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How brands can find their own voice in a screenless future

Amazon Alexas and Google Homes have been popping up in households around the world, and it is expected that there will be 8 billion voice assistants by 2023. While so far, the technology has mainly been used for running other smart devices in the home, asking novelty questions or setting timers, there is strong potential for fashion and beauty brands to focus on the retail aspect of the experience.

Voice commerce sales totaled a whopping $2.1 billion last year, and it is predicted that consumers will use the technology for almost a fifth of their total spending by 2021. For brands, this is not only a new a new opportunity to connect with its customers, but an important new sales channel. 

Last year we spoke to Amazon Alexa’s founder, William Tunstall-Pedoe, on the Innovators podcast, on how voice tech will impact retail. Although the technology is still in its early stages of development, Tunstall-Pedoe envisioned a future that is all connected: “I think you’ll be surprised in a couple of years if you speak to a device and it doesn’t reply.” He believes that the technology will be transformative, with the artificial intelligence behind voice assistants eventually interconnecting everything around us. 

As far into the future as it sounds, this concept may be happening a lot sooner than we think. 

From creating moments of discovery to enabling better store interactions, we explore 3 ways that brands retailers can be leveraging voice tech in order to enhance customer experience.

Gaining traction
Rebook’s limited edition Club C sneakers

One of the biggest challenges retailers and brands face when engaging in voice interactions is how to get their product discovered. The lack of a screen and the current intelligence of algorithms means that shopping on these platforms is generally a linear journey, and unless the customer is looking for a specific brand, surfacing as a suggestion is virtually impossible. 

One way retailers can adapt to the technology is by utilizing it in their marketing strategy. Reebok, for example teamed up with Amazon and Google for the launch of its Swarovski sneakers collaboration. Consumers could win a pair of the limited edition trainers by asking their voice assistant to “open Reebok Sneaker Drop”, which would automatically enter them into the competition. On the day of the launch, 50 lucky winners were announced through the voice channels. 

This specific campaign showed that as the popularity of the drop model starts to lose steam, voice tech could help reignite its spark. This approach is also particularly effective with the younger generation who is not only tech-savvy, but constantly looking to be challenged in order to land exclusive products.

Setting the tone
Mastercard’s sonic branding

Marketers often talk about fighting to get through the noise, but now brands are literally fighting to get their voices heard. In the near future, owning a clear brand voice, which aligns to its overall identity and DNA, is going to be an important tool to have under the belt. 

As voice tech gets more sophisticated, we’re seeing that brands will start to move away from the generic ‘Alexa’ or ‘Cortana’ voices, into recognizable accents that differentiate the brand from competitors. Developing the correct tone of voice will be key to building brand loyalty, as 72% of consumers believe brands should have a unique voice and personality.

Mastercard has been experimenting with sound architecture by creating its own sonic brand identity which is simple, memorable and adaptable. The distinct melody is played at every touchpoint of the consumer journey, with the intention of helping reinforce the brand’s values and build deeper connections with its customers. This indicates that although brands have long relied on having a purely visual identity, in the future, they are going to have to adapt to an environment that is increasingly audio-friendly (and often screenless).

Enhancing the in-store experience
H&M’s voice activated mirror

68% of consumers say voice assistants free them to multitask and accomplish tasks hands-free in the home, but how could that translate in-store? For example in a fitting room, a voice assistant could make product recommendations, check for other sizes, or even offer styling tips.

Last year, H&M tested the use of voice-activated mirror at its NYC flagship, which allowed users to access style advice, discounts and even take selfies. The mirror gained a lot of traction, with 150 interactions per day, while 85% of people who did so, scanned an additional QR code to receive a discount. The mirror was implemented as a standalone feature, but in the future, this technology could potentially move into changing rooms, allowing people to experience it privately (and therefore lowering the barrier to entry.)

In 2016, Gartner predicted that by next year 30% of web browsing would be screenless. Brands and retailers must therefore keep up with the pace of change, or risk being excluded from this emerging behavior that is increasingly leaning towards audio.

How are you thinking about new technology? 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. Each of the rules referenced above is matched by one of our products and services. Interested in how? 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.

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e-commerce Retail technology

Forever 21 introduces AI visual search to online shopping

Forever 21
Forever 21

Forever 21 has introduced an AI-enabled feature that will allow consumers to engage with visual search when browsing online.

The feature, titled “Discover your style”, allows shoppers to search for items by clicking on icons that represent features that they want in an outfit – such as length or fit of a skirt, or the neckline and color of a shirt. For this launch, the fast fashion retailer worked with visual search experts Donde Search, whose recommendation algorithm aims to mimic how shoppers think about products.

