Uniqlo has launched Uniqlo IQ, a digital concierge service that is powered by Google Assistant and machine learning technology.
The assistant, which is currently only available in Japan, helps customers find style inspiration and recommendations by searching by occasion, items featured in magazines, and even by colour based on the user’s daily horoscope. Products are ranked hourly, meaning results vary at every interaction. Once the consumer is ready to purchase, it can do so online or receive directions to the closest Uniqlo store where their product of choice is in stock.
The Google Assistant integration allows the user to say “Uniqlo IQ” or “Uniqlo FAQ” into the Google app to begin the interaction. According to the Japanese company, this is the first time a brand is using Google Assistant to create a brand-specific solution.
“As retail moves deeper into the digital realm, shopping needs to be not just portable and perpetual but personal as well,” says Rei Inamoto, founding partner of Inamoto & Co, the agency responsible for the project’s brand and service design. “There has been a lot of talk about AI in the last few years but most use cases have been toys, not tools. Available through chat, search and even voice activation, this iteration of Uniqlo IQ is the foundation of how Uniqlo will provide customer service on a personal level not just reactively but also proactively.”
The service was initially tested in the US via Facebook Messenger, before a soft launch in October 2017, when it was available to 2,000 select users in Japan. It is now available through the Uniqlo app, Asian social media platform LINE, and Google Assistant.
How are you thinking about 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.
Happy New Year and welcome to 2017… may it be a fortuitous one for all of us; the industry at large included. On that note, here’s a wrap up of everything you might have missed over the holidays and this past week, from new tech at CES to lots of thoughts on what to expect in the market throughout this year.
Also worth checking out is an interview on sustainability with Kering’s François-Henri Pinault, a deep-dive on all things WeChat (seriously a must-read), and an exploration of the worker robots hitting Japan. If you haven’t seen it, don’t forget to also check out our list of the 8 tech trends that will shape fashion and luxury retail in 2017.
Google moves into augmented reality shopping with BMW and Gap [Bloomberg]
L’Oréal launches smart hairbrush at CES: a bargain at $189? [AdAge]
This week’s round-up of relevant fashion business, digital comms and tech news neatly sums up a series of things to be tracking at present: the evolution of social media businesses into greater advertising and commercial retail opportunities, the role customer service and messaging apps play together, the explosion of all things virtual and augmented reality, and an ongoing bevy of start-ups to know about.
Meanwhile, also worth reading this week is detail on David Lauren’s promotion to the role of chief innovation officer over at Ralph Lauren, Dior’s catch up strategy on YouTube, and the growth of physical stores by online players including Warby Parker and Bonobos.
Fashion ‘unicorns’ have become an endangered species [BoF]
Dior’s borrowing Chanel’s strategies to catch up on YouTube [Glossy]
It’s relatively unique to be the former global executive creative director of an advertising agency (Wieden + Kennedy), turned president of brand creative for a major global retail group (Fast Retailing, owner of Uniqlo) – but that’s exactly what gives John C Jay, who also previously worked at Bloomingdale’s, such distinctive insight.
Speaking at the Cannes Lions International of Festivity last week, he shared some of his learnings on modern day communications in the fashion and retail space. Connecting to culture, choreographing physical spaces, launching collaborations, looking boldly to a future using data and technology, and underpinning it all with authenticity, were all referenced.
“Brands need to be worthy. We’re so busy today; there’s so much noise that no brand is going to be a part of your life if it’s not worthwhile,” was one of his key messages. Read on for the rest…
On connecting ideas to culture
“I focus not on campaigns, but connections,” Jay said with relation to finding the relevancy in local culture, or indeed current day pop culture, for any given brand he’s worked on. He emphasised how important it is to really do this properly. “Agencies are notorious for skimming the surface of culture: taking picture research of a neighborhood, sharing that in a conference room and feeling like they’ve tapped into [it],” he explained to the largely advertising crowd. “You’ve got to put the effort in and really really get to know the culture.”
