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

ICYMI: Apparel manufacturing coming home, shopping by voice, French brands focus on startups

Is apparel manufacturing coming home?
Is apparel manufacturing coming home?

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

TOP STORIES
  • Is apparel manufacturing coming home? [McKinsey]
  • Voice command: is it the future of online shopping? [FashionUnited]
  • French retail and fashion groups deepen focus on startups [WWD]
  • Calvin Klein and Tommy Hilfiger are sending a clear signal that Amazon is the future of fashion, and it’s terrible news for department stores [Business Insider]
TECHNOLOGY
  • Magic Leap is real and it’s a janky marvel [TechCrunch]
  • Fast Retailing signs deal to fully automate warehousing [WWD]
  • ‘Building the digital factory’: 3D printing comes to Shopify [Digiday]
  • Chinese investment into computer vision technology and AR surges as US funding dries up [TechCrunch]
  • Amy Winehouse is going on tour as a hologram [Hypebeast]
SUSTAINABILITY & PURPOSE
  • Dove gets certified cruelty-free [FashionNetwork]
  • Why fashion’s anti-fur movement is winning [BoF]
  • The Maiyet Collective’s concept store: reshaping ethical lux [Stylus]
  • You buy a purse at Walmart. There’s a note inside from a “Chinese prisoner.” Now what? [Vox]
RETAIL & E-COMMERCE
  • Amazon Fashion to launch London pop-up [Drapers]
  • Brandless is launching a pop-up shop in NYC [TechCrunch]
  • Supreme envy: The drop model gets used for burgers, tacos, toothbrushes [Digiday]
  • Jenna Lyons is back, and she’s returning with a brand-new multi-platform venture [Vogue]
MARKETING & SOCIAL MEDIA
  • Three Nasty Gal ads banned by watchdog [FashionNetwork]
  • ASOS unveils campaign and collection for new Gen-Z label Collusion* [TheIndustry]
  • Adidas launches new membership program [HighSnobiety]
  • Why brands are launching secret apps for superfans [BoF]
  • Snapchat becomes the mobile HBO with 12 daily scripted Original shows [TechCrunch]
  • Superdry unveils disabled mannequin shop window for Invictus Games [TheIndustry]
PRODUCT
  • Alexander Wang is launching a new Uniqlo collaboration that’s all about underwear [Vogue]
BUSINESS
  • Judge removes Deciem founder from CEO role [BoF]
  • Sears files for Chapter 11 bankruptcy [WSJ]
  • Superdry issues profits warning [Drapers]
  • Coast falls into administration and is bought by Karen Millen [TheIndustry]
  • Walmart acquires online lingerie retailer Bare Necessities [Reuters]
  • Lyst launches French version after LVMH investment [FashionNetwork]
CULTURE
  • The most diverse fashion season ever on the runway, but not the front row [NY Times]
  • Met Costume Institute embraces ‘Camp’ for 2019 blockbuster show [NY Times]
  • ‘Gender Bending Fashion’ to be focus of new show at Museum of Fine Arts in Boston next March [WWD]

How are you thinking about 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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Editor's pick Podcast technology

Amazon Alexa’s founder on how voice tech will impact retail

William Tunstall-Pedoe

“The vision is that everything will respond when you talk to it; you’ll be surprised when it doesn’t reply,” said William Tunstall-Pedoe, the creator of Amazon Alexa, at a recent event hosted by FashMash in London.

The UK-based inventor and entrepreneur, whose startup Evi was acquired by Amazon in 2012, was talking about the expectation he has for voice technology, or what’s being increasingly referred to as the “zero interface”, down the line.

Right now, the technology is incredibly nascent, but its application in the future is only going to increase, he argued: “AI and voice tech have the potential to overtake humans, but I couldn’t predict when. An effective virtual sales assistant, for example, would be transformative, but the detail is lacking right now.”

Listen here: Apple Podcasts | Android | Google Play | Stitcher | RSS

Tunstall-Pedoe, who recorded a podcast for TheCurrent Innovators that has just been re-released from earlier this year, particularly sees this as the case when talking about retail. Today, he suggests voice technology is only applicable to shopping at a very basic level – for groceries, for instance, or for replenishment of households goods like detergent or toilet roll.

In fact, only about 100,000 people have reportedly bought something via voice interface more than once thus far, according to a report from The Information. But, voice commerce sales did reach $1.8 billion in 2017, and they’re predicted to hit $40 billion by 2022, a study from OC&C Strategy Consultants shows.

