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Campaigns Editor's pick Retail technology

8 brands deploying vending machines as smart retail solutions

Artificial intelligence, social media buzz and customer acquisition tools are just a few of the strategies behind vending machines being used as a key part of today’s retail experience.

Intelligent vending machines, which are expected to grow 17% globally over the next five years, come with technology that can provide invaluable customer data – making what was once an anonymous purchase into a visible opportunity for targeting and acquisition.

And so, brands and retailers have begun investing in activations where the machine is central to the experience, and dispense anything from beauty items to full-sized cars. Here we look at the most innovative vending machine experiences and technologies that are helping shape the future of retail.

Adidas: Live interaction
Adidas's World Series activation
Adidas’s World Series activation

To promote its new Splash Pack line, Adidas installed vending machines in two sports bars in LA and Boston during the baseball World Series. Customers were able to win a variety of limited edition products, from cleats to autographs and gear from Adidas athletes. The vending machine had built-in digital printing capabilities that would unlock different items based on the on-field action. For example, when player Chris Sale hit a homerun, it unlocked a chance to get his graphic tees. That created an ongoing buzz that kept fans coming back to check which new prizes were up for grabs next.

Lululemon: Data capturing
Lululemon's Run Stop Shop
Lululemon’s Run Stop Shop

Lululemon tapped into one of its core demographics, runners, by setting up a machine at one of its Run Stop Shops in New York, and another one in Chicago. Prizes included essential running supplies, such as Honey Stinger energy chews and Lululemon socks and hats. To win free goodies, customers had to answer a quick questionnaire on their workout habits, register with their emails and post a picture with the caption #thesweatlifeNYC or #thesweatlifeCHI.

Revlon: Social media shoutout
Revlon's gifting machine at Ulta Beauty
Revlon’s gifting machine at Ulta Beauty

In a similar vein, Cosmetics brand Revlon teamed up with beauty retailer Ulta to create a vending machine that toured the US to dish out free gifts with purchase for users also willing to engage on social media. After purchasing a product, clients would be encouraged to post a picture on Instagram with the hashtag #LiveBoldly – the title of Revlon’s latest campaign – in order to win a free gift. Different gifts were available depending on how much the client spent in-store.

Mulberry: Gamification
Mulberry's smart vending machine with TheCurrent Global
Mulberry’s smart vending machine with TheCurrent Global

Mulberry launched an in-store vending machine in partnership with TheCurrent Global, where visitors played a game of roulette in order to win prizes, from leather goods to vouchers to spend. The activity aimed to capture data on existing or new customers of the brand – in order to play, users had to input their social media handles and had the option to add their email address for further prizes. The machine was part of a larger #MulberryLights campaign for the holidays whereby it also toured stores in Edinburgh, Leeds, Manchester and New York.

Caravana: Retail theater
Carvana's vending machine
Carvana’s vending machine

When magnified, vending machines can provide customers with an automated retail theatre that only adds to the retail experience. US-based online car dealership Caravana has created a physical location that features a seven-story vending machine that quite literally, dispenses cars. While most of the purchase process happens online (buying, selling and financing), when the buyer wants to test drive, they can schedule to pick up their desired car at the vending machine, located in Indianapolis.  Adding even more to the experience, a Carvana employee will then hand out a giant coin that customers have to slot into the machine in order to retrieve the car. Alibaba has also launched something similar in partnership with Ford in China.

Dirty Lemon: Text-to-buy
Dirty Lemon's unmanned store
The Drug Store

NYC-based The Drug Store, which sells healthy beverage brand Dirty Lemon, looks like a walk-in vending machine for its entirely unmanned experience. Customers simply walk into the store and open the fridge to take any beverage, and walk out – there is no staff, cashier or even security in place. To pay, customers must text a number and say exactly what they are purchasing. The company has also deployed RFID tech in the refrigerators to track inventory sold, while a heat map tracker monitors customer flow.

Yves Saint Laurent: Customization
YSL's customizing vending machine
YSL’s customizing vending machine

To promote its beauty collection in Hong Kong, Yves Saint Laurent created a vending machine that added a level of customization to the consumer’s purchased. Called “Lipstick Engraving ATM 2.0”, the experience allowed guests to purchase lipsticks and have their name lazered on the product on the spot. “The concept behind the #YSLBeautyClub vending machine is all about fun and engaging way to interact with the brand. It’s about beauty on the go,” said Marie Laure Claisse, YSL Beauty’s marketing manager, at the time.

