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4 innovative retail fulfilment methods to know

The on-demand economy has fueled consumer desire for instant gratification. Products and platforms ranging from Airbnb and Uber, to Seamless or Deliveroo, have resulted in growing appetite in the market for convenience and immediacy on virtually anything and everything we can dream of today.

Needless to say, that has therefore filtered over to retail, with mega corporations like Amazon only feeding the notion that we need access to products within the same or next day – leaving little option but for other businesses to follow suit.

By 2021, over 2.14 billion people worldwide are expected to buy products online, reports eMarketer. A core aspect of the purchasing decisions that come with this is speed of delivery. According to McKinsey & Co for instance, 25% of consumers would pay a premium to receive products same day.

This of course presents logistical challenges. The cost of global delivery amounts to €70billion a year, according to McKinsey, with the last mile portion of that being the biggest challenge to fulfill efficiently. As a result, numerous logistics businesses have been scrabbling to offer the right kind of solutions for their clients. Over the next five years, 78% of them are expected to provide same day delivery, and within 10 years, 39% anticipate two-hour delivery, reports Zebra Technologies.

In a bid to be competitive, luxury has picked up on it as well. Farfetch now offer 90-minute delivery in 10 cities globally for instance, while Net-a-Porter is also striving to improve the shopping experience by offering its top tier a ‘You Try, We Wait’ same day service.

There are many others experimenting with their own methods alongside. Here are four areas of innovation within the delivery space we’re currently tracking…

CROWDSOURCED DELIVERY

The last mile of fulfillment is the most expensive and time consuming part of the delivery process, but numerous startups are looking to disrupt this space by enabling anyone to have anything delivered on-demand by trialling such areas as crowdsourced delivery. 

Similar to the structure of Uber, this allows individual couriers to deliver parcels straight to your door, or facilitate them for pick-up or drop-off around individual homes and offices. Crowdsourced delivery is expected to be adopted by 90% of retailers by 2028, according to a report by delivery company Roadie.

One e-commerce company currently trialling such a scheme is Zalando. This allows people to volunteer their homes as pick-up and drop-off points in Scandinavia. Primarily intended to benefit the customer, it also enables self-employed, retired or stay-at-home parents to earn some extra income.

ROBOTIC POSTIES
Ford Delivery Robot

McKinsey & Co predicts that more than 80% of parcels will be delivered autonomously in the next decade. The thought of robots walking around town beside us may seem a little futuristic, but many companies have already successfully tested them.

Postmates is intending to roll out a new autonomous delivery robot in Los Angeles later this year, for instance. The self-driving rover, named Serve, uses a camera, light detector and sensor to safely navigate the sidewalk. This can create a virtual picture of the world in real time and communicate with customers via an interactive touch screen. Serve is part of Postmates’ vision of a world where goods move rapidly and efficiently throughout cities.

Ford meanwhile is experimenting with a package carrying robot that will be able to walk, climb stairs and deliver your parcel to your front door. In partnership with Agility Robotics, the robot – called Digit – can successfully carry a 40lb package.

DRONES
Amazon Prime Air Service

Next up is autonomous urban aircrafts, otherwise known as drones. This could become a $1.5 trillion industry by 2040, according to Morgan Stanley Research.

Amazon has been leading the way in the space for some time with its Prime Air service, which is under constant experimentation. Its latest announcement said consumers will be able to get parcels delivered within 30 minutes or less by drone, thanks to a sophisticated ‘sense and avoid’ technology allowing it to safely maneuver in the sky. Executive Jeff Wilke stated that between 75%-90% of deliveries could technically be handled by drones in the future.

Strictly speaking, however, when that will be is still unclear. While the technology is improving constantly – using a combination of thermal cameras, depth cameras and sophisticated machine learning – there remains the small issue of authorization. Regulation is continuing to evolve, with a recent test moving things forward in the US market, and further developments happening in Europe, but Amazon’s view of commercial drone deliveries ready within just a few months, seems unlikely.

It’s not alone in trying however. Wing, a drone service from Alphabet – Google’s parent company – has completed a successful trial in Australia and is now doing so in Finland. Similarly, UPS is currently testing drones for the use of medical supplies and samples in North Carolina. Its long term plan is to eventually roll out the drones for the industrial, manufacturing and retail markets. UPS is another that has applied for a Federal Aviation Administration certificate that it hopes will allow it to operate the drones on mass.

ALL ACCESS
Waitrose While You’re Away Yale Technology

In a bid to combat the fact so many parcels see unsuccessful delivery attempts due to the absence of the recipient, there are also numerous experiments in the market to get around the need for humans to be present when the action takes place. This is especially being considered in the online grocery market, which is expected to grow 52% over the next give years to £17.3billion, meaning investments in home deliveries will need to be expanded.