A more intelligent system is needed to make that a reality, Tunstall-Pedoe suggests. “What we really want is a kind of superhuman sales assistant that you can have a conversation with – an AI that would be showing you product, answering questions and taking into account your circumstances to sell you something. It has the potential of basically what a really good sales person would do.”

“It shouldn’t be that surprising that people are not doing that much shopping of new products just with voice assistants right now, they want to see it and touch it. We are very very early right now; we are only nibbling at the edges of buying things… Once you can create a sales assistant at scale, then that would be transformative. But for very personalized experiences, that is not possible just yet.”

What he does suggest for today, is that retailers and brands remain focused on making the best products possible, and learning to describe and categorize them as tightly as they can. With consumers demanding more personal and relevant interactions, it’s only going to become more necessary to feed the machines (as such) with the right information in the first place, he comments.

After all, the superhuman assistants of the future may well be about surfacing the best product for their humans in question, but that’s only the case if they know about them in the first place.

Having departed Amazon in 2016, and since been working with a multitude of startups around the globe, many of them focused on all different areas under the artificial intelligence header, Tunstall-Pedoe is bullish on this direction of travel. “There is a lot of technology in the future, that hasn’t been invented yet, that is going to make this better. It’s a very exciting time and it’s only just beginning.”

Catch up with all of our episodes of TheCurrent Innovators here. The series is a weekly conversation with visionaries, executives and entrepreneurs. It’s backed by TheCurrent, a consultancy transforming how 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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Editor's pick Retail technology

ASOS launches voice-enabled shopping guide via Google Assistant 

ASOS

ASOS has introduced a Google Assistant experience that gives shoppers the ability to discover new styles using voice technology.

The initiative is an extension of the “Fashionbot” the e-commerce company launched on Facebook Messenger earlier this year, but this time taps into the burgeoning voice interface, which is expected to be worth $40 billion by 2022 in terms of shopping, according to OC&C Strategy Consultants.

Enki, as the ASOS shopping guide is called, gives users access to designs across six of the website’s top womenswear and menswear categories, making them then viewable on smartphones for full exploration and purchase.

All the user has to do to initiate the conversation is say “HeyGoogle, Talk To ASOS” to their Google Home smart speaker or Google Assistant app on Android or iOS. The aim is to help consumers in the US and UK edit down the vast array of products ASOS has available.

Jason Gregory, senior product manager at the company, said: “With 85,000 products on site at any one time, and on average 5,000 new items added each week, it’s more important than ever to make it easy for our customers to stay on top of what’s new on ASOS. With the launch of Enki on Facebook Messenger and now Google Assistant, we’re exploring ways that conversational commerce can help us make the ASOS shopping experience as easy and intuitive as possible.”

On Facebook Messenger, Enki also includes features such as Your Edit, a weekly drop of curated items; Style Match, which enables customers to search using images from the web or captured on their smartphone; and You Might Also Like, which recommends other styles. All are built on machine learning.

This is the first time ASOS has stepped into the voice tech space. Others brands from fashion and beauty, including Perry Ellis and Estée Lauder, have experimented with it ahead of them.

ASOS says it will be using customer feedback from the initial launch to explore ways to refine and enhance the experience over the coming months.

How are you thinking about innovation? We’re all about helping you build innovative integrations and experiences. TheCurrent is a consultancy transforming how fashion, beauty and consumer retail brands intersect with technology, powered by a network of top startups. Get in touch to learn more.

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Campaigns e-commerce Editor's pick Retail

Calvin Klein to launch interactive NYC Market with Amazon Fashion

Calvin Klein Jeans Fall Campaign

Calvin Klein is partnering with Amazon Fashion to bring to life its Fall 2018 jeans campaign through an immersive retail experience in New York.

The Calvin Klein x Amazon Fashion NYC Market, as it’s called, sees three major attractions – a photobooth with flying popcorn, a photoshoot set-up themed around the brand’s “Together In Denim Billboard” campaign, and a giant water-box installation.

Visitors will also have the chance to win exclusive Calvin Klein products such as jeans and underwear designs, as well as Amazon devices, by playing games on site.

Calvin Klein Jeans “Together In Denim” billboard

 

“By joining Amazon Fashion’s digital expertise with Calvin Klein’s physical presence, we are creating a ‘phy-gital’ experience in the middle of New York City, reinforcing our commitment to a consumer-first strategy,” Marie Gulin-Merle, chief marketing officer of Calvin Klein Inc. told WWD.

