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Editor's pick Retail technology

Amazon Go has competition: Meet 6 other automated stores transforming retail

Amazon Go
Amazon Go

As consumers put more and more value on their time, it’s no surprise brick-and-mortar stores are increasingly relying on automation to speed up the shopping experience.

By 2021, Amazon Go plans to open 3,000 of its unmanned stores where customers will shop with no face-to-face interaction. It currently has three locations in Seattle, and a new store just opened in Chicago. Each one offers “Just Walk Out” shopping, powered by hundreds of cameras and sensors to record shoppers movements and purchases. To enter the store, customers scan their phone on a turnstile. Amazon says the stores don’t use facial recognition, just image recognition, which is cross-referenced with weight sensors on the shelves to understand which items have been grabbed.

But Amazon isn’t alone in this race to roll out unmanned doors. Three competing cashierless mini-markets launched within a month in San Francisco, including Standard Cognition, which actually beat them to opening. Meanwhile, on a global basis, they’re competing with everyone from China’s Alibaba to South Korea’s Lotte.

From facial recognition to palm-reading and payment via SMS, here are six further examples of automated stores we’re tracking:

Jack & Jones and Vero Moda
Jack & Jones

In China, facial recognition technology is so commonplace that you don’t need even a mobile phone to shop. Fashion retailers Jack & Jones and Vero Moda opened smart stores using this system in Shenzhen and Guangzhou. First, shoppers complete a facial recognition registration in-store that connects their face with WeChat Pay. At the exit, a digital kiosk reads their face and authorizes the payment. This technology, when combined with AI, helps boost sales; in the fitting room, the mirror also uses facial recognition to identify customers and recommend items based on their shopping history.

Hema
Alibaba’s Hema store

Alibaba also has its own cashierless grocery store, Hema. Launched in 2015, it’s expanded to 46 stores in 13 cities in China. At Hema, self-checkout kiosks use facial recognition to connect with Alipay, the company’s payment app, while digital screens display product details and dynamic prices that update automatically via Wifi-connected, e-ink price tags. In the next five years, Alibaba plans to expand Hema to 2,000 more branches.

Albert Heijn
Albert Heijn

Albert Heijn, a major supermarket chain in the Netherlands, has implemented technology to let customers scan and bag items as they shop more easily than ever. They have two checkout-free stores where customers can tap their phone or credit card on a shelf tag for the items they want. 10 minutes later, the customers’ bank accounts are debited for the amount they spent. If a shopper wants to put back an item, they reverse the chargers by tapping on the tag again.

Dirty Lemon
Dirty Lemon

Cult beverage brand Dirty Lemon made their way from online to real-life this summer. The company’s first store opened last month in New York’s Tribeca neighborhood. Shoppers pay via SMS, a heatmap tracker monitors the footsteps of people walking in and out, and RFID technology in the coolers keeps track of inventory. SMS payments isn’t new to Dirty Lemon’s shoppers – the website takes orders exclusively through mobile devices. To order, the customer has to link a credit card number to their phone, which makes it easy to restock by just texting.

Lotte
Lotte

South Korean mega group, Lotte, which owns the likes of Lotte Department Stores, introduced biometric verification of palm veins to its credit card Lotte Card, in partnership with Fujitsu. The result, HandPay, which aims to combat fraud, means users can literally just scan their own hand to pay for their items. Lotte has now begun installing self-registration for such technology at two 7-Eleven convenience stores in Seoul. Soon, the company plans to install these self-registers at all of its subsidiaries, including Lotte Department Stores, Lotterias, and Hi-Marts.

MobyMart
MobyMart

This one is still in prototype, but made the list for the way in which it’s innovating automated retail by putting it on wheels. MobyMart is an unstaffed, mobile grocery store from Swedish startup, Wheelys, that travels in a self-driving vehicle you can “hail” from an app. Payment works through RFID tags that are scanned via phone. There’s also image analysis to track inventory and collect data on customer behavior. For now, this is a beta project that has been running for six months on a university campus in Shanghai. Even though it might take some time for this prototype to hit the streets, the idea looks convenient, especially for remote areas.

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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business e-commerce Editor's pick mobile social media

How retailers are using mobile messaging to change the way we shop

In 2016, you might find yourself texting more with customer service reps than your real friends.

mobilemessaging

E-commerce has made some major technological strides in 2015, but one area in which there’s definitely room for improvement is customer service. The majority of online stores still filter you through a list of FAQs before asking you to fill out a form, eventually sending some sort of automated response to your email inbox, and still making you wait 24 hours before anyone gets in touch. If you haven’t actually made the purchase yet… well, you might just never bother.

Fortunately, some retailers are trying to streamline that experience, inventing a new way for us to shop in the process. Nordstrom launched TextStyle this summer to allow customers to be in touch with, as well as buy directly from, sales associates or personal stylists within the same text conversation.

Berlin-based e-commerce giant Zalando similarly introduced instant messaging with its stylists, but through Facebook-owned Whatsapp, which is Europe’s leading messaging app. Though less popular among US consumers, it has 900 million monthly active users worldwide, and sees more than 30 billion messages sent everyday. With Zalando, shoppers are able to use it to get in touch for advice and tips.

Meanwhile, Tictail, a Swedish marketplace for independent designers and small businesses, has just launched Tictail Talk, an in-app messaging tool that enables its sellers to chat directly with customers. “We’ve done a lot of research and across the board live chat is the leading communication channel in customer service; 95% of shoppers opt for it,” says Siavash Ghorbani, co-founder and CTO of Tictail. “And it makes sense: we all use messaging as our primary form of communication with friends. It is intuitive and real-time.”