One example we’ve seen comes again from Amazon, which has developed a system that allows couriers to deliver parcels to a customer’s car. The Key-In-Car service is available for all Prime members with a Volvo or General Motors vehicle dated after 2015. Through encryption, the courier can unlock the trunk without needing a key. This is available in 37 cities across the US. Similarly, Skoda is developing a technology that allows delivery firms one-time access to the trunk of the car. The biggest challenge to this opportunity is the threat of security. The risks can be mitigated however by couriers wearing body cameras and sending photographic evidence upon delivery, but retailers must gain consumer trust in the process first.

British supermarket Waitrose, part of the John Lewis Partnership, has gone even further by testing a ‘While you’re Away’ service in south London. This initiative gives delivery drivers a unique code that gives them temporary access to the customer’s property, allowing them to put away the shopping on their behalf. The lock technology has been developed by Yale and will be free to install for customers. To give them piece of mind, each driver will indeed wear a video camera to record their steps, which the customer can request access to.

How are you thinking about innovative delivery solutions? The Current Global is a transformation consultancy driving growth within fashion, luxury and retail. Our mission is to solve challenges and facilitate change. We are thinkers and builders delivering innovative solutions and experiences. Get in touch to learn more. 

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Editor's pick mobile technology

Nike to debut AR feature to help customers find the perfect fit

Nike is set to introduce a new augmented reality feature in its app to enable shoppers to find the perfect size shoe.

With this new feature, Nike will relieve the customer’s fear of buying shoes without trying them on, a common problem when purchasing online. By using their phone to scan their feet, customers will be able to know the ideal shoe size for all the brand’s footwear.

To do so, they have to stand next to a wall and point their smartphone at their feet. Then the app will use two AR circles to level the phone and start the scanning process.

The app will measure the shape, size, and volume of the feet, and match the results with a mix of purchase data and artificial intelligence, resulting in the right shoe size. According to Nike, the accuracy is within two millimeters and the whole process takes less than a minute.

The hope is that better fit might drop returns. It can cost double the amount for a product to be returned into the supply chain as it does to deliver it, as stated by the advisory firm KPMG in the UK in a 2017 report.

The new feature will also affect sales in brick-and-mortar stores. The data of the customer will be stored in the Nike app, and associates can access them by scanning a QR code from the app. This will speed up try-on and product recommendations, while also giving insights for inventory decisions.

Expected to launch in July in the US and later this summer in Europe, the AR tool could additionally help minimize health consequences due to incorrect sizings, like toe deformity, corns and calluses. According to industry research released by Nike, over 60% of people wear the wrong size shoes.

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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product technology

Google brings AR to product search, opening up fashion possibilities

Google is introducing a new augmented reality technology for its mobile search engine that will allow customers to see 3D renderings of a number of visual product results.

Users will also be able to place these into the real world through their phone cameras, using AR.   

According to the tech conglomerate, partners from the world of fashion, tech, automobile and more, will be making their products available for the mobile search enhancements. These include names such as New Balance, Target Corp, Samsung and Volvo.

The new feature was announced at Google’s developer conference on Tuesday alongside a flurry of other developments such as extended privacy, new smart speaker features and more. The new AR technology feature will be released later this month.

It was demonstrated on stage with the example of shopping for a pair of sneakers. A customer searching for a pair of New Balance shoes, for instance, will come across a visual search result that has the option of a “view in 3D” button. When tapped this will transform the image into a three-dimensional rendering that can be moved by swiping on the phone screen.

Another tap on a “view in your space” button pulls up the user’s phone camera and drops the sneaker into their immediate environment using AR technology. The user can then move closer to the sneaker and see it from different angles by walking around it.

“Say…you’re shopping for a new pair of shoes. With New Balance, you can look at shoes up close, from different angles, again, directly from search,” explained Aparna Chennapragada, vice president of Google Lens & AR on stage. “That way, you get a much better sense for things like, what does the grip look like on the sole, or how they match with the rest of your clothes.”

With the new launch, Google makes it easier for retailers to tap into AR technology by offering the service directly through its search engine, with no additional development beyond the 3D rendering needed by the brand itself.

Recent examples of other brands using AR technology include Puma. The brand just launched a sneaker that activated AR content through a dedicated app.

How are you thinking about innovation? We’re all about finding you the perfect partners to do so. The Current 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.

Categories
technology

From the archive: The future of shopping according to today’s tweens

future of shopping
John Lewis ran a contest for school children on imagining the shop of the future

What do you get if you ask a bunch of school kids how they envision the shop of the future? Lots of things related to pets, sweets and games inevitably, but better than that, a series of inspiring answers that tie together everything from the most out-there technologies to a practical view on what would make the whole experience a heck of a lot better.

That was the result for British department store John Lewis last summer when it tasked 9-11 year olds across the UK with answering an innovation challenge through its ongoing Bringing Skills to Life education programmme.