“Visual search technology bridges the gap between the convenience of online shopping and the rich discovery experience of traditional retail by enabling our customers to search for clothing in the same way they think about it—using visuals, not words,” says Alex Ok, president of Forever 21. “Early data shows that this is one of the most important innovations in the e-commerce space in recent years.”

The functionality debuted in the Forever 21 iOS app in May and was initially available for the dresses and tops categories. However, within the first month of launching the feature, the brand saw a 20% increase in average purchase value for the two test categories, as well as an increase in sales conversions.

Forever 21's "Discover your style" feature
Forever 21’s “Discover your style” feature

“As e-commerce’s share of retail sales continues to grow, it’s more important than ever that retailers use a universal language that both shoppers and merchandisers can understand,” says Liat Zakay, CEO and founder of Donde Search.

There are many benefits to introducing visual search alongside more traditional text, but according to the brand, the functionality also helps retailers remove any local language barriers associated with the latter.

Allowing consumers to search visually also enables them to manifest more subtle likes and dislikes when searching for garments, which is something major brands and retailers have been experimenting with for years. Last year, for instance, ASOS introduced a visual search functionality that allows people to upload images to display similar items for sale on the site.

How are you thinking about visual search? We’re all about finding you the perfect partners for your innovation strategy. 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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mobile Retail

eBay launches personalized feature tailoring homepage to individuals

eBay Interests
eBay Interests

eBay has launched Interests, a feature that allows individual shoppers to have a tailored experience based on their passions, hobbies and style.

Currently available on the marketplace’s app and soon to launch on desktop, Interests generates a curated homepage based on a combination of user likes and dislikes and data on their individual patterns of shopping and browsing. To participate, users must answer a few questions on their hobbies and interests, such as what their favorite activities are and how they would describe their personal style.

“Our shopping experience should be as individual as each shopper on eBay,” said Bradford Shellhammer, head of browse & personalization for eBay. “By asking people to tell us a little bit about their interests, we’re delivering a personalized store built around the things you care about most.”

eBay Interests
eBay Interests

Over the last few years, eBay has been investigating different ways to make shopping on the platform more relevant for consumers who may find themselves overwhelmed with choice, or frustrated that they cannot find what they visit the site for.

In 2011 it acquired Hunch, a tech company that developed a mechanism to provide tailored recommendations; last summer, the Image Search and Find it on eBay features were introduced to enable app users to take or upload images to the platform instead of searching via text; and in late 2017, the Grouped Listings feature was launched to allow shoppers to condense similar offerings in the search results so it is easier for them to find what they want. It also has a chatbot that aims to help users with discovery.

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data e-commerce Editor's pick mobile technology

ASOS launches visual search tool to aid inspiration and discovery for shoppers

ASOS visual search
ASOS visual search

My filter for successful visual search is simple – can you take a photo of someone else’s shoes or jacket when on a busy train and find a direct replica online? Can technology negate the awkwardness of actually speaking to someone during your commute to find out where his or her “must-have” item is from?

Fashion stalker claims aside, the short answer is still no. In the majority of cases, the tech is not yet good enough to pull apart a busy image and identify exactly what that piece is.

It is however getting better at finding similar items. Thanks to artificial intelligence, it can identify shape, colour, print and more – it can serve up relevant options and at least start to inspire discovery.

That’s the key theme behind the launch of e-commerce site ASOS’s visual search launch on its native app today.

This is a fashion website with a huge 85,000 products on it; 5,000 new ones every week. One of many challenges in the online retail space is balancing that newness with the overwhelming nature of volume, particularly for users increasingly browsing on mobile. It’s for that same reason we’ve also seen Pinterest and eBay recently playing in this computer vision space. It’s about that keyword: “discovery”.

This rollout from ASOS then, aims to enable shoppers to capture fleeting moments – whether that’s someone they pass on the street, a look a friend is wearing or even a screengrab from Instagram or otherwise – and use them to search through the site’s product lines to find similar suggestions.

“The depth of our offering is absolutely one of our strengths. However that range can be challenging to present to customers, especially on a mobile phone,” Richard Jones, head of product and UX at ASOS, explains to me. “If you know what you want, you can quite simply get to what you’re looking for. But what we’re trying to find is more of that discovery use case – if you’re not quite sure what you want, or you’ve seen something that’s inspired you, visual search is designed to kickstart that discovery… It’s about getting as close as possible to giving you something that is visually similar.”

