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Editor's pick Retail technology

4 technologies aiding in-store navigation

Big box retailers including Walmart’s Sam’s Club, Home Depot, Lowe’s and Target are using a variety of interesting wayfinding technologies to improve customer navigation inside the physical store.

The result is designed to enable efficiency in the customer journey. This is in response to the fact that as online sales growth surpasses brick-and-mortar, customers are expecting more than just easy access to online products in physical stores, they also want to find them faster.

Cue solutions ranging from robots to augmented reality mapping. Read on for some of the strongest examples in the market to date…

Augmented Reality
Legoland Denmark augmented reality app

Home store Lowe’s was one of the first retailers to introduce an app with augmented reality indoor mapping. Instead of a 2-D image, this mobile service projects navigation signs and price specials on top of the user’s field of view – meaning they can see which direction to go in projected through their smartphones straight onto the floor or space in front of them. 

Outside of the retail space, Legoland in Denmark has recently experimented with an AR wayfinding app that helps visitors navigate around the park via a mini Lego avatar. They can also then receive real-time information on wait times ahead of them.

Voice Search
Sam’s Club Scan & Go app

Sam’s Club Now in Dallas, Walmart’s test store for technology, is also focusing on a mobile-first shopping experience. Its Scan & Go app helps customers easily access products with an integrated system using voice search for navigation. When a shopper tells the app what they need, a map directs them to the item on the shopfloor. 

Home Depot’s version meanwhile, allows users to use voice or visual search to find a specific item and then be shown exactly where it’s located within the store. Macy’s launched something similar back in 2016 with IBM Watson, which enabled users to ask question as to where specific products, departments, and brands were located, as well as what services and facilities could be found in a particular store.

Robotics
The LoweBot

From voice technology then comes robotics. Lowe’s was also one of the first to make it easier for customers to find help on the shop floor by deploying robot attendants. The “LoweBot” responds to voice commands, guiding customers through the aisles with smart laser sensors.

For Kyle Nel, executive director at Lowe’s Innovation Labs, the LoweBot resolves a common problem: “When I walk into a store and I want to know where something is I want to know right then — I don’t want to have to download an app — a robot can really help with that.”

Real-time Beacons
Target

Target is heavily investing in beacon technology for the sake of navigation also. It renewed its stores to use energy-efficient LED lighting with built-in Bluetooth beacons, which enable the store’s app to show customers their real-time location on the shop floor in a similar experience to that of Google Maps. They also help notify customers when they walk by one of Target’s “Cartwheel” deals.

Gatwick Airport has also invested in beacon technology as part of its £2.5bn transformation. Here, 2,000 indoor navigation beacons have been installed to help customers easily navigate around the terminals and reduce the amount of missed flights. Augmented reality plays a part here too, with a blue line mapped through the smartphone for users to show them which direction to go in.

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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Retail technology

GU showcase store introduces personalized avatars for virtual try-on

GU Style Studio
GU Style Studio

Fast Retailing’s GU, is connecting online and offline retail with a new store in Tokyo’s Harajuku district, that allows shoppers to see sample products in real-life and then try them on using virtual tools.

The GU Style Studio, as it’s called, is designed to showcase garments and provide a sense of convenience by enabling customer to then order them through their mobile phones for delivery at home later.

Visitors are encouraged to create their own digital avatar through a photo taken at the GU Style Creator Stand, then scan QR codes on individual items via the GU Style Creator App to see how they would look wearing each piece. They can then continue to play with a combination of different looks digitally while they move through the store.

According to Osamu Yunoki, GU’s chief executive officer, a benefit from this technology is the data collected from shoppers at the store. Yunoki told Bloomberg that information on app usage and styling combinations can help GU learn more about how people shop and what’s in style.

After purchasing items, customers can choose to have them shipped to their home, or they can pick them up at a nearby GU store or designated 7-11 location. GU has almost 400 stores across Asia, primarily in Japan, Taiwan and China.

GU Style Studio
GU Style Studio

“We’re fusing the in-store experience and e-commerce to offer a fun and convenient experience. Harajuku isn’t just for shopping. It’s also a place where fashion is created. We’d like to use our customer’s creations as a stimulus for developing new types of fashion,” he said.

It’s not the first time Fast Retailing, Asia’s biggest clothing retailer, and also the parent company of Uniqlo, has chosen GU as a testbed for new technology: it was the first brand in the portfolio to introduce RFID tags and self-checkout back in 2015. Two years later, Fast Retailing announced they would be using the technology in 3,000 Uniqlo stores worldwide.