On narrative spaces
This view of culture also carried over to the physical spaces a retailer owns. Jay explained how Uniqlo is turning its stores into rich playgrounds for cultural exchanges. Its latest London store has two floors dedicated to bringing the creative culture of the British capital to customers, for instance. “Agencies need to be choreographers for brands in physical spaces,” he explained in a call for the industry not just to focus on creating impacts via communications, but becoming designers of narrative in the retail environment. “This philosophy – collaboration with local communities – is more and more a part of our strategy going forward,” he added.
On valuable collaborations
“With our collaborations, we don’t choose by fame or how many hits [the individual] has, or friends they have; it’s really about values. It has to be true to them and true to us. We have to agree on what the values are. A lot of people we choose are not the most famous brands in the world,” Jay explained. Uniqlo has recently worked with graffiti artist Kaws, for instance, launching a line of t-shirts that Jay referred to as “extraordinary in terms of sales”. It has also had two very successful collections with Christophe Lemaire, former artistic director of Hermès. That partnership felt so true, Jay said, that they were “finishing each other’s sentences”. Lemaire has recently been announced as the new artistic director of Uniqlo’s R+D centre in Paris and the new Uniqlo U line, as a result.
On a tech-enabled future
Jay put any retail tech naysayers to rest with a bold statement on the importance of data and technology looking ahead. “Get on the boat or you’re never going to be a part of the future,” he said. “Data [particularly] is another way to be creative – it’s another way of finding insight. We have to adjust our mindsets to accepting there’s no foe part to it.” The new Uniqlo R+D centres will be very much dealing with technology, he added. “We’ll be looking at the issue of how to bring the physical and virtual together into one storytelling space.” A campaign run by Uniqlo in Australia called UMood, was also referenced. This neural project saw consumers wear a headset that could read their brain activity and help them choose suitable t-shirts as a result.
On authenticity at scale
Underpinning all of these lessons came authenticity. It’s this, said Jay, that has to be at the heart of everything a brand is trying to do, particularly when looking to growth. “I would argue that authenticity is the only way to scale, because brands will change and evolve, but [with authenticity] values will stay the same. It takes a lot of effort, but you just have to enjoy it.”
Online marketplace Farfetch is dutifully nodding to Japan’s Manga art form with the launch of an interactive campaign video in tribute to the fact it is now shipping to and from the country.
The move comes thanks to the introduction of Tokyo boutique Restir on the platform (Farfetch’s first Asian store), as well as the launch of the company’s Japanese language site.
Game On, as the campaign video is called, allows users to choose their player and change up their look as they ride the streets of Japan. Hyper-real versions of the country’s diverse landscape are showcased throughout, and every piece is shoppable through the addition of Restir on the site. Check out the experience via the Farfetch website, or watch the teaser below.
Restir competed against five other boutiques in Farfetch’s third-annual Superstore contest in order to join its network. It won by public vote against Mahani in Dubai, Alter in Shanghai, Merchants on Long in Cape Town, Common People in Mexico City, and Koon with a View in Seoul.
Said José Neves, CEO and founder of Farfetch: “By signing Restir we are opening up the shopping world to Japanese fashion and designers – the fashions we will now be able to bring to our customers is even more diverse and exciting. Through Restir, we are able to give access to this unique viewpoint on fashion to a global audience and in turn offer Restir a new global customer.”
Previous winners have included Voo Store in Berlin and Le Mill in Mumbai.
I discovered this video when writing a story about the future of shopping this week, and thought it worth resurfacing.
It’s a simple premise: the shopper removes items from the rail and as they do so they activate content on nearby video screens. It’s not the garment that holds the sensors, but the hanger it is hung on – recognising unique details, from the fabric it is made of, to shots of models wearing it.
It was a concept from a company called teamLab in Tokyo – featured as part of an exhibition called We Are the Future, and then later in retail store Vanquish around 2010-2012.
But it’s also one you can imagine working very effectively in a luxury store today, in part similar to the connected fitting rooms we’ve seen at the likes of Burberry with RFID tagged garments, or reportedly in pilot from Microsoft and Accenture with Kohl’s. But it’s also reminiscent of the Mother’s Day campaign run by C&A Brazil two years ago, which saw hangers embedded with real-time counters for Facebook Likes.
There’s a lot to be said for the humble hanger it would seem…