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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 Campaigns digital snippets product Retail sustainability technology

ICYMI: Tom Ford for CFDA, Neiman Marcus megastore, Louis Vuitton pulls Michael Jackson pieces

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

TOP STORIES
  • Tom Ford tapped to head CFDA [WWD]
  • Neiman Marcus blends retail and tech at Hudson Yards megastore [TheCurrentDaily]
  • Louis Vuitton pulls Michael Jackson-themed items from collection [Reuters]
  • Burberry wants to go plastic-free by 2025 [WWD]
TECHNOLOGY
  • Lush demos visual search app and fresh ‘digital packaging’ at SXSW [Retail Dive]
  • Google lets YouTube creators add AR selfies to Stories [Mobile Marketer]
  • Google rolls out smart targeting for in-game ads [Mobile Marketer]
SUSTAINABILITY & PURPOSE
  • United Nations launches Alliance for Sustainable Fashion in Nairobi [Fashion Network]
  • How big retailers are selling sustainability [BoF]
  • Ikea turns recycled furniture into adorable homes for wildlife [Fast Company]
  • Stella McCartney, Christopher Raeburn among winners of inaugural CO10 Sustainability Award [WWD]
  • Primark launches its first range of 100% sustainable cotton jeans [The Industry]
RETAIL & E-COMMERCE
  • Rent the Runway and West Elm launch data-informed home rental collection [TheCurrentDaily]
  • Philadelphia just banned cashless stores. Will other cities follow? [Vox]
  • American Eagle targets Gen Z with sneaker resale pop-up [TheCurrentDaily]
  • Inspiration: Balenciaga’s new Sloane Street “warehouse” [The Industry]
PRODUCT
  • Hermès to launch beauty range in 2020 [Fashion Network]
  • CBD fragrance is here — and it can be absorbed through the skin [WWD]
  • Fashion brands are making stylish clothes for dogs, and millennials are spending plenty of money on them [Fashionista]
  • Supergoop unveils SPF eye shadow [WWD]
BUSINESS
  • Adidas Q4 net profit jumps 29% [WWD]
  • Shoes of Prey goes into voluntary administration [Fashion Network]
  • Furla’s turnover exceeds 500 million euros [Fashion United]
  • Zalando to end private business zLabels [Retail Gazette]
  • JD Sports to buy smaller rival Footasylum [BoF]
  • Prada shares tumble as China slowdown hits profits [BoF]
  • Here’s how the trade war could lead to a boom in counterfeit goods [CNBC]
MARKETING & SOCIAL MEDIA
  • The beauty of a billboard in the age of Instagram [The Fashion Law]
  • Will success spoil Diet Prada? [BoF]
  • Increasingly experimental Sephora introduces credit card program [WWD]
  • Benefit Cosmetics launches first voice-led campaign in the UK [Internet Retailing]
CULTURE
  • Evolution of man: the rise and rise of the male wellness sector [The Guardian]
  • Sephora ends beauty deal with vlogger after college admissions scandal [AdAge]
  • Exploring the politics of beauty in the world of VR and gaming [Dazed]
  • Why urban millennials love Uniqlo [The Atlantic]
  • Why do blunders like the Gucci blackface debacle still happen? [Quartz]
  • ‘Project Runway’s return to Bravo was diverse, relevant and touching [Fashionista]

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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technology

VR, AR and voice tech drive innovation highlights at Super Bowl LII

Pepsi and Google's VR experience
Pepsi and Google’s VR experience

At last night’s Super Bowl LII game, varying innovative marketing approaches took place as ways to grab consumer attention and drive engagement amid a flurry of brand noise.

While the traditional $5 million TV spot still reigned supreme, there were also numerous experiments with tech including virtual and augmented reality, as well as Amazon’s Alexa grabbing attention.

First up was Pepsi with a pop-up VR experience stationed near to the US Bank Stadium in Minneapolis. Created in partnership with Google, the setup invited visitors into an immersive Pepsi world inspired by the Back to the Future film series. As users travel through time, they see different Pepsi ad references of the past as they go – including Cindy Crawford’s 1991 spot, which she has remade for 2018.

Mike Yapp, chief creative director of Google Zoo, said the aim was to tap into “sense perception”, by immersing people in the nostalgia. “If what we’re talking about here is going back and seeing what these were about and remembering what Pepsi means to your life then, we thought one of the best experiences you can do digitally is through VR,” he explained to AdWeek.

Fans at home could also view the experience with their own VR headset or through a web-based VR microsite.

AR also had its place at the game, with StubHub using it to help sell tickets to the stadium, and gaming company Virtex Arena, inviting smartphone users to participate in AR games from their sears. The latter saw a mobile app placing virtual objects and characters onto the football field, with users competing to kick and pass balls between the receivers by flicking them on their screens, in between actual play.

Mercedes-Benz meanwhile was giving away a sports car to whoever could track a virtual car around on their phone for the longest during the game.

When it came to the play itself, Amazon took on the role of fortune-teller with its voice assistant, Alexa, firmly declaring she was an Eagles fan in advance. The AI-enabled device was also front and center for the retailer’s commercial spot this year. Featuring a cameo from Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, the storyline focuses on what happens when Alexa loses her voice. Cue celeb appearances from the likes of Cardi B, Gordon Ramsey, Rebel Wilson and Sir Anthony Hopkins.