Michel Kors has launched a chatbot on Facebook Messenger and Google Assistant, designed to support its Access Sofie smartwatch for women.
The bot aims to teach users about the smartwatch’s features and functionalities, guiding new owners on the set-up process of their device when they first purchase, enabling them to get the most out of it thereafter.
It also provides style inspiration curated from user-generated content and shopping information about items to buy within the experience, including interchangeable bands for the watches. That is done within the Facebook Messenger feed, or via a voice-activated option available through the Google Assistant.
Should the user need help, the bot is also equipped with FAQ support and the ability to hand users off to a human customer service representative when the moment arises.
The chatbot is also available for non-watch owners, enabling them to explore the different Sofie smartwatch styles, then inviting them to either make a purchase on the spot or head to their nearest Michael Kors location.
This sort of move for chatbots as a key part of customer service is becoming increasingly commonplace among brands and retailers. Part of the reason, beyond the marketing drive it has facilitated initially, is the scale it enables. As the technology itself improves, this is only going to get smarter.
Across verticals, there are now more than 100,000 bots on the Facebook Messenger platform, all of which have the potential to reach the platform’s 1.3 billion users.
If there was one overarching term at Shoptalk Europe this week, it was artificial intelligence. From machine learning to visual search, natural language processing and more, the role of systems that facilitate smarter and more personalised customer experiences was key.
Keynote talks from Google, Alibaba, Westfield and more all referenced such a focus, with repeats of numerous big stats bandied about in terms of where this space is moving. By 2020, 85% of customer interaction in retail will be managed by AI, according to Gartner, multiple speakers said. And 30% of all companies will employ AI to augment at least one of their primary sales processes by the same time period, they further added.
“We’re putting AI front and centre as a driving force to make [smart commerce] happen,” noted eBay’s chief product officer, RJ Pittman. “The curve is steep but the opportunity is extraordinary. So we’re going to start climbing; we’re right at the precipice of a transformational inflection point.”
Other such initiatives were referenced throughout the conference too. Levi’s noted its virtual stylist chatbot, created with Mode.ai, which aims to replicate the experience customers have in store by helping them with the fit and style of jeans to suit them.
Topman’s global digital director, Gareth Rees-John, highlighted his work with a Canadian company called Granify to help optimize the menswear store’s e-commerce conversion rates by serving different messages to shoppers when they are at flight risk. The notifications use machine learning to address issues that will help retain the individual in question, such as letting them know an item is low in stock, as one example. It’s seeing an uplift of 3-5% in doing so.
Flash sales site BrandAlley meanwhile, outlined how it works with marketing automation company Emarsys for persona based targeting in its email campaigns, which has led to a 16% conversion lift. And AI firm Sentient Technologies showed how providing 256 real-time website design variations for consumers for Swedish flower delivery chain Euroflorist, has resulted in a 17% increase in conversions.
An underlying thread throughout however, was how much more work there is to be done to move towards true personalisation. Rees-John reminded the audience how many retailers are still operating on legacy systems with “jumbled data” making it hard to move forward fast, for instance. His focus, he said, is on “making little changes that have robust business cases”.
Meanwhile, Bruce Macinnes, chairman of BrandAlley, noted that he hopes to move towards personalising the entire customer journey from homepage to checkout. “We have plenty of personalised content along that journey but it’s not fully personalised yet and we believe there is a way to go to using all the data that we have,” he explained.
Charmaine Huet, chief marketing officer of Woolworths South Africa, wants to work towards having millions of different communications plans every day. “78% of our revenue comes from credit cards, so we already know a lot about our customers. Now what we’re really thinking about is how do you really personalise the experience for them and how do you create content that is really personalised and resonates with [each of them] – and this is really difficult, it takes humans and data and AI.”
Vladimir Stankovic, global digital and e-commerce director at Camper, said AI can be seen as the enabler for all this. “It will allow us to get closer to our consumer, to give them what they want.” His big hopes lie in how it can impact discovery: “Natural language processing and visual search are providing new ways to discover product. I believe there is huge value from this technology.”
