Amazon has launched a new range of Alexa-enabled devices that will help the e-commerce giant take further ownership of connected user experiences in the home.
Announced at an industry event yesterday, (September 20), the devices include a smart plug, microwave, clock and the Echo Auto, for automobiles. Existing devices such as the Echo Dot and Echo Show have also received upgrades.
“Soon customers will be able to manage their email, easily secure their home, watch the shows they love on Echo Show, and make their daily routines more productive — all just by asking Alexa,” said Tom Taylor, SVP of Amazon Alexa.
The smart plug turns any home appliance into a connected device – enabling users to turn them on or off, for instance, just by asking Alexa to do so. Meanwhile, the microwave allows you to set and start cooking times by voice, as well as control other key features of the machine.
The clock is an analog one in terms of the way it looks, but it can display times and reminders through rings of LED to show you how much time you have left on anything you have set. And the Echo Auto is a new device you plug into the dashboard of your car to enable you to benefit from various Alexa skills while driving, such as listening to traffic updates or setting routines such as turning on your lights at home when you enter your driveway.
The retailer also announced over 24 major new updates to its existing skills portfolio, which currently has 24,000 tasks that its devices can perform. The two most important ones include Alexa Guard and Alexa Hunches, which will both roll out later this year.
Alexa Guard, as the name suggests, will enable customers to activate Alexa to act as a security system. Integrated into selected Echo devices, it will be activated by the voice command “Alexa, I’m leaving”. Once activated, Alexa will be able to detect sound, such as breaking glass or smoke detectors, and send out a Smart Alert to the homeowner.
The Alexa Hunches feature will learn from how its user interacts daily to connected devices such as locks and switches, and eventually predict and prompt when behaviors seem out of the ordinary. An example is when a user says goodnight to Alexa, the system’s response may be: “Good night. By the way, your living room light is on. Do you want me to turn it off?”
Other skill updates will allow the user to further add a layer of digital to their lifestyles, from cooking to TV streaming.
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The store of the future is about solving the problems of today in an innovative and meaningful way for the customer, says Sandrine Deveaux of Farfetch, on the latest episode of TheCurrent Innovators podcast.
Speaking to guest host, Rosanna Falconer, at a live FashMash Pioneers event in London, the managing director of the e-commerce company’s store of the future division, explains that her focus in not just on new technology for the sake of it, but on creating better shopping experiences driven by personalization.
Following the announcement of Farfetch’s Store of the Future concept in April 2017, Deveaux has been building a series of beta tests in place in Browns East in London, Thom Browne in New York and Chanel in Paris. But the result doesn’t mean big flashy screens or variations on augmented reality, as she is so often asked about.
Instead, it’s about better servicing the customer; understanding what they want when they walk into stores thanks to data, but also making things like the payment experience a much more seamless one.
She says the store of the future is really about offering the experience of Apple, but the convenience of Amazon, so as to keep in line with increasing consumer expectations.
And so the end goal,for her team, she says, is to provide brands and boutiques with full visibility around customer behavior and customer intent, mirroring what’s possible online in the offline space.
“85% of customers, we don’t know anything about them. So that’s what the store of the future is really getting to – it’s about how we leverage the platform we have with Farfetch, and try to really look at online behavior and take that online behavior into an in-store context,” she explains. This is something Farfetch calls “enabling the offline cookie”.
On this episode, Deveaux also talks to driving disruptive innovation through healthy internal tension, how she’s changing the way luxury brands think, and why the ultimate sales associate for the store of the future might just be a unicorn.
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.
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.
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.
Advances in artificial intelligence are destined to make our lives and shopping experiences stronger than ever – good news for the consumer, and even better news for retailers, writes Uwe Hennig of Detego.
There have been a number of buzzwords and defining technology trends in retail over the last decade, from big data, to omnichannel, and the ubiquitous, omnipresent cloud. Now the internet of things (IoT) and artificial intelligence (AI) have become the latest talk of the town.
Forrester expects investment in AI to triple this year. By 2020, 85% of customer interactions will be managed by AI, according to research by Gartner. It’s becoming big business across industries, and not just in retail: the value of AI is estimated to be worth $36.8bn globally by 2025, predicts US market intelligence firm Tractica.
With the proliferation and accumulation of so much data as people shop anytime, anywhere – whether online, in physical stores or increasingly via their mobile phones – the conundrum for many remains: there’s just too much information to be able to make any meaningful sense out of it.
And that’s where artificial intelligence comes in. AI relies on a continual process of technological learning from experience and getting better and better at answering complex questions. Algorithms powered by AI can rapidly come up with alternative options which are otherwise much more time-consuming and laborious using conventional computer-powered A/B testing. Like the human brain, AI adapts to the environment and gets better the more you use it. But unlike humans, the capacity for improvement is unlimited. What’s more, boring, repetitive tasks are never a problem.
Plenty of examples in retail already fall under the hat of AI: chatbots are being used to help with customer service; personal shopping assistants like Amazon’s Alexa respond to voice prompts; and robots are replacing information kiosks in stores like Lowe’s in the US. Live chat functions on retailers’ websites are also proving popular for replacing staff with always-on robots and providing a continuous machine-learning customer service experience. But the future of this space looks even more AI-enabled.
