suggestions, mood boards and inspiration for every room in the house.

To make the experience even more personal the H&M Home Stylist, as the assistant is called, will reportedly have an exclusive human voice responding. This comes off the back of the Google I/O event last month, which featured an incredibly human-sounding version of Google Assistant placing a call to book a hair appointment.

H&M’s Monki brand has also announced it has partnered with London-based startup HoloMe to test high-definition human holograms in augmented reality.

The initiative sees images of nine select Monki outfits enhanced with digital effects, allowing the viewer to explore each of them in greater detail via their smartphone or tablet and experience the holograms as though they are present in the room.

“At H&M group we constantly work on innovations that create extraordinary customer experiences. The fashion industry is changing fast and technology is more important than ever as an enabler in adapting to an ever-changing society,” says Elin Frendberg, who leads business development for the H&M group.

Both initiatives come off the back of a tough trading time for H&M and a commitment to technology in order to turn things around.

“We know the industry is undergoing a huge shift – the catalyst for this transformation is technology. It’s not just one technology, but a set that includes artificial intelligence (AI), augmented reality (AR), robotics and more,” said the group’s CEO Karl-Johan Persson at the company’s Capital Markets Day in February.

“There are changing consumer behaviours as a result – they are expecting more and more. They expect a more tailored offering in how we set up our stores, in how we communicate with [them]. They want a hassle free shopping experience, and the ability to shop anywhere and anytime. And they want even better designs at higher quality and better prices.”

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e-commerce Editor's pick technology

Amazon steps into the fashion selfie game with Echo Look device

The new Amazon Echo Look
The new Amazon Echo Look

Amazon is expanding AI assistant Alexa’s capabilities with a new standalone selfie camera, designed to give users fashion tips and advice on what to wear.

Echo Look, as the device is called, follows in the footsteps of the main Amazon Echo voice-controlled gadget, of which more than 10 million have reportedly sold.

This new hands-free camera version offers many of the same functionalities as the original, but also comes with four LED lights, a depth-sensing system and a background blurring effect, all in a bid to give users the perfect full-length shot of what they’re wearing. It also takes videos and can automatically share such looks on your own or a friend’s phone.


More than just being a means of seeing what you look like however, the device also comes with a service called “Style Check”, which uses machine learning to compare different outfits and advise on the best choice based on trends and what flatters you.

The write-up reads: “Style Check keeps your look on point using advanced machine-learning algorithms and advice from fashion specialists. Submit two photos for a second opinion on which outfit looks best on you based on fit, colour, styling and current trends.”

As with most AI, the intention is that the service gets smarter the more people use it. It additionally will help users create a personal look book by saving all their previous outfits – what they wore and when.

Amazon's Echo Look can give outfit advice through its Style Check feature
Amazon’s Echo Look can give outfit advice through its Style Check feature

It comes of course at a time when Amazon is increasingly trying to shift into the fashion space. As Hugh Fletcher, global head of consultancy and innovation at e-commerce solutions provider, Salmon, comments: “It doesn’t take too much imagination to realise that this in turn will enable Amazon to promote products sold through its platform, and even its own clothing ranges – thereby locking customers into a relationship with Amazon. Existing retailers need to be aware of Amazon’s aggressive horizontal expansion and its innovative invention of new routes to market. While many retailers are still struggling with establishing omnichannel strategies, Amazon is taking omnichannel innovations to the next level.”

Voice is one particular area that will continue to see growth in terms of how consumers discover product too. According to Mary Meeker of KPCB, half of all web searches will use voice or image search rather than text by 2020. “More efficient and often more convenient than typing, voice-based interfaces are ramping quickly and creating a new paradigm for human-computer interaction,” she said last year.

The Echo Look device retails for $199.99, though is not yet available to the public.

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Editor's pick mobile technology

Macy’s teams with IBM Watson for AI-powered mobile shopping assistant

IBM Watson Macy's
The new AI-powered Macy’s On Call mobile tool from IBM Watson and Satisfi

Macy’s is set to launch an in-store shopping assistant powered by artificial intelligence thanks to a new tie-up with IBM Watson via developer partner and intelligent engagement platform, Satisfi.

Macy’s On Call, as it’s called, is a cognitive mobile web tool that will help shoppers get information as they navigate 10 of the retail company’s stores around the US during this pilot stage.

Customers are able to input questions in natural language regarding things like where specific products, departments, and brands are located, to what services and facilities can be found in a particular store. In return, they receive customised relevant responses. The initiative is based on the idea that consumers are increasingly likely to turn to their smartphones than they are a store associate for help when out at physical retail.

Head over to Forbes for the full story on what the technology itself includes as well as further detail on what the experience enables the customer to do.