Visual search companies particularly dominated the exhibit floor, including the likes of Slyce, which works with Tommy Hilfiger, and Fashwell, which works with Zalando. Ted Mann, CEO of the former, said being able to search through your camera lens will become common practice for shoppers down the road, noting new functionalities his team is adding including being able to use visual search to create wishlists and to fill shopping baskets.
In his keynote talk, Tim Kendall, president of Pinterest, likewise said “the future of discovery will be visual”. He pushed the idea that Pinterest is aiming to do to discovery what Google did to search, with visual search at the heart of achieving that.
The company’s Lens tool, which allows customers to find similar items from its database by searching through their cameras, is being heavily integrated in the shopping space. It recently launched a partnership with Target on that basis, similarly starting with a registry experience.
“This Pinterest partnership quite literally helps us shorten the distance from when our guests have an idea to when they’re ready to make a purchase,” said Rick Gomez, chief marketing officer at Target, at launch. “It’s another way we’re making it easy and fun for our guests to explore and find new products.”
Ultimately the goal, said Huet of Woolworths South Africa, is for automation in retail processes to do just this: allow more frictionless shopping, as well as a level of personalised experience so consumers can spend more time doing (and finding) what they really want.
AI in its various forms, is helping shopkeepers move this forward. “Just look at this conference; AI is already here,” said Pittman of eBay. “I say embrace it. And then go build something great.”
The luxury e-commerce company has previously highlighted that its mobile shoppers place more than double the orders of desktop users, making it particularly clear why it would look to further engage them. It will work with Facebook-owned Whatsapp, which has over one billion daily users, to test various features, including enhanced notifications.
In a blogpost about the “conversational commerce” launch, Gabriele Tazzari, director of research and development at the group, said the personal shopping team has already been using Whatsapp to service the company’s highest value customers – its EIPs, or extremely important people. They have been experimenting with using existing functions like status updates to share pictures of new items and ultimately push towards transactions.
“To date we have made countless sales across Whatsapp, even selling a single item for over £80,000,” he explains, noting how shoppers have highlighted a preference for messaging rather than emails.
As part of the new test programme, the group has now integrated its Order Management System (OMS) with Whatsapp by using its new Enterprise solution. This allows the company to additionally use the messaging service as a notification system for order and shipping confirmations. It is doing so as a test with Yoox in Belgium initially, where it’s so far seen less than 3% of users ask to unsubscribe from the service.
“In the future, we hope to engage customers with our business via the app, giving every single user an immediate and personal service, whether it is an automated notification or real-time customer care or personal shopping services,” Tazzari adds.
Further features that Whatsapp is rolling out include verification badges, messages that can’t be deleted and different colour messages.
The news follows Facebook Messenger’s move into conversational commerce with the growth of its chatbot services. The likes of Everlane, Sephora, Burberry and more recently Levi’s, have been using it as both a content-sharing and customer service tool. Payments are also possible, hinting at what could be rolled out to Whatsapp down the line.
There’s a lot to catch up on from the past fortnight – from news of the see-now-buy-now revolution’s fading, to LVMH’s e-commerce plans and Gucci’s meme campaign, not to mention the creative director shifts happening at the likes of Givenchy and Chloé.
On top of that however, is also a special digest of everything you need to know from SXSW – from our own round-up of the top technologies on show and the numerous Levi’s, Marc Jacobs and Bolt Threads announcements, through to varying views on areas including chatbots, drones and more.
If that’s not enough, do also take time to read the much deeper dives on artificial intelligence we’ve highlighted both under the top stories and tech headers too.