Personalised service and the human side of AI
Retailers have long since struggled with maintaining ever-increasing standards of customer service as consumer expectations continue to rise. As people continue to shop more via the internet, retailers have to provide a faster, more effective, personalised service specifically aimed at the needs and wants of individual customers.
AI is set to help. eBay’s ShopBot for instance, is an AI-powered personal shopping assistant on Facebook Messenger that helps users find the best deals and sift through over a billion listings.
Chatbots have question and answer recommendation capabilities that are much more personalised than previous systems. They’re examples of retailers trying to create a near human interaction. Yet an IBM study in retail deduced that traditional retailing is too constrained to cope with recent technological advances and that the technology to date is just not human enough.
Humans vs machines
In spite of that, a new report by PwC says that around 44% of jobs in the retail sector are at risk of automation by 2030. AI is extremely good at repeated tasks and number crunching, so machines will do lots of manual processes in the future. We’re already seeing some retailers wanting to close off stock rooms and using robots to make automatic decisions about what needs replacing on the shelves, or managing the flow of goods for deliveries and onto the shop floor, for instance.
In the not too distant future, it will be common practice for consumers to pull out their phones and ask it a question as they enter a store, rather than seeking out a sales assistant or searching through the rails themselves. The smartphone can immediately respond that a desired article is available in a specific size and that sales staff can bring it.
Voice recognition systems and speaking to a computer or smartphone (like Apple’s Siri) for answers is already taking shape. Macy’s used a version from IBM Watson to do exactly this (as pictured above), and talking interactive screens and self-checkouts in fitting rooms is something we’re also already engaged with.
AI, or machine learning, learns from past behaviour, as well as trial and error, to come up with more intelligent solutions. It’s not just science, there’s an art to selling too. Old fashioned rules-based analytics will soon become a thing of the past.
At Detego, this means making more informed recommendations to retailers using predictive analytics. So, much like the practice of online retailers flagging up similar items you might like as you browse the web, some retailers are now taking this to the next level using AI – and not just online, but in their physical stores as well (where still over 80% of sales are driven).
For example, whereas a sales assistant might, if you’re lucky, recommend something that’s evidently there on the shelves, an AI system would be better at identifying what would be the best items to offer based on many more criteria. These would include fundamental credentials like real-time product availability and the resulting profitability for the retailer, as well as other considerations like the consumer’s browsing history, or even what they’ve tried on before in the fitting room (thanks to “smart” RFID tags embedded into garments).
Informed recommendations can also be made by tapping into social media and other factors that might influence product choices, like current fashion trends or weather forecasts in different regions.
Effective AI systems are also looking for re-occurring patterns to help avoid out-of-stocks and unnecessary markdowns, such as by promoting underselling lines held in reserve that otherwise would later have to be discounted. Not only will such advanced technology know when shelves are empty, but more importantly, it will predict what will happen next.
One of the biggest growth areas where AI can make a significant difference to a retailer’s bottom line – for mobile, online and bricks-and-mortar retailing – is in this field of intelligent forecasting systems. Previously, retailers were only able to predict roughly the quantities of products to order to keep shelves fully stocked using (often out-of-date) inventory levels and historical sales data (usually going back a few years, at best). These days, AI can develop a much more accurate picture of exactly what types of products, sizes and colours are likely to sell, by looking at multiple scenarios in real time (fashion trends, consumer behaviour, the weather etc) and drawing on data from the internet. This means forecasting is no longer so much “stab in the dark” guess work.
Using AI, German online retailer, Otto, predicts with 90% accuracy what will be sold within the next 30 days and has reduced the amount of surplus stock it holds by a fifth. It has also reduced the number of returns by over two million products a year. It claims to be so reliable, in fact, that it now uses an automated AI system to purchase 200,000 items a month from third party suppliers with no human intervention. Humans simply wouldn’t be able to keep up with the volume of colour and style choices to be made.
While some fashion retailers are working with Detego to exploit many of the latest technologies to help encourage more people into their stores and improve levels of customer service, forecasting in fashion is generally quite poor. Despite more than 1,500 stores already equipped with Detego’s software and over a billion garments digitally connected, the wider industry average for forecasting accuracy in fashion still lags at a paltry 60-70%. Although RFID tagging and real-time stock monitoring offers near 100% inventory accuracy, relatively few fashion retailers have rolled-out digitally connected technology on a wider scale.
It’s still only the early stages of AI, but with the promise of it making forecasting and product selections even more accurate, it’s set to become a rapid reality. Now’s the time to jump on board.
Rebecca Minkoff is continuing on her tech-enabled journey as a fashion brand, this time introducing smart tags to her new handbag designs in order to offer consumers access to exclusive content and experiences.
Ahead of her fashion week show taking place at The Grove in Los Angeles this weekend, 10 limited edition bags, dubbed the #AlwaysOn Midnighter style, will be available at an exclusive pop-up shop on site. Each one comes with a hangtag that unlocks a ticket to the spring/summer 2017 runway event when scanned.