Hung Fook Tong: Personalization through AI
Hung Fook Tong vending machine
Hung Fook Tong vending machine

In Hong Kong, herbal tea chain Hung Fook Tong (HFT) is rolling out vending machines that use a combination of visual recognition technology and artificial intelligence to better understand and serve their customer. Machines will have cameras that photograph the customers, and create an individual profile that also includes past purchases. After analyzing data such as the climate at the point of sale, age and gender, the machine will know which drink or product a particular customer is most likely to buy and provide a recommendation.

How are you thinking about retail innovation? 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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business data e-commerce Editor's pick product Retail sustainability technology

Innovation 2018: A year in review

Innovation in the fashion, beauty and luxury industries during 2018 focused on everything from more experiential retail to streetwear collection drops and a growing push around sustainability.

Here are the five big themes to know about based on insights from our strategy team combined with data from the most-read stories on TheCurrent Daily this year:

Streetwear’s influence
Virgil Abloh for Louis Vuitton
Virgil Abloh for Louis Vuitton

Streetwear continued to have a significant influence with the announcement of Virgil Abloh taking on the role of artistic director at Louis Vuitton menswear. Riccardo Tisci meanwhile arrived at Burberry, quickly launching collection drops to compete in the hype world of Supreme, Off-White, Palace and others. Palace also had one of the most successful collaborations of the season with Ralph Lauren.

Rounding out the year otherwise was Farfetch’s acquisition of sneaker and streetwear marketplace, Stadium Goods., which came off the back of its IPO at the end of the summer. And our mega personal highlight: experiencing the frenzy firsthand at ComplexCon.

Experiential retail
MatchesFashion.com at Carlos Place
MatchesFashion.com at Carlos Place

Retail meanwhile was unsurprisingly all about experience. MatchesFashion.com opened a new five-storey townhouse in London focused on shopping, live events and art exhibitions. It also features in-built recording facilities, a fully functioning kitchen and a courtyard garden. Meanwhile, pop-ups from brands including Cartier, Moncler, The Arrivals, Google and many more all honed in on this idea of experiential and immersive initiatives.

Alongside that is the fact we saw numerous direct-to-consumer brands opening brick-and-mortar stores this year, from Heist to Casper, Everlane, Away and beyond. And that at a time when elsewhere much of traditional retail continues to flail.

Connected retail
Amazon's 4-star store
Amazon’s 4-star store

Otherwise, the role of technology played a big role in physical retail too, from Zara’s new London store and augmented reality tie-in, to the announcement of Chanel’s “augmented retail” space and the opening of Nike’s new flagship, which unlocks a new level of convenience by allowing customers to navigate the shopping experience in-store entirely on their phones.

Amazon also continued to push forward – launching an interactive pop-up with Calvin Klein on the one hand, while introducing its own 4-star store, which only stocks products based on favorable customer reviews, on the other. It also continued with its automated Amazon Go stores, announcing it will open 3,000 of them by 2021. But it wasn’t the only one – numerous others from Jack & Jones with WeChat and Hema with Alibaba in China, to Albert Heijn in the Netherlands and Lotte in South Korea, all experimenting in this space.

Artificial intelligence
Uniqlo IQ
Uniqlo IQ

Voice technology’s role in retail also pushed full steam ahead, with numerous new launches built for Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant particularly, including from H&M Home, Uniqlo and ASOS within the fashion space, and from Coty, Kohler and others within beauty.

Artificial intelligence (AI) otherwise continued to make an impact on the design side of the industry. Yoox particularly made a splash when it announced the launch of 8 by Yoox, a new collection that is generated by data. According to Federico Marchetti, CEO of the Yoox Net-a-Porter Group, the line is informed by AI, but still designed by a creative team.

Sustainable progress  
Adidas x Parley for the Oceans SXSW 2018
Adidas x Parley for the Oceans

Last but not least, sustainability undoubtedly continued as the single biggest challenge facing the industry, with a multitude of big announcements and a continuation of experiments pushing things forward in 2018. From a negative perspective came news of the waste produced (and often burned) by brands such as H&M and Burberry, which resulted in big headlines calling for change. Sometimes it takes such insight to spur brands into further action of course.

Elsewhere, Adidas announced a moonshot to only use recycled plastics by 2024, Gucci launched an online platform to promote sustainable purpose, Levi’s focused on a more sustainable supply chain, and Kering introduced an organic cotton that is 100% scientifically traceable, thanks to a new supply chain transparency innovation. On top of that, just this month, Stella McCartney rallied the industry to come together to launch the United Nations’ new Fashion Industry Charter for Climate Action.