The tool is shown as a camera icon in the search bar of the ASOS app. Tapping on it then invites customers to either take a picture or upload one from their library to have it find similar products.

Jones knows the tech isn’t yet perfect, if anything the examples out in the market to date have been a “bit clunky”, but with machine learning and big data, it’s only going to improve, he suggests.

ASOS’s own version, the tech for which is powered by an external third party the company has opted not to disclose, is built on this notion. “The more [this tech] gets used, the better it gets trained, the data results get better… the smarter it becomes,” he explains.

That also reflects the way the ASOS team are operating – pushing the launch out to market (in the UK only at first) in order to test and iterate accordingly. It’s about getting it out there and learning how it’s best used before then rolling it to different geographies thereafter.

In its press release, ASOS refers to this as the “build-measure-learn” approach to innovation, a methodology developed by the Lean Startup.

This announcement also supports wider planned technology investment by the company. It currently has a tech team of 900 employees and is planning to hire a further 200 over the next year, for instance. It says its focusing on its AI-powered recommendation engine, which uses big data and a smart algorithm to learn customers’ preferences over time, as well as on improving site infrastructure to drive agility and speed up innovations for customers.

Zooming in on the mobile experience is particularly key. Today 80% of UK traffic for ASOS and nearly 70% of orders come from a mobile device, with people spending 80 minutes per month, on average, in the ASOS app.

With such mobile-native customers, Jones says it’s about how to now use the underlying technology that is in these devices – the high processing power, the ultra high-definition cameras, the depth perception imagery and more.

“We’re thinking about how do we use these devices in a way that is natural and contextual to how our 20-something customers live their lives. They go everywhere with [their smartphones] – so how can we make sure we give them an experience they are expecting?” he comments.

Further motivation lies in the fact using the camera as a means to search is going to become fairly default in September when Apple launches iOS 11, which includes the ARKit development platform. That essentially means all manner of augmented reality uses will be possible directly through the iPhone’s camera lens; visual search included. Net-a-Porter is another e-commerce player that has referenced using it.

“What we want to do is be able to meet that customer expectation and demand,” Jones adds. The visual search tool will live within the app for now, with the intention of making that broader experience an increasingly personalised one for each shopper down the road.

ASOS’s visual search launches on iOS in the UK today with pending rollout for Android and then international scale thereafter.

This post first appeared on Forbes

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data e-commerce

Gucci tops first hottest brands list from Lyst and The Business of Fashion

Lyst3


E-commerce player Lyst has teamed up with The Business of Fashion to introduce a new ranking of fashion’s hottest brands and biggest products.

The Lyst Index relies on information pulled from the Lyst site – which tracks 4.5 million data points per hour from over 65 million annual consumers, 4 million products and 12,000 brands – as well as Google search data. The formula takes into account search, page views (across devices), engagement, intent rate and conversion.

For Q2 of this year, Gucci comes out top, rising three places since April 2017 to overtake Yeezy and Vetements, which ranked in second and fourth place respectively, with Balenciaga rising from ninth to number three. Gucci also sees four products listed in the 10 best-selling products globally, with its GG Blooms slides topping the list overall.

The Business of Fashion puts that rise down to Gucci’s ability to connect with millennial and Gen Z consumers. The report reads: “Alessandro Michele’s maximalist-magpie aesthetic translates extremely well to digital channels, while the brand’s marketing strategies, such as the meme-led campaign for Gucci watches in March, and Glen Luchford’s recent ‘50s sci-fi inspired video have proved successful experiments.”

The Lyst Index
The Lyst Index

It highlights the fact sales to millennial and Gen Z consumers grew at double-digit rate in the first of the 2017 fiscal year, and retention is high. It also outlines that Gucci sales rose to €1,48 billion in Q2, up 39.3% year over year and beating analysts’ expectations by 7%. Operating profit for H1 was over €907 million, up 69% from about €537 million last year.

Yeezy at number two it puts down to the ongoing buzz around founder Kanye West and the fact he’s married to one of the most photographed women in the world, as well as the clever pricing and distribution strategy that Adidas has deployed.

Meanwhile, Balenciaga at number three is attributed to the streetwear attitude to couture that Demna Gvasalia has introduced as well as some clever marketing plays. But it was reportedly its inadvertent part in the Ikea shopping bag viral meme that caused its biggest search increase in the quarter.

Other brands listed in the top 10 include Givenchy, Valentino, Y-3, Prada, Nike and Fendi, while those with winning products further include Saint Laurent, Chloé, Diane Von Furstenberg, Common Projects and Comme Des Garçons.

This is the first in a series of four quarterly Lyst Index reports.