The see-now-buy-now revolution is fizzling [Glossy]
LVMH goes digital with all its brands under one luxury goods e-commerce site [FT]
#TFWGucci is the new viral campaign merging memes and fashion [Sleek]
WWD worked with IBM Watson’s AI to predict the biggest trends of the season [WWD]
Why Cosabella replaced its agency with AI and will never go back to humans [Campaign]
SXSW 2017: Tech takeaways from AI to blockchain for the fashion and retail industries [F&M]
Trying on the Levi’s and Google smart jacket at SXSW feels like the future [Forbes]
Why Marc Jacobs’ cynical view of fashion and technology at SXSW won’t last [Forbes]
Bolt Threads is launching its first bioengineered spider silk product at SXSW – a tie [Forbes]
My afternoon at the virtual reality cinema, including trying the Spatium Philip Treacy experience [USA Today]
For fashion brands flocking to SXSW, what’s the ROI? [BoF]
Spotify lets The North Face release campaign where it rains [BrandChannel]
For anyone heading to Austin for SXSW Interactive this year, you will no doubt be entering into those few days ahead where you realise not only how much else there’s still to be done at work before you go, but just how little time you’ve had to prep for what’s to come.
Never fear! On the one hand, there’s something incredibly beneficial about the serendipity of going with the flow at this event. Plus the app is pretty spot on for getting you figured out hour by hour. That said, on the other, there’s a need to do several RSVPs to make sure you can get in to the parties you want to etc, and having a rough idea of your itinerary for the week, never harms.
So on that note, here are our highlights for the best of each day, designed specifically with those working in fashion and retail in mind. There’s also a link at the bottom to my full schedule for the week should you wish to see a more detailed, but still filtered version of the programme.
Look forward to seeing lots of you there. Don’t forget, we have #FashMash drinks at 6.30pm on Friday, March 10. If you didn’t get an invite, do drop me a note. Last but not least be sure to check out the survival guide Olly Rzysko of Primark wrote for us last year, complete with insanely relevant Kanye GIFs throughout.
FRIDAY, MARCH 10
Friday is a real ease-in kind of day, with a slow start to allow you to get your badges, and only a handful of highlights throughout the programme. One of the true beauties of SXSW is stepping outside of your usual remit and learning from other worlds, so don’t miss Cory Richards’ keynote at 2pm – a climber and visual storyteller, he was named National Geographic Adventurer of the Year (2012) and a National Geographic Fellow (2015).
Also worth checking out is the 11am session on how tech is shaping the future of entertainment. Pete Cashmore, founder and CEO of Mashable, will sit down with leaders in the entertainment and technology space to discuss how television and film are working hand in hand with Silicon Valley to not only reach consumers in the new ways they’re watching videos, but adjusting their creative process based on new advances in audience data.
Saturday is a real conundrum with multiple incredible sessions all planned at the same time. Here’s where the luck part comes in at SXSW: some of them will be the talk of the week, others will be a total fail, and some you may not even be able to get into (if it’s a popular subject or speaker, be sure to arrive at least 30 mins early). For the 9.30am session for instance, it’s a toss up between learning about where artificial intelligence is headed from Microsoft, the real application of it in Disney’s case, or a talk from Bolt Threads’ CEO on their progress with spider silk as a new fibre for the industry – an exploration of how his team is using biotechnology to design protein-based materials at the molecular level. That’s a tough choice.
Sunday is Decoded Fashion’s day, meaning if it’s really fashion content you’re after, you may not need to move from their Hangar Lounge location. That said, if you’re looking to mix it up and step out of your comfort zone, several other talks look very promising, including Fjord’s 2017 trends report examining not only trends that will impact consumers, but those set to impact design, business, organisation, culture and society in the next 12-18 months.
As for other events, ModCloth and Wrangler have teamed up for a reception early evening, while Intel also has their AI lounge (running March 10-12) to head over to and learn from. If that wasn’t enough: Liz Bacelar (founder of Decoded Fashion) also launches her new business, TheCurrent, with a VIP programme from 4pm-7pm looking at innovation in the fashion and retail industries featuring speakers from Under Armour, Ford, Google, Parsons and more. There’s also a live podcast recording on Saturday morning with Rebecca Minkoff.