Here’s to much more in the way of innovation for 2019! Happy New Year everyone.

How are you thinking about innovation? We’re all about finding you the perfect partners to do so. TheCurrent Global 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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Campaigns product technology

Puma re-releases classic 80s connected sneaker

Puma has re-released its 1986 RS sneaker for the digital age, adding a small computer to the back of the shoe that links to a dedicated smartphone app to track data.

The original shoe, released in 1986, only featured a computer chip built into the heel, which registered data such as time, distance and calories burned when it was worn. Data collected was then transferred to a home computer via a 16-pin connector.

Puma’s new RS sneaker

In its new iteration the shoe still measures the exact same data, but this time it uses bluetooth technology to connect it to smartphone devices and relay it to the user via an app.

In a nostalgic twist, the app’s interface uses the same graphic displays (called 8-bit) as it did in the 80s, and as well as a game.

Only 86 pair of the shoes will be sold at Puma stores in Tokyo, Berlin and London and in the US, at streetwear retailer KITH.

How are you thinking about digital innovation? We’re all about helping you build innovative integrations and experiences. TheCurrent is a consultancy transforming how fashion, beauty and consumer retail brands intersect with technology, powered by a network of top startups. Get in touch to learn more. 

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Campaigns product Retail technology

Coty’s mixed reality experience helps customers find the perfect fragrance

Beauty group Coty has launched an experience that uses touch, smell, sight and sound to immerse customers into a virtual environment and help them find their perfect fragrance.

According to the brand, it aims to enhance the customer’s purchasing journey by guiding them through an emotional experience rather than one that is often led by confusing or marketing-driven vocabulary.

“When we set out on this project, our aim was to create a future facing retail experience that merged the physical and digital worlds to help users navigate the rich and complex world of fragrances,” says Elodie Levy, senior director, digital innovation at Coty. “The result provides shoppers with an incredible experience that marries art, science, and technology.  The technological breakthrough of mixing real scents with virtual reality is unprecedented.”

Customers who want to take part have to put on a VR headset and choose one of five different scented stones, each representing one of the perfumes from Coty’s portfolio – such as Gucci’s “Bloom” – , which are all white and only differentiated by texture.

Coty's mixed reality experience
Gucci’s “Bloom” experience in VR

After choosing the stone, the headset will transport the customer to a virtual environment, made up of both visual and sound elements, which aims to reflect properties of each individual perfume.

For Gucci “Bloom” experience, for example, users are transported to a greenhouse filled with larger-than-life roses and other flowers.  

At the end, a touchscreen reveals which scent the user was experiencing. 

The experience first launched in Buenos Aires, and the group plans on rolling it out to other retail partners and brands within its portfolio in the future.

How are you thinking about retail innovation? 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 mobile Retail

Nike announces retail app for connected in-store experience

Nike

Nike has announced the launch of Nike App at Retail, a mobile concept that provides in-store customers with a personalised experience via their devices.

The app will allow consumers to be recognised when entering a store, opening up exclusive products within their proximity. It will also allow them to scan product availability in all nearby Nike stores, as well as check out and pay for their in-store purchases.

For customers using the app elsewhere, they can reserve products in a personal locker in-store for try-on and purchase later. The brand is said to be testing several other features that will eventually be incorporated into a wider range of stores.

The debut, which will happen in Q4 in two locations – Portland and Los Angeles – follows the recent acquisition of Zodiac, a consumer data and analytics startup whose expertise the sporting brand will leverage to build skills in-house and better connect with customers.

Nike's scavenger hunt
Nike’s scavenger hunt

At an earnings call on March 22, CEO Mark Parker stated that digital and mobile apps are playing an increasing role in how the brand launches key innovations, which is reflective of how consumers are behaving and shopping. He explained there will be a lot more storytelling coming to life from a digital standpoint as it becomes a more important part of the brand’s overall strategy.

In the future, Nike’s in-store experiences will blend physical and digital seamlessly and effortlessly complement one another, he added.

Nike has recently been experimenting with providing super fans with one-off experiences leveraged by their digital behaviours, particularly in terms of gamification. Last year, it promoted an AR scavenger hunt that enabled fans to get their hands on a limited shoe collaboration by scanning NYC posters, while this February it gave fans at a basketball match early access to limited edition shoes via a shoppable Snapchat filter.

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Retail technology

Mango launches digital fitting rooms

Mango digital fitting room
Mango’s digital fitting room

Mango is the latest fashion retailer to be exploring digital fitting rooms, creating an “Internet of Things mirror” in partnership with Vodafone and Jogotech.