The Lyst Index
The Lyst Index

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business digital snippets e-commerce product social media Startups sustainability technology

What you missed: Wang’s text-to-buy line, Stitch Fix to IPO, activism from outdoor brands

The Adidas Originals by Alexander Wang line launched via text message
The Adidas Originals by Alexander Wang line launched via text message

A round-up of everything you might have missed in relevant fashion business, digital comms and tech industry news over the past week.


TOP STORIES
  • The second Adidas Originals by Alexander Wang line launches via text-to-buy event [Racked]
  • Stitch Fix has filed confidentially for an IPO [Recode]
  • A call to activism for outdoor apparel makers [NY Times]
  • How Reebok, Adidas and Y-3 will dress future space explorers [Fast Company]

BUSINESS
  • Jimmy Choo bought by Michael Kors in £896m deal [BBC]
  • MatchesFashion.com could enter stock market [Fashion United]
  • Bangladesh to digitally map all garment factories [JustStyle]
  • Fashion must fight the scourge of dumped clothing clogging landfills [Guardian]

SOCIAL MEDIA
  • Vogue takes ‘hub and spoke’ approach to Snapchat editions in Europe [Digiday]

MARKETING
  • Why Helmut Lang hired an editor-in-residence in place of a creative director [Glossy]
  • Amazon and Nicopanda launch LFW ‘see now, buy now’ range [Retail Gazette]

RETAIL & E-COMMERCE
  • China’s store of the future has no checkout, no cash and no staff [BoF]
  • Saint Laurent to launch online sales in China [WSJ]
  • You will soon be able to search eBay using a photo or social media web link [CNBC]
  • MatchesFashion.com’s Tom Chapman: Amazon’s missing the ‘magic’ of high-end fashion [Glossy]

TECHNOLOGY
  • Walmart is developing a robot that identifies unhappy shoppers [Business Insider]
  • For the first time ever, you can buy your own 3D-printed garment online [Fashionista]
  • MIT’s living jewellery is made up of small robot assistants [TechCrunch]
  • Intel axed its entire smartwatch and fitness-tracker group to focus on augmented reality, sources say [CNBC]

START-UPS
  • John Lewis unveils retail tech start-ups for JLAB 2017 [The Industry]
  • Spider silk start-up spins into retail by buying an apparel company [Fortune]
Categories
e-commerce social media

Gen Z might be driven by digital, but they still prefer the in-store experience

Lilly Pulitzer tapped Gen Z with an in-store Snapchat campaign
Lilly Pulitzer tapped Gen Z with an in-store Snapchat campaign

Over 60% of Generation Z (16- to 21-year-olds) in the US prefer to shop at physical stores, according to a new report by Euclid Analytics.

Its study revealed that digital touchpoints – such as social media, the brand’s website or even targeted emails – drive Gen Z to research and find the products they want, but then tend to push them to an in-store purchase.

With that in mind, it suggests that in order to truly engage with this mobile-first generation – one that is set to reach 2.6 billion in population by 2020 and hold an estimated $44 billion in buying power, according to the National Retail Federation – retailers must strike the right balance between personalised digital methods and compelling in-store experiences.

66% of Gen Z shoppers still like to shop in-store because they want to touch, hold and try on products before buying, it explains, while 28% want to engage with sales associates, the most of any generation.

They are often mission-based, with only 47% of surveyed liking to browse. That’s seemingly because 31% of these shoppers believe it’s hard to find items they are looking for in-store. To engage with this notoriously brand-disloyal generation, wayfinding strategies should therefore be of top priority for retailers, Euclid Analytics suggests.

As consumer expectations continue to rise, Gen Z are particularly picky when it comes to controlling their experience too, with 26% expecting retailers to offer a more personalised experience based on their shopping habits and preferences. This is the most out of all demographics – seemingly the younger they are, the more demanding, with 22% of Millennials expecting the same, followed by 17% of Gen X and 11% of Boomers.

Among all generations, discount offers remain the top reason people use their smartphones in stores (44%), while 36% state they use their phones to check information on loyalty programmes.

Picking the right social media platform to engage with this young shopper means understanding their nuanced behaviours throughout the path to purchase. 45% of Gen Z shoppers use Instagram to find new products, followed by Facebook at 40%. Once in-store, they switch to Snapchat (44%) to share the experience, followed by only 16% of Millennials who do the same. The platform switch is most likely to do with the fleeting, in-the-moment nature of Snapchat content, while geotagged brand filters also play a big role.