The industry is increasingly seeing examples of more seamless shopping opportunities – from unmanned stores, to overtly interactive ones. This idea of walking out empty-handed, meanwhile, combines the idea of a convenient shopping experience, while encouraging customers to share more data.

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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social media

Coach unveils Snapchat pin badges that unlock access to exclusive content

Coach's Snapcode pins
Coach’s Snapcode pins

Snapchat has teamed up with accessories brand Coach to create a limited edition set of pin badges featuring the social media site’s “Snapcodes”.

These codes are scannable from the Snapchat app and provide access to an exclusive arcade game based on Coach’s festive campaign.

This is the first iteration of Snapcodes existing in a real world product. The pin itself has been given the Coach twist therefore, with the now well-known Snapchat ghost outline accompanied by either a unicorn, a dinosaur or a shark – each of which all feature in the brand’s holiday theme for 2017.

“The pins are all about creativity and individuality,” said Marni Schapiro, Snap’s director of retail. “They’re fun, playful and allow our community a way to Snap the virtual onto reality.”

To get their hands on one, customers have to take part in a quiz about their favourite of the three mascosts – either online or in one of the 20 Coach stores participating across the US.

The quiz will also appear on Snapchat itself in some of its ad products. Taking part then unlocks campaign-themed Snapchat filters.

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e-commerce Editor's pick social media technology

ICYMI: Calvin Klein opens tech-enabled pop-ups with Amazon Fashion

The Calvin Klein X Amazon Fashion holiday retail experience
The Calvin Klein X Amazon Fashion holiday retail experience

Calvin Klein has opened two pop-up stores in collaboration with Amazon Fashion this holiday season, offering an interactive shopping experience throughout.

The Calvin Klein X Amazon Fashion holiday retail experience, as it’s called, sees two tech-enabled spaces, one in New York and the other in Los Angeles, as well as an online brand store on Amazon.com/mycalvins.

Each one will sell exclusive styles available only to Amazon customers, focusing on men’s and women’s underwear and loungewear offerings in the physical spaces, as well as jeans online.

In terms of technology, offline visitors are able to easily make purchases by scanning a barcode within the Amazon app to have their items then delivered home. They can also interact with Amazon Echo devices within the fitting rooms, allowing them to ask Alexa various questions about the Calvin Klein product and experience, as well as to control the lighting and play music of their choice.

Amazon Echo in the Calvin Klein X Amazon Fashion holiday retail experience
Amazon Echo in the Calvin Klein X Amazon Fashion holiday retail experience

Customisation stations meanwhile enable them to personalise their underwear with special embroidery. And content creation spaces will encourage them to create and share their own clips to social media.

In a lounge area, visitors can also connect with shoppers on the opposite coast via video using the Amazon Echo Show, in a bid to allow them to interact and share content in real time, the company said.

”We are proud to collaborate with Amazon Fashion on this exciting retail concept,” said Cheryl Abel-Hodges, head of Calvin Klein Underwear and president of The Underwear Group of PVH. “It is our goal to deliver an immersive and content-driven shopping environment to the consumer, and we are thrilled to introduce this experience to Calvin Klein and Amazon shoppers, both online and offline, just in time for the holiday season.”

Customisation in the Calvin Klein X Amazon Fashion holiday retail experience
Customisation in the Calvin Klein X Amazon Fashion holiday retail experience

Throughout the holiday season, the shops will also host special events with the likes of supermodel and entrepreneur Karlie Kloss and comedian and author Lilly Singh.

“The holiday season is one of the most important shopping times for our customers, and we are delighted to team up with Calvin Klein to provide a fun, interactive experience that connects our customers to product in an engaging way,” stated Michelle Rothman, VP at Amazon Fashion.

The stores are open now through December 31.

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e-commerce

Birchbox turns to Paris for second physical store location

Birchbox's New York store
Birchbox’s New York store

Beauty subscription service, Birchbox, is set to unveil its second permanent physical location, this time in Paris.

Hot on the heels of several successful pop-ups in the French capital, including within Le Bon Marche and Galeries Lafayette, it will open at 17 rue Montmartre this spring.

It follows the first Birchbox store opening in New York in July 2014, which is referred to by the team as “a powerful way to connect with our customers”. Shoppers to that store go on to have a three-times higher lifetime value with the brand, the press release explains.

“With 90% of beauty still purchased offline, we wanted our French team to have the same opportunity to interact with their customers in the physical world,” it adds.