The experience allows shoppers to scan the tags in the items they have brought in to see suggestions of pieces that would complete the look, as well as be able to request different sizes and colors of the ones they’re trying on. Sales associates are alerted via a digital watch.

The mirrors currently exist in the brand’s new flagship store in Lisbon, and is being tested in other cities worldwide. The aim is to roll the digital fitting rooms out to all of the company’s top stores.

According to the team, this is the first phase of a digital transformation project for Mango designed to create new ways for customers to engage and relate to the brand.

Mango’s chief client officer, Guillermo Corominas, said: “This is a really exciting project for Mango. We see the future of retailing as a blend of the online and the offline. These new fitting rooms are another step in the digital transformation of our stores to create a whole new experience for our customers.”

Vodafone’s director of Internet of Things, Stefano Gastaut, added: “This project helps put more power at the shopper’s fingertips and will bring Mango closer to its fashion conscious shoppers and offer them more options and experiences than a conventional fitting room.”

Other retailers experimenting with this sort of technology have included Rebecca Minkoff, Ralph Lauren and Tommy Hilfiger. The latter has made it a standard part of the refit of its Regent Street store, dubbed its “store of the future” in London.

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e-commerce Editor's pick mobile Podcast

Alipay on educating US consumers with a unified payment experience

TheCurrent Innovators: Souheil Badran with Liz Bacelar
TheCurrent Innovators: Souheil Badran with Liz Bacelar

Chinese payments company Alipay is on a mission to wean US consumers off traditional payment behaviours. Creating an integrated experience is at the center of making that happen, Alipay’s president of the Americas, Souheil Badran, explained to Liz Bacelar on the latest episode of TheCurrent Innovators podcast.

“So far the whole US market has been so used to credit cards. And when you look at it from a tech perspective all the apps we use are in their own silos. They’re not connected at all,” says Badran, explaining that the Starbucks app is one of the few examples of an integrated experience based around the consumer’s lifestyle.

In order to achieve seamlessness, Badran hopes to see better collaboration with retail in what he calls the Uber experience – when getting from point A to B, the user no longer has to think about the payment aspect of it.

This everyday ease of use is already being achieved in China, where Alipay’s 520 million users have access to over 60 sub-applications integrated under the payment umbrella, creating a lifestyle ecosystem within the digital wallet that includes the ability to do things like pay peers and order a taxi.

But going beyond payments to create a larger sense of loyalty in this way in the US, means educating the consumers out of their comfort zone of just payments, Badran adds. “[Starting with the consumer], what are they looking for? What would make you go from just using your credit card, and what would attract you back to the app on a regular basis?”

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Badran wants to see Alipay reach the same level of interaction in the US, as it has achieved in Asia. Current users check their digital wallets 15-20 times a day, for instance. He hopes US consumers can get to that point, in the same way they already do with their social media channels. This would include creating experience-led features and promotions based on purchase history and other aggregated data, he notes.

Chinese Alipay consumers are also a big market for US retailers, which Badran has been working hard to evangelize on their value. “Back in 2013 when you talked about China in general, people understood the size, but couldn’t quite grasp the value of it. I have seen a tremendous shift over the last 12 months and hopefully it will continue to grow.” To target these users, Alipay is working with retailers in the US and Europe to ensure payment capabilities and promotions that intensify around peak travel seasons, such as Chinese New Year.

For millennial consumers, Alipay helps quickly build user credibility by leveraging data from previous purchases. This means a merchant that accepts the payment service can have visibility of the user’s track record, says Badran. He uses the example of purchasing at a luxury store, where Alipay can potentially extend the shopper’s credit on the fly – unlike a static credit card limit – depending on data such as previous repayments.

At present, over 150,000 merchants in North America accept Alipay as a form of payment. The future looks bright for the mammoth Asian company as it taps into the digital need for always-on convenience, as well as a demand for platforms that enable personalization and experience.

Catch up with all of our episodes of TheCurrent Innovators here. The series is a weekly conversation with visionaries, executives and entrepreneurs. It’s backed by TheCurrent, a consultancy transforming how 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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data Editor's pick product Startups technology

L.L.Bean exploring blockchain solution for consumer feedback

Loomia
Loomia

Outdoor retailer L.L.Bean is exploring the use of blockchain technology with smart fabrics company Loomia, to get better product insights about customer use.