The initiative is in partnership with apparel branding solutions Avery Dennison’s Retail Branding and Information Solutions (RBIS) division and Internet of Things platform EVRYTHNG. It follows the 2016 announcement of the duo’s #BornDigital concept, which aims to digitise 10 billion items of clothing and accessories over the next three years. The first iteration of this was seen with a limited edition run of jackets from New York menswear brand Rochambeau in October.
Rather than a one-off, in this instance, Rebecca Minkoff has further announced that all of its bags will be “smart” by summer 2017, helping to push towards that vision for the mass spread of #BornDigital wardrobes. Head over to Forbes to read all about what the products provide access to via their digital identities in the cloud.
Intel is planning to invest over $100 million in the retail industry over the next five years, it announced at the NRF Retail’s Big Show in New York this week. At the heart of that is the Intel Responsive Retail Platform (RRP), an Internet of Things solution that it says will “take retail to the next era of highly efficient and personalised shopping”.
Through RFID, video, radio and other sensors, it will enable easy, holistic integration, help to deliver a 360-degree viewpoint of retail from the store floor through the supply chain, and deliver real-time, actionable insights, the press release explains.
Intel is looking to transform the industry through this platform – driving operational efficiencies and creating new and exciting customer experiences, both online and offline.
Brian Krzanich, CEO of Intel, said: “The retail platform collects multiple data streams to connect digital and physical environments. With the goals of lowering costs and increasing sales, the platform helps optimally place inventory, deploy employees and other resources, and track inventory – through the supply chain to the store door. It provides in-the-moment information about what customers are buying, what they want and how to manage inventory so it arrives just in time for customers to take it home.”
He added: “Our technologies can see what items are not in their correct location and the up-to-the-minute store inventory, including what’s in the back room. They can even tell what items go in to changing rooms, but never make it to the cash register.”
Data is the critical factor, he explained. “At Intel, we believe that increasingly retailers will be separated by those who have data and use it to grow and optimise the shopping experience, and those who don’t and make their decisions based on ‘experience’ and subjective observations.”
Virtual reality and artificial intelligence features will also become a part of the platform in the near future, Krzanich added. He nodded to Alibaba already empowering customers to use VR to shop from their homes, calling it a potential “game changer” for retail. “The immersive technology is opening doors for retailers to creatively reach new customers and markets,” he explained.
Meanwhile technology like robots and artificial intelligence will free up employees, enabling them to better focus on the customer and improve the store’s performance, he added. “We’re developing technologies that will help transform the shopping experience in the near future. By bringing together virtual reality and the power of data, we’ll help create the store of the future – one that is smart, responsive, connected and secure.”
Need an idea for a unique gift this holiday season? How about a jacket that unlocks access to exclusive dining, art, retail and fashion experiences in New York, directly through its own sleeve?
That’s the premise behind a new connected design from New York-based brand Rochambeau, a 2016 CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund finalist and a Menswear Woolmark award winner. A limited run of just 15 jackets are due for release in December, each one with embedded digital tags that act as a VIP pass to a highly sought-after event, hand-picked by the founders, including a tasting menu for two at Toro restaurant, a personal tour at New Release gallery or velvet rope entry to the most exclusive nightclubs.
The initiative is a partnership with Avery Dennison’s Retail Branding and Information Solutions (RBIS) division and Internet of Things platform EVRYTHNG, following its announcement earlier in 2016 of its #BornDigital concept, which aims to digitize 10 billion items of clothing and accessories over the next three years.
The Bright BMBR jackets, as they’re called, are powered by Avery Dennison’s Janela™ platform. That means a combination of custom NFC chips and QR codes in place under a hidden zipper pocket in the left sleeve, marked by the Romchambeau “R” logo, both of which have serialized codes on them to connect to their data profiles in EVRYTHNG’s IoT cloud. Consumers only have to use their smartphones to access the hidden content behind them – their unique New York experience as well as a signed, numbered piece of artwork inspired by the jacket and an individual “making-of” video. At the end of the fall/winter season, each smart jacket also turns into a New York Fashion Week ticket to Rochambeau’s spring 2017 runway show.
Head over to Forbes to read all about why that matters – what role experience plays in fashion consumption today, from the perspective of Rochambeau co-founder Laurence Chandler, and the importance of data in making connected clothing all the more valuable for the user and the brand, from Andy Hobsbawm, CMO and co-founder of EVRYTHNG.
We’re back with another round-up of everything you might have missed in fashion, digital comms and technology news over the past week. Top of the agenda is a perspective on why high-skilled immigration policy is important for fashion and tech, while there’s also highlights from The Outnet, Michael Kors, Tiffany & Co, Zaraa and moe.
We’re now taking a leaf out of the European guidebook and having a bit of a summer break. Hoping you all get to do the same and we’ll see you soon!
Why high-skilled immigration policy is vital for fashion and tech [Medium]
The Outnet’s social media study on joy provides key content lessons for brands [Forbes]
Michael Kors is turning Instagram into a customer-loyalty vehicle (as pictured) [Glossy]