The Paris store will mirror that of the New York one, which is an extension of the online experience. The aim is to deepen relationships with French subscribers, introduce Birchbox to new customers, and build partnerships with new beauty brands.

France is its biggest market in Europe, ahead of the UK, Spain, Belgium and Ireland, where it also operates.

The news comes despite two rounds of staff layoffs at Birchbox during 2016, which it said were the result of it needing to get to profitability quicker than planned because of a shift in how investors are valuing growing, but money-losing, startups, Recode reported last summer. It since raised a $15 million “lifeline” from current investors.

According to Birchbox, it saw a particularly strong holiday season, with US sales more than 10% ahead of its acquisition results year-on-year for the month of December. It also says it plans to open more stores in the US in the foreseeable future.

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What you missed: Black Friday and Cyber Monday, Zara’s data recipe, a chatbot deep-dive

Black Friday
Black Friday

This week’s news is of course dominated by the Black Friday weekend results. Online sales reached new highs in the US on Black Friday itself, up 21.6% year-on-year to $3.34bn. Unsurprisingly, mobile was a significant part of that growth, generating 36% of total digital sales, in a 33% rise from 2015, and 55% of all mobile shopping visits, according to Adobe. It was a similar story for Cyber Monday, with mobile generating 53% of online visits and 35% of sales.

In the UK, meanwhile, over 57% of traffic came from mobile devices on Black Friday rising to 75% at certain times of day. Overall online sales were only up 6.7% year-on-year however, yet footfall in stores was also up 2.8%, despite an expected 5% drop. “This demonstrates the fact that customers want a balance. Between online and physical shopping experiences, the high street isn’t as obsolete as some might think,” said Rupal Karia, managing director for retail and hospitality, UK and Ireland, at Fujitsu.

We’ve otherwise rounded up some of the best stories to read summarising everything that happened below. Also worth checking out from this week past is a deep-dive on Zara’s recipe for success, further updates on everything Instagram versus Snapchat, and an ultimate guide to chatbots.


BLACK FRIDAY / CYBER MONDAY UPDATE
  • Cyber Monday sales surge to record $3.45bn in the US [Retail Dive]
  • The US winners and losers of Black Friday 2016 [Retail Dive]
  • Black Friday online sales growth falls short in the UK but shop visits rise [Sky]
  • About 10 million more Americans shopped online than in stores over Black Friday weekend [Fortune]
  • How did Manhattan’s luxury stores fare on Black Friday? [Bloomberg]
  • Patagonia donated 100% of Black Friday sales to eco-causes [Ecouterre]
  • We might look back on 2016 as the year Black Friday hit an inflection point [LeanLuxe]

OTHER TOP STORIES
  • Zara’s recipe for success: more data, fewer bosses [Yahoo!]
  • Gap’s CEO missed the brand’s biggest problem when he called creative directors “false messiahs” [Quartz]
  • Email outpacing social media in e-commerce, stoking innovation [WWD]

BUSINESS
  • Yoox Net-A-Porter Group to launch in the Middle East [Fashionista]
  • Matchesfashion.com launches 90-minute delivery service in London [WWD]
  • Is e-commerce really better for the environment than traditional retail? [BoF]

SOCIAL MEDIA
  • Is Snapchat the next Facebook, or the next Twitter? [WWD]
  • Instagram is now letting users stream Live videos that disappear as soon as they end [Wired]
  • How this quirky clothing brand uses Snapchat to sell more shorts [Venture Beat]
  • Spyder using NFC to connect with customers through social media [WWD]

RETAIL
  • Missguided unveils first standalone store in Westfield Stratford [The Industry]

TECHNOLOGY
  • The ultimate guide to Chatbots: Why they’re disrupting UX and best practices for building [Medium]
  • Uniqlo is experimenting with MindMeld’s ‘smarter bots’ on Facebook [Engadget]
  • These new adidas shoes are made from lab-grown spider silk [Motherboard]
  • Scientists have created a solar-powered fabric that would let you charge your phone with your jacket [Quartz]
  • Soon you can scan a garment’s label to find out how sustainable it is [NY Observer]

START-UPS
  • How Stitch Fix blends AI and human expertise [HBR]
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business Comment e-commerce Editor's pick technology

The future of click and collect needs to be more service-oriented and AI has a part to play

click and collect
Could click and collect become a warmer more enriching experience with some personalisation thrown in?