The initiative will see Loomia’s Electronic Layer (LEL) incorporated into merchandise such as jackets and boots. L.L.Bean will then research using it to collect data including information around temperature, motion and frequency of wear.

Once this data is collected, consumers will be able to optionally share it back with the brand for rewards via the Loomia Tile – a component that allows for the secure and anonymous transfer of data through the blockchain, as previously reported.

The aim is to solve the fundamental problem for brands of not knowing how products are actually used or how they perform once they leave the store. The resulting insight should allow L.L.Bean to create even better quality products that more accurately align with consumer habits.

“Working with LOOMIA will enable L.L.Bean to continue it’s 106 year-old mission of utilising the latest advancements and technologies to design durable, functionally innovative products that help to further folks’ enjoyment of the outdoors,” said Chad Leeder, L.L.Bean’s innovation specialist.

Other instant use cases of the LEL for L.L.Bean include the incorporation of heating elements into products, such as warming hikers’ toes or providing an extra layer of warmth on the coldest winter days.

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data Editor's pick product technology

Can connected handbags bring emotional relevance and customer loyalty?

Rebecca Minkoff's #AlwaysOn connected bag - bringing emotional intelligence
Rebecca Minkoff’s #AlwaysOn connected bag

Here’s a question: If your handbag could talk, would you want the brand it’s from to listen? How about if sharing the data it collects on you could lead you to gain access to highly relevant, truly personalised and ultimately exclusive experiences consistently?

It’s a fine line between what of that is a serious privacy conversation, and what’s otherwise merely an outlined future of projected value exchange tied to the internet of things.

This is the future being imagined and worked on by New York designer Rebecca Minkoff with its line of #AlwaysOn smart bags launched in stores last week in partnership with EVRYTHNG’s IoT smart products cloud platform and Avery Dennison’s smart tag solution.

“We’ve always wanted to enrich our customers’ lives and deliver a brand experience that extends beyond the products themselves,” said Uri Minkoff, co-founder and CEO of Rebecca Minkoff. “By bringing #AlwaysOn smart features to the bags, we’re opening doors to a world of amazing, hand-picked experiences we think our customers will love, while making it easier than ever for them to access special offers, recommendations, and other loyalty rewards.”

The bags each feature a serialised smart label that, when scanned by a smartphone, will enable the owner to receive exclusive offers, product recommendations and video content from Rebecca Minkoff. For now, that offering remains a fairly basic one, but long term, the vision is indeed for truly personalised experiences presented off the back of real-time data fed to the business from the bags.

The roadmap for 2018, for instance, includes using geo-targeting to reach additional partners within the lifestyle, wellness and beauty realm. The user may well walk into a hotel in Austin, Texas, for instance, and be presented with personalised content recommending what to do while in the city. Collaborations can follow with food, travel, concert brands and more.

The concept marks a broad potential movement, according to a report commissioned by EVRYTHNG and Avery Dennison, that suggests brands should be using the data that digital products can provide to drive emotional engagements with consumers. Head over to Forbes to read all about the report findings.

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Editor's pick product Startups technology

Why the next big streetwear brand could be a wearable tech one

TwentyFour15
TwentyFour15

The biggest observation from Benjamin Males, CEO and co-founder of new fashion and technology brand TwentyFour15, which launched at London Fashion Week this past weekend, is that no one asked how it worked.

“It was a room full of Gen Z consumers, and they all just accepted it existed,” he explains. “This new generation don’t see sci-fi as sci-fi, they see it as a prototype for the future. This consumer we’re going after – they’re not technologically insecure, and the launch proved that – they’ve grown up in a world with ubiquitous internet and smart devices; they have this tech in their DNA.”

TwentyFour15 is a line of app-connected, fibre optic, colour-changing apparel. Males refers to is as a “fashion brand for the digital generation with technology in its DNA”, but what it’s also about is wearable tech moving beyond fitness devices and into popular culture by way of a youth-focused streetwear brand.

In a literal sense, that means t-shirts, a backpack and a bomber jacket (to start with) that are connected via bluetooth to an app that controls the LED lights otherwise embedded in them. Initially, the functionality is kept simple – there’s a colour wheel to shift the shade of the lights and a music feature that lets the user sync them so they also animate to the beat.

The potential longer-term, however, is much wider. The key here is that TwentyFour15 is powered by XO, the agency behind well-known wearable technology feats of the past including Lady Gaga’s flying dress and Richard Nicoll’s light-up Tinkerbell dress.

Head over to Forbes to read more about exactly what this new brand is hoping to achieve and how its streetwear approach is in line with a Silicon Valley hardware company.