MONDAY, MARCH 13
If you haven’t had too much in the way of tacos and magaritas yet, and you can still manage to get up early, kickstart Monday with Ford’s session with executive chairman, Bill Ford, all about smart mobility. Make sure to get out on time however, because Marc Jacobs is up at 11am in conversation with Vogue’s Sally Singer and the queue is likely to be popular. The discussion is around designing in the age of the social media, which isn’t exactly a new topic (for anywhere, let alone SXSW), but it is Marc Jacobs.
A true highlight of the day (in fact the whole week), mind you, comes from futurist Ray Kurzweil, a director of engineering at Google, with his daughter Amy Kurzweil, who works at the Fashion Institute of Technology no less, at 12.30pm. Ray is one of the best speakers I’ve ever seen, so all hopes are pinned on this session being one of the best.
The big hitter, however, will be Yasmin Green of Jigsaw (of Alphabet variety, not the British fashion store), who leads the team’s innovation efforts, overseeing projects on counter-radicalisation and fragile states.
And last but not least, it’s not a true SXSW experience until you attend one of Bruce Sterling’s closing keynotes. “The future: history that hasn’t happened yet”, as he calls his session, will whip the slider-bar between the unthinkable and the unimaginable, which is exactly what you’ll need to cap off your Austin week.
All eyes might have been on the Milan collections, but the big business news this week is back in London where Natalie Massenet announced her move to Farfetch as co-chairman. An Instagram Story featuring Massenet with José Neves answering a Q&A followed – do watch it via @Farfetch before it disappears.
Otherwise, some interesting stories this week debating retail tech – what consumers do and don’t want on the one hand, versus why the industry hasn’t adopted artificial intelligence faster, on the other. Both are worth digging in to and digesting. Beyond that, there are new campaigns from Calvin Klein and Converse, as well as a scathing (but amusing) piece over on Digiday about just why fashion advertising is all out of (terrible) ideas. And if you’re still not sure about your video strategy, you might want to pay attention to the fact YouTube users now watch one billion hours per day.
Consumers don’t want Amazon or Google to help them shop [Bloomberg]
AI can make us all dress better, so why isn’t the fashion industry using it more? [Fast Company]
How Neiman Marcus is turning technology innovation into a ‘core value’ [Retail Dive]
Tommy Hilfiger looks to technology as it combats Macy’s decline [Bloomberg]
The trouble with all those t-shirt slogans about diversity on fashion’s runways [Quartz]
Natalie Massenet joins Farfetch as co-chairman [BoF]
How teen retailer Aerie is thriving while its competitors flounder [CNBC]
Céline names new CEO, joins Instagram, announces plans to launch e-commerce [The Fashion Law]
Despite some connected clothing here, a spot of mixed reality there, there’s largely been little in the way of technology in action this fashion week season. Not literally of course – behind the scenes, tech is working harder than ever to push the latest shows out to a widening consumer audience – but the role of innovation has made a serious shift away from big tech hits in recent times.
Over the past few years, tech has been the way to grab attention – we’ve seen everything from drones, holograms, virtual reality, wearables and more making their way down the New York, London, Milan and Paris runways. Who could forget Google Glass at Diane von Furstenberg, virtual reality windows at Topshop or the holographic Polo Ralph Lauren show? And that’s before you think about the likes of Burberry pioneering the way with endless partnerships with tech giants Apple, Google, Facebook and Twitter.
Such a focus wasn’t brand new (the infamous robotic spray-paint scene from Alexander McQueen takes us back to before today’s connected age – nearly 20 years ago to spring/summer 1999), but it exploded in the social media era, becoming the defacto way to draw headlines, whether it was for the first live streams or indeed those big budget campaigns.
But in the centre of all that, in some instances because of it, the very notion of fashion week has changed. Today, the industry is battling with an event series that has become consumer facing while it’s still set up to deliver primarily to a trade (wholesale) model. What appears on the catwalks is generally speaking six-months ahead of it hitting stores. The result is supposed consumer fatigue, greater fast fashion copycats and more pressure than ever on turnover, margins and more. The big question now is not only whether that should change, but how. Enter the “see-now, buy-now” movement from those able to be more agile in their production timelines, including Burberry, Tommy Hilfiger, Tom Ford, Rebecca Minkoff, Topshop Unique and more.