Gen Z shoppers expect stores to enable their social sharing behaviour, with 53% agreeing that the top amenity they expect in-store is free WiFi, while retail apps that offer click and collect services lag behind at 30%.

The Euclid Analytics “Evolution of Retail: 2017 Gen Z Shopper Report” surveyed 1,500 US smartphone users in different age groups, demographics, household incomes and shopping preferences to uncover these latest insights.

Categories
business data digital snippets e-commerce film mobile technology

What you missed: Luxury on Amazon, understanding data, Nike’s Mark Parker

Luxury is resistant to selling on Amazon
Luxury is resistant to selling on Amazon

The big news this week surrounds the ongoing resistance from luxury to sell on Amazon. Jean-Jacques Guiony, CFO of LVMH, said last week, there is “no way” it would do business with Amazon. “We believe that the existing business of Amazon… doesn’t fit our luxury, full stop, but also doesn’t fit with our brands,” he explained.

Quartz writer Marc Bain has a great overview on this. As he starts his story: “Next year [Amazon is] expected to become the biggest apparel seller in the US, and it boasts an enviable customer base for higher-end brands”. Yet of course, it also presents the problem of being too accessible and not reflective of the high quality customer experience luxury brands are aiming for online – many of them only recently.

Meanwhile, also worth reading this week is a piece on Nike’s Mark Parker and his view on imagination, innovation and art, another on how tech hubs are helping luxury brands return to their roots, and one on the way in which artificial intelligence is changing retail forever. If that wasn’t enough, be sure to also check out new campaigns from Abercrombie & Fitch through to Patagonia.


TOP STORIES
  • Is it even possible to sell “luxury” on Amazon? [QZ]
  • Fashion marketing is failing to understand data [Glossy]
  • Nike’s Mark Parker on imagination, innovation and art [Another]
  • How Silicon Valley (and other global tech hubs) are helping luxury return to its roots [LeanLuxe]
  • Number of Europeans using mobile payments triples, Visa study finds [Internet Retailing]

BUSINESS
  • How Brexit is set to affect how we shop [Daily Telegraph]
  • How do you sell a $6,000 bag your customer can’t touch? [QZ]
  • In stagnant luxury market, luggage brands roll on [BoF]

ADVERTISING
  • Abercrombie & Fitch tries on a new attitude: friendly [WSJ]
  • New Patagonia short film shows how fair trade shopping is good for business [Co.Create]
  • In REI’s tearjerker, people carry out a fellow hiker’s lifelong dream in tribute to his life [AdWeek]
  • Longchamp takes virtual stroll through Paris to mark boutique renovation [Luxury Daily]
  • Avon calling: #BeautyBoss campaign reboots brand [BrandChannel]

RETAIL
  • How artificial intelligence is changing online retail forever [TechCrunch]
  • Karen Millen launches B2B-only tech concept store [Decoded Fashion]
  • British Telecom launches connected store concept [Decoded Fashion]

TECHNOLOGY
  • We’re getting closer to clothing made entirely by robots [QZ]
  • How mobile is transforming product search — and why voice may be next [Retail Dive]
  • Alibaba’s new payment system lets virtual reality shoppers pay by nodding [Reuters]
  • VR is where my fashion dreams can become reality [The Verge]
  • Silkworms spin super-silk after eating carbon nanotubes and graphene [Scientific American]
  • Elle’s augmented reality experiment: fad or future of media? [WWD]

UPCOMING EVENTS
Categories
business data social media

Google is making street style fashions shoppable in new LiketoKnow.It partnership

LiketoKnow.It
Shoppable street style on Google thanks to LiketoKnow.It’s content integration

In today’s social media age there’s an endless stream of content being uploaded across multiple platforms every day. For the 10,000 influencers who use blogger monetization network, rewardStyle and its Instagram shopping tool LiketoKnow.it, there are at least 1,000 daily street style posts being shared on Instagram alone.

Some of those names are the most influential in the fashion game, which not only makes that content increasingly important, but explains why Google GOOGL -0.64% would want to get its hands on it from a search perspective. As it stands, it doesn’t have a way to index any of those images, let alone the information that comes with them – much of what’s on Instagram and indeed on Snapchat or even Pinterest is locked within those platforms.

And so Google has teamed up with LiketoKnow.It to power a new “Shop the Look” tool that pulls in shoppable influencer content. “Google came to us in the spring of this year understanding how much is happening in these closed social channels. It knew if it wanted to be competitive it had to leverage that content,” explains Amber Venz-Box, president and co-founder of rewardStyle.

Head over to Forbes to find out more, including exactly what that means for the user and the specifics of the duo’s additional partnership around fashion week season.