Over 164 entries were collected, with a shortlist of 10 placed in front of a judging panel comprised of various John Lewis representatives as well as external specialists, including myself. Better than any adult brainstorm meeting I’ve been in (horrendously referred to as “blue-sky thinking” in the corporate world), this was a whistle-stop tour through ideas like 3D-printed dresses, robodogs, holograms and conveyor belts designed to escort you around.

One team envisioned a future consisting of personalised wardrobes with customised interfaces acting as a door that would then open to a series of options matching the user’s style, age and size information. It sounds like a retail version of Cher’s digital closet in Clueless, though these pupils are far too young to remember that.

There were also a number of virtual fitting rooms that combined biometric body scanners with holographic technology to allow shoppers to completely visualise what they would look like in an outfit. In another entry, the selection chosen from a magic mirror was then produced on a 3D printer while you sat and enjoyed a coffee in the café next to it.

The ideas were fresh, fun, thoughtful and not completely unfeasible, frankly.

John Vary, IT innovation manager at the retailer and one of the judges on the panel, said: “It’s good to look at how kids look at things. We try to do that in the innovation process; it’s all too easy to miss the obvious by focusing on what is too complicated.”

If there was one thing tying the majority of the entries together in that sense, it was convenience. You could see these kids thinking about those laborious shopping trips with their parents where they’re dragged around unwillingly. The only thing a pre-teen wants is some fun in their day (disco lifts in one of the entries was by far a judging highlight), but even more than that it seems, any chance to not have to stand in yet another queue.

Beating long lines at the checkouts with quick and seamless payments was a no-brainer to them. But that focus on the customer experience also extended to sat nav systems embedded in trolleys, setups to ensure more efficient discounting and a translation assistant to help global visitors. There was real empathy to the end user, with the pupils identifying problems and figuring out how to solve them in ways many retailers don’t do anywhere near as efficiently today.

We could all learn from what school children want it would seem. If anything, maybe we should stop focusing quite so heavily on phrases like omnichannel in such turgid ways, and think more openly about how we can make shopping, in the words of one of the entries, “a little easier, quicker and more enjoyable”.

This post first appeared in Forbes in 2015.

Categories
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.

Categories
Blocks Editor's pick technology

The future of shopping according to today’s tweens

johnlewis

What do you get if you ask a bunch of school kids how they envision the shop of the future? Lots of things related to pets, sweets and games inevitably, but better than that, a series of inspiring answers that tie together everything from the most out-there technologies to a practical view on what would make the whole experience a heck of a lot better.

That was the result for British department store John Lewis recently, which tasked 9-11 year olds across the UK with answering an innovation challenge through its ongoing Bringing Skills to Life education programmme.

Over 164 entries were collected, with a shortlist of 10 placed in front of a judging panel comprised of various John Lewis representatives as well as external specialists, including myself. Better than any adult brainstorm meeting I’ve been in (horrendously referred to as “blue-sky thinking” in the corporate world), this was a whistle-stop tour through ideas like 3D-printed dresses, robodogs, holograms and conveyor belts designed to escort you around.

One team envisioned a future consisting of personalised wardrobes with customised interfaces acting as a door that would then open to a series of options matching the user’s style, age and size information. It sounds like a retail version of Cher’s digital closet in Clueless, though these pupils are far too young to remember that.

There were also a number of virtual fitting rooms that combined biometric body scanners with holographic technology to allow shoppers to completely visualise what they would look like in an outfit. In another entry, the selection chosen from a magic mirror was then produced on a 3D printer while you sat and enjoyed a coffee in the café next to it.

The ideas were fresh, fun, thoughtful and not completely unfeasible, frankly.

John Vary, IT innovation manager at the retailer and one of the judges on the panel, said: “It’s good to look at how kids look at things. We try to do that in the innovation process; it’s all too easy to miss the obvious by focusing on what is too complicated.”

If there was one thing tying the majority of the entries together in that sense, it was convenience. You could see these kids thinking about those laborious shopping trips with their parents where they’re dragged around unwillingly. The only thing a pre-teen wants is some fun in their day (disco lifts in one of the entries was by far a judging highlight), but even more than that it seems, any chance to not have to stand in yet another queue.

Beating long lines at the checkouts with quick and seamless payments was a no-brainer to them. But that focus on the customer experience also extended to sat nav systems embedded in trolleys, setups to ensure more efficient discounting and a translation assistant to help global visitors. There was real empathy to the end user, with the pupils identifying problems and figuring out how to solve them in ways many retailers don’t do anywhere near as efficiently today.

We could all learn from what school children want it would seem. If anything, maybe we should stop focusing quite so heavily on phrases like omnichannel in such turgid ways, and think more openly about how we can make shopping, in the words of one of the entries, “a little easier, quicker and more enjoyable”.

The winners of the John Lewis Innovation Challenge were from Broughton Fields Primary School, Ridgefield Primary School and Christchurch Academy.

This post first appeared on Forbes.com