But the follow-up question that then brings, is if we start selling to consumers now what does that mean for how things are marketed in real-time?
The simple answer, really, is to step away from the tech-for-tech’s-sake stuff; the attention grabbing initiatives without any substance behind them. That concept can still be achieved in other ways – with set designs, with political statements, with genuinely incredible collections. Today’s focus instead seems to be moving to conversion rates – to selling. And importantly, less on gimmicks.
It’s still very early days with this consumer-facing movement, and we’re just bedding in with the first iterations of it, let alone have any true measurement to compare. But, as one big British brand told me off the record this London Fashion Week: “If you have a line to push immediately, your efforts and budgets are going to go to that – to directing consumers into how to shop, not in something else that’s merely a brand move.”
What we did see in technology this season was accordingly driven by what would indeed impact the end shopper. There were chatbots once more from the likes of Burberry and Tommy Hilfiger. There was also an immediately shoppable initiative on Instagram from Rebecca Minkoff in partnership with LiketoKnow.it.
“Our customers love when we create unique experiences for them. More than just shopping, they get to be a part of our brand and we get to know them in a more meaningful way,” said Minkoff. “Collaborating with LiketoKnow.it empowers us to take that to a global audience by giving them immediate access to the same content and products that those attending in person are seeing, and that’s a very powerful opportunity.” She also introduced connected handbags to draw in certain shoppers to a unique experience of the show via a digital ticket.
Tommy Hilfiger then introduced a visual search tool with Slyce – an app called Tommyland Snap:Shop that enabled users to take pictures of the models to pull up the e-commerce link to that item.
Both Minkoff and Hilfiger, who each showed in LA this season, otherwise focused heavily on the idea of full consumer entertainment as well as a significant influencer plug-in. The recognition here is that it’s about getting in front of the right consumers, and spending money to do it.
And this isn’t just a fashion week move. You can see the same with social media. It’s not about gimmicky campaigns anymore – when was the last time you called something on Facebook an innovation? It’s more about integration. It’s about decent budgets and shifting the needle on ROI.
It’s a similar story at retail, with fewer campaigns focused on technology in the store. That doesn’t mean there’s actually less tech in-store – but there’s a redirection towards the sort of tech that matters.
Speaking at the recent Commerce 2020 summit in London, Malcolm Pinkerton, VP of e-commerce and digital retail insights at Kantar Retail, said: “[In recent years] we’ve seen stores flooded with technology hoping it would digitise the experience, but it was hard to do and expensive to maintain. Now we’ve realised we can build solutions around what people bring in with them – mobile.”
Innovation today is happening in that somewhat quieter fashion. Chatbots might still be nascent, but it makes sense they’re being experimented with – forget drones on the catwalk, why not offer personalised access to it through an AI-enabled smartphone experience? It’s for that same reason we’re seeing virtual reality and mixed reality content continuing during the shows – dipping a toe into where the future of interactive (and shoppable) content is moving.
The fact is, technology shouldn’t be a “brand move” anymore. It needs to work for who your customer is, where she is, and when. On that basis, it shifts from a headline, to a standard part of what you do. All year round.
That’s not to say there’s no place for innovation anymore. Far from it. It’s perhaps more necessary today, than ever. In this sort of market, the question increasingly becomes how do you stand out – especially if you don’t have Tommy Hilfiger-size budgets? And even if you do, how is that sustainable? On that basis, it’s about shifting the very fundamental underpinning of the business, not just the press release topline.
It’s about truly keeping ahead of the curve by disrupting the way you’ve always operated. Innovation today isn’t necessarily about the flashiest moves, but the smartest. Innovating in the supply chain, in the personalised customer experience via mobile, even eventually more and more through the fabrications themselves, is where we’ll start seeing real movements.
So is tech going out of fashion? No, but the thing to remember is that innovation is no longer just a marketing play; it’s an entire business mentality.