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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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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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business e-commerce Editor's pick product Retail social media sustainability technology

Analytics reshaping fashion, the lucrative world of sneaker resells, Snapchat’s return

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

TOP STORIES
  • Analytics are reshaping fashion’s old-school instincts (Vogue Business)
  • Inside the wild, shockingly lucrative world of sneaker reselling (GQ)
  • Snapchat is back in fashion (BoF)
  • Dr Martens’ profits up 70% with success of new ‘vegan’ range (The Guardian)
TECHNOLOGY
  • Facebook latest tech giant to admit to using human review of user audio conversations (Campaign)
  • What Deepfakes actually are (Gizmodo)
SUSTAINABILITY & PURPOSE
  • Stand out brands in The RealReal’s annual resale report (Fashion Law)
  • How Econyl became fashion’s favorite eco-friendly material (Vogue Business)
  • Microplastics are airborne, polluted artic snow reveals (Earther)
  • There’s never been a better time to buy used clothes (Quartzy)
  • Luxury goes back home: Giants strengthen their sourcing proximity (MDS)
RETAIL & E-COMMERCE
  • Nike launches subscription service that targets kids (AdWeek)
  • Online retailers are transforming warehouse construction (Construction Drive)
  • As customers begin to shop through voice assistants, what can brands do to stand out? (Harvard Business Review)
BUSINESS
  • Markets tumble in light of trade wars and poor retail results (BoF)
  • Alibaba results beat estimates on cloud, e-commerce growth (Reuters)
  • Steve Madden acquires DTC sneaker brand Greats (Glossy)
MARKETING & SOCIAL MEDIA
  • Instagram now allows users to create their own AR filters (Hypebeast)
  • Youtube’s AR beauty try-on goes live (Forbes)
  • Luxury brands use video games to speak to China’s Millennials (Jing Daily)
PRODUCT
  • The Farm Bill’s effect on CBD beauty (Glossy)
  • Stuart Weitzman releases limited edition customizable sneakers (Marie Claire)
  • Volcom launches ‘water aware’ denim collection (Fashion United)
CULTURE
  • Nike got called out for discriminating against pregnant athletes. Now it’s changing its policy (Fast Company)

How are you thinking about innovation? 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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e-commerce Retail technology

Coty launches hair color app for Google Assistant

Coty’s Clairol brand has launched a new app for the Google Assistant platform that talks consumers through the entire at-home hair dyeing process – from finding the right shade to aftercare.

The ‘Clairol Color Expert’ is triggered when the user says “Hey Google, talk to Clairol”. From then on the app (or Action, as it is called on the Google Assistant platform), talks users through finding the ride dye shade to suit their needs, how to apply the color, re-apply, and take care of their hair at home, with no professional help.

“In beauty, service is the new product, and for consumers, the real value of a product is not just what’s in the box, but the expertise and service that comes with it,” says Fred Gerantabee, Coty’s VP of digital innovation. “We worked with Google, who helped us identify insights around known category challenges combined with how (and where) beauty consumers are using voice assistants. By delivering Clairol expertise through the unique Google Assistant ecosystem we are able to transform the at home hair color experience and truly help Clairol consumers feel confident that they will get better results with a lifeline and expert at every step of their journey.”

For the beauty group, the Google Assistant, which is currently available on 500 million devices from Google Home speakers to smart TVs, is the ideal platform for its target audience of women aged 18 to 34, who buy at home color. Being able to access it through a myriad of different devices completely hands-free is an important tool to help women overcome the challenges of coloring their own hair, says the brand, which is often the reason why they choose to go to professional salons instead.

Although it is still lagging behind the Amazon Alexa ecosystem in terms of consumer adoption, the Google Assistant has been gaining traction with more and more brands and retailers creating Actions for the platform, such as Nike and Sephora.

Meanwhile earlier this year, Coty also announced the introduction of a beauty skill for the Amazon Alexa Echo platform, which features a screen, allowing users to get beauty tutorials from brands across its portfolio.  

Seemingly the initiative wasn’t just a marketing exercise but an opportunity for both customer acquisition and conversion. According to the brand, 95% of users interacting with the experience were pleased with the result, with 80% of them new customers to Coty’s brands. The skill also resulted in 7.5x higher click through rate than an average Amazon media campaign. 

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.