30 seconds. That’s the time stamp being aimed for in a number of retailers’ click and collect services – an objective to get the customer in and out in the quickest way possible. It’s an ambitious goal, but a level of convenience that’s highly relevant, not to mention desired, by time-starved customers.

Arguably for fashion, however, there’s a much smarter move. Nordstrom, for instance, is starting to prove the need for something a little more personal in the transaction too.

It has just introduced a new “Reserve & Try In Store” feature to its app – a way to help make the shopping experience easier for customers who like to touch, feel and try on items before buying them. The basic premise is that you reserve up to 10 items on your smartphone, select your closest store and then head to it in person where a personalised fitting room is waiting for you with those specific pieces. You don’t part with any cash until you decide what it is you want to buy.

It’s all about the convenience of online shopping but with some real world experience thrown in; all of that negating the need to drag a package home, try the items on once you get there and then realise what it is you don’t want before going through the often laborious returns process. It follows others including Westfield, Asos and Jaeger trying out real-world fitting room services attached to online orders in the past.

The whole thing is also just a lot warmer. Let’s face it, no matter where you go, the majority of click and collect systems feel like a cold and hard transaction. You show up to a counter often hidden at the back of one of the floors, stand in line for a considerable amount of time (despite that 30 second goal), hand over your information and wait while the parcel is found for you. Generally speaking, when it comes out, it’s not even wrapped in the nice packaging you might get in store, but in the sort that usually comes with an online sale.

Everything about it is impersonal. In fact, there’s little to differentiate it from standing in an Argos store waiting for your number to be called to collect the box on the rack you’ve been waiting for. Great for Argos, not so suited to a tactile fashion brand.

Argos click and collect
What click and collect looks like at Argos

And all of that comes at a time when consumer demands have never been higher. Click and collect is an expectation now; not a novelty but the norm. If you don’t offer it, you’re behind.

In fact, omnichannel at large is an expectation; 68% of millennials now demand an integrated, seamless experience, regardless of the channel, according to Accenture. With services like click and collect, there’s more need than ever therefore for fashion brands to do something different to stand out from the competition.

After all, 78% of millennials also say they’d rather now spend money on desirable experiences over products. Never before has the experience economy been so ready for exploitation. Having a fitting room attached is almost not enough of a leap therefore, which is why artificial intelligence (AI) has a part to play.

Beyond the offer from Nordstrom, what if the reserve opportunity became a personal shopper service? Not in the traditional sense, but in a way that means those 10 items you’ve reserved also come with further suggestions for items you might like. Some basic data insights tied in, and the system should be able to recognise other pieces you’ve browsed ahead of time, perhaps lingered over for a little longer on the app, watched the videos for and so forth.

Add in a recommendation engine, that AI in action, and it could also include another rail with looks it knows match your tastes, coordinate with the ones you’ve reserved and even marry up to your purchase history. All of that done on an opt-in basis, of course. It’s a ripe opportunity for upsell and cross-sell, not to mention with an engaged customer already committed to dwell time.



That fitting room you try it on in should also be a connected one, like the Polo Ralph Lauren experience from Oak Labs (as above); with a sales associate on speed dial to get you other sizes, colours and more, as well as immediately check you out. This heightened version of convenience is also the perfect move for renewed clienteling; more than just a member’s club with a stylist on hand (as Nordstrom also offers), but a hands-on personalised experience enriched by machine learning.

This would suit luxury brands – especially those already operating in a relatively connected space, like Burberry. But so too could it run the gamut of digitally-savvy high street retailers, department stores and beyond.

Yes there are going to be those consumers who want to get in and get out; pick up their order and leave, make use of lockers, drive-thrus and more, but there are also those who would like something a little more enriching, seamless and useful for the time spent. A personalised version of what’s otherwise become nothing more than a transactional Argos encounter, rather than an engaging brand experience.

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business digital snippets e-commerce film social media Startups technology

What you missed: Google’s fashion week plans, Style.com opens, Tom Ford’s second movie

fashion tommy gigi carnival
Tommy Hilfiger’s carnival plans at New York Fashion Week

A few days before New York Fashion Week begins and needless to say much of the focus is on those plans – from Tommy Hilfiger’s carnival to Misha Nonoo’s Snapchat show, not to mention an update on Google that will see fashion brands curating what their search results look like pertaining to the new season.