Perhaps more importantly, he notes that it also decreases cart abandonment “by keeping the shopper within the purchasing experience”. Today, 60% of sales on Tictail come from mobile, and that number is only increasing.

Ana Andjelic, SVP and global strategy director at the consultancy Havas LuxHub, says online commerce is still very much a sport of guessing and any retailer helping to make that less the case is more likely to gain conversions. “Shopping online provides a lot of information, but being able to talk to an actual human on the other side of the chat app helps tenfold to alleviate a lot of anxieties that surround the online purchase.”

FacebookMessenger

It’s impossible to talk about such aims with instant messaging and mobile commerce without looking to China. Tencent-owned messaging app WeChat, which has nearly 650 million active users worldwide, is the market leader in this space. No longer just a tool for conversation, it’s also now a primary place for shopping, and that’s what western retailers, and competing platforms including Facebook Messenger, are looking to replicate: instant messaging with a buy button. On WeChat, an app that most people in China already have, you can hail a cab, split the bill in a restaurant, order movie tickets and, of course, buy clothes. WeChat Wallet is integrated in the app meaning shoppers don’t have to leave at any stage in order to complete a purchase. In terms of speed and ease of checkout, WeChat far surpasses any US retailer’s mobile capabilities.

The product roadmap for Facebook Messenger, which has 700 million active users, is distinctly similar to WeChat’s – an integration of tools that enable users to seamlessly move from conversation to commerce. Facebook began bringing businesses onto Messenger this year, including Everlane, which uses the platform to communicate with customers and even allows them to buy products within the app.

An added benefit is a thread of messages tracking a relationship between the brand and the shopper. As Ghorbani says: “Tictail Talk is an excellent way for brands to keep tabs on a shopper’s purchase history so that they can go back to users with new styles they think they’d like, information about when product is back in stock, even let shoppers know if they are hosting an open house, holiday sale or unique product collaboration.”

Michael Kushner believed so strongly in texting relationships between retailers and consumers that he co-founded Stefan’s Head, an SMS-based e-commerce brand. It’s built on the idea of having a conversation with “Stefan”. Informal text messages cover everything from new music to cool brands. Every couple of weeks it also includes details of new products coming out — the team started with graphic T-shirts but is evolving into exclusive collaborations with other designers and artists. “We think you should be able to message with a brand just like you do with your friends,” Kushner adds.

StefansHead

It’s about reaching consumers in the place they spend their time already, and doing so in a way that feels personal, but not too invasive or pushy. It works because it’s for a demographic that sends messages as second nature. The millennial audience has grown up with messaging, which is something Ryan Babenzien, founder and CEO of Brooklyn-based, start-up footwear brand, Greats, says is key.

“They’re living with their mobile device, so we’re communicating with them in the way they prefer. If we call them, they might not pick up; if we email them, they may not look at it. But with text, you will open it. That’s how we’ve been taught to treat messages,” he says.

Though Greats uses text as one-way dialogue at this point, it’s getting 100% open rates on what it sends, and starting to see conversions follow as a result. Today, 40% of its revenue comes from mobile, up to 60% when a new exclusive shoe will launch. “If something is seen to be very scarce and could be sold out quickly — that’s when kids want to use their mobile phone. That’s something to grab hold of,” Babenzien adds.

What all this means is that 2016 will likely be the year that retailers get much savvier about how to communicate with us via instant messages and/or text. If it solves online customer service headaches and makes shopping that much easier, we’re all for it. Just make sure you have a good mobile plan.

This post first appeared on Fashionista.com

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digital snippets e-commerce film mobile social media Startups technology

Digital snippets: Asos launches podcast, Burberry’s success on Periscope, Jet hits $1m in first-day sales

A round-up of the latest stories to know about surrounding all things fashion and tech…

asos

  • Asos launches weekly podcast in customer engagement push [Retail Week]
  • Burberry’s Snapchat and Periscope campaigns deliver a record 100m impressions [The Drum]
  • Jet, the new Amazon competitor, hits $1 million in sales on launch day [re/code]
  • Forever 21 launches Instagram-powered thread screen [DigitalBuzzBlog]
  • Nordstrom is making it simple to buy via text message [NRF]
  • Birchbox’s monthly deliveries will give virtual reality a fascinating test run [AdWeek]
  • Katy Perry, Coty launch perfume line with Twitter pop-up shop [AdAge]
  • Victoria’s Secret chatting app ensures instantaneous customer satisfaction [PSFK]
  • LVMH to launch Apple Watch rival [Reuters]
  • Amazon will be the number one US clothing retailer very soon [Bloomberg]
  • Old Navy follows viral hit with another back-to-school music video [AdAge]
  • Rakuten buys virtual fitting room start-up Fits.Me in a fashion commerce play [TechCrunch]
  • E-commerce start-up Tinker Tailor shuts down operations [Fashion Times]
  • Personal shopping app Scratch launches with $3.6 million in funding [Fashionista]
  • Battle of the buy buttons: What does the social commerce hybrid mean for retail brands? [The Drum]
  • The surprising way smartphones are changing the way we shop [The Washington Post]
  • Malte Huffmann of Dafiti on cracking fashion e-commerce in Latin America [BoF]
  • Fashion’s biological future is now [Huffington Post]
  • Programmable clothes are going commercial [Co.design]
  • Apple Watch sales: what we know (and don’t know) [WSJ]
  • Pebble boss: ‘one day, people will not be able to live without their smartwatch’ [The Guardian]
  • Does Ringly have a place in an Apple Watch world? [TechCrunch]
  • Vogue launches Alexa Chung fashion documentary series, crowdsources questions [Vogue]
  • 10 retailer blogs that are genuinely worth reading [Econsultancy]