Also hitting the headlines over the past week has been everything from M&S cutting head office jobs, Smashbox’s virtual reality campaign and our interview with Westfield’s Lindsey Thomas. Don’t forget to check out our full list of upcoming events at the bottom too…


TOP STORIES
  • This fashion week, Google gets a new look [NY Times]
  • Condé Nast’s Style.com is now open for business [The Industry]
  • Tom Ford makes comeback at Venice festival with his second movie [Reuters]
  • H&M open entries for 2nd annual innovation grant [Fashionista]

BUSINESS
  • Marks & Spencer looks to cut up to 500 jobs at London head office [The Guardian]
  • How online fashion companies use data to enhance sales [Fashion United]
  • The Blonde Salad ups the ante [BoF]

SOCIAL MEDIA
  • Innovating on Snapchat: Misha Nonoo, Ann Taylor Loft and River Island [F&M]

RETAIL
  • How the founder of Farfetch is politely reinventing the boutique for the digital age [The Telegraph]
  • One year on: How Westfield Bespoke, the retail tech space piloted in San Francisco, is winning [Forbes]

TECHNOLOGY
  • Smashbox goes behind the scenes of a photo shoot in its foray into VR [AdWeek]
  • Here’s how shoppable video will (finally) work [Venture Beat]

START-UPS
  • In-depth with Modern Meadow: the start-up bioengineering leather in a lab [Forbes]

UPCOMING EVENTS
Categories
Editor's pick technology

Future of retail: artificial intelligence and virtual reality have big roles to play

Frontier(less) Retail, the new report from J. Walter Thompson Intelligence in collaboration with WWD
Frontier(less) Retail, the new report from J. Walter Thompson Intelligence in collaboration with WWD

From artificial intelligence to virtual reality, emerging technologies are rewriting the retail playbook at a rapid pace, suggests J. Walter Thompson Intelligence in a new report called Frontier(less) Retail.

Launched in collaboration with WWD, the report explores the idea that brands and retailers are increasingly putting innovation at the core of their strategies. This relates to everything from digital integration through to the more future-looking technologies helping to shift their businesses forward.

Rebecca Minkoff has boosted sales with smart mirrors in dressing rooms, it notes, while Kate Spade has had a hit with Everpurse, a smartphone-charging handbag. It also attributes the success of Under Armour in part to its positioning as a tech-forward brand, and references Topshop’s new incubator program, Top Pitch, as a clever bid to achieve the same at a time when its young consumer base is more likely to spend on smartphones than splurge on streetwear.

Head over to Forbes for the full story exploring the role that artificial intelligence and virtual reality have to play in a data-driven more experiential retail landscape.

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digital snippets e-commerce film mobile social media Startups technology

Digital snippets: Alexander Wang’s future, Louis Vuitton wins Instagram battle, new Kenzo film

Alexander Wang - fashion and technology

A round-up of everything you might have missed in fashion and technology news (and beyond) over the past fortnight or so. Read on for Alexander Wang’s views on Amazon, insight on how Kit and Ace overhauled its e-commerce, and detail on Tencent and L’Oréal’s zany branded content experiment in China…


  • Alexander Wang talks about the future of fashion – including Amazon (as pictured) [Racked]

  • On Instagram, Louis Vuitton’s resort show comes out on top [Fashionista]

  • Kenzo just released a Japanese all-girl biker gang film [Dazed]

  • How Kit and Ace overhauled its e-commerce [Glossy]

  • Selfridges unveils iOS app with ‘shoppable’ Instagram feed [Econsultancy]

  • Condé Nast partners with Gucci on branded content [The Industry]

  • Inside Tencent and L’Oréal’s zany branded content experiment in China [AdAge]

  • Sephora uncaps new mobile revenue stream via shoppable Snapchats [Mobile Commerce Daily]

  • Adidas on Snapchat leaks its latest collection [PSFK]

  • Nike reveals Euro 2016 ad starring a body-swapping Cristiano Ronaldo [The Drum]

  • Visa introduces NFC-enabled payment ring for Rio 2016 Olympic Games [Brandchannel]

  • How online models are chosen to influence the way you shop [Telegraph]

  • Pinterest’s real-world Pins let in-store shoppers save real items to virtual boards [AdWeek]

  • Snapchat passes Twitter in daily usage [Bloomberg]

  • Smartzer seeks to carve niche in shoppable video realm [Glossy]

  • Welcome to a cashless future where retailers recognise our faces [The Guardian]

  • Refinery29, focused on global expansion, hits Germany [AdAge]

  • Fashion’s fraught relationship with 3D printing and sustainability [Glossy]

  • Line’s beauty and fashion portal rolls out its Persian carpet [TechCrunch]

  • Why is futuristic fashion still retro? [Slate]