Further detail show the interactive photobooth will feature levitating popcorn that visitors will be able to take a picture with. It was inspired by the Calvin Klein 205W39NYC Fall 2018 runway show, which saw the floor covered with the white snack.

The re-enactment of the brand’s “Together in Denim Billboard” campaign, which saw models posing on an oversized billboard, will have a professional photographer on site ensuring social media-ready snaps.

And the giant water-box will house vending machines where visitors have the chance to win limited edition artworks from the Fall campaign.

Calvin Klein Fall 2018 runway show

Amazon will also host an Amazon Alexa Jukebox Lounge, where an analog Juke Box enhanced through the Alexa voice technology, will allow visitors to interact with the music played on digital screens. Guests will also have the chance to use their voice to control the music and lighting.

Any visitors keen to purchase Calvin Klein merchandise on site will be able to do so smoothly through Smile Codes (Amazon-branded QR codes), which will give visitors access to the dedicated Calvin Klein website on Amazon Fashion. A dedicated #MyCalvins Campaign Shop will allow them to try things on when on site.

To further encourage consumer purchasing, the brand has also created a denim jacket in collaboration with rap star A$AP Rocky, exclusively available on Amazon Fashion.

This is the second time the brand has partnered with Amazon Fashion for an interactive experience. In November of 2017 the brand opened a tech-enabled store in Los Angeles and New York, selling exclusive stock and offering in-store customization stations.

How are you thinking about innovation? We’re all about helping you build innovative integrations and experiences. TheCurrent is a consultancy transforming how fashion, beauty and consumer retail brands intersect with technology, powered by a network of top startups. Get in touch to learn more.

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e-commerce technology Uncategorized

Gwynnie Bee teams up with Amazon Alexa on unboxing adventure

Gwynnie Bee
Gwynnie Bee

Size-inclusive fashion subscription service Gwynnie Bee has teamed up with Amazon Alexa to offer an interactive voice activation feature that members can trigger when unboxing their purchases.

“Gwynnie Bee is leading the charge in using conversational interfaces to deliver a highly personalized and interactive member experience,” says George Goldenberg, EVP of technology, data & operations at Gwynnie Bee. “We find these types of experiences deepen our relationship with our members and increase their level of engagement with the service”.  

The experience takes customers through different everyday scenarios where the brand’s service can be put to use. For example, a customer could say to Alexa: “Hey, Alexa, ask Gwynnie Bee to unlock my weekday adventure.” This triggers a story about how an intern spills coffee on the customer’s Gwynnie Bee dress, and upon returning the garment to Gwynnie Bee, the brand will pay for dry cleaning, free of charge.

By adding this feature to its service capabilities, Gwynnie Bee is reassuring its customers about the level of convenience it provides, while distinguishing itself from other subscription rental competitors.

As customers expect an increasingly seamless experience, voice is becoming an important tool to bridge the gap between a physical product and a digital platform. Gwynnie Bee’s announcement  comes two months after H&M launched a partnership with the Google Assistant that suggests interior design inspiration and mood boards for every room of the house. 

How are you thinking about innovation? We’re all about helping you build innovative integrations and experiences. TheCurrent is a consultancy transforming how fashion, beauty and consumer retail brands intersect with technology, powered by a network of top startups. Get in touch to learn more.

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e-commerce technology

Uniqlo launches digital concierge powered by Google Assistant

Uniqlo IQ
Uniqlo IQ

Uniqlo has launched Uniqlo IQ, a digital concierge service that is powered by Google Assistant and machine learning technology.

The assistant, which is currently only available in Japan, helps customers find style inspiration and recommendations by searching by occasion, items featured in magazines, and even by colour based on the user’s daily horoscope. Products are ranked hourly, meaning results vary at every interaction. Once the consumer is ready to purchase, it can do so online or receive directions to the closest Uniqlo store where their product of choice is in stock.

The Google Assistant integration allows the user to say “Uniqlo IQ” or “Uniqlo FAQ” into the Google app to begin the interaction. According to the Japanese company, this is the first time a brand is using Google Assistant to create a brand-specific solution.

“As retail moves deeper into the digital realm, shopping needs to be not just portable and perpetual but personal as well,” says Rei Inamoto, founding partner of Inamoto & Co, the agency responsible for the project’s brand and service design. “There has been a lot of talk about AI in the last few years but most use cases have been toys, not tools. Available through chat, search and even voice activation, this iteration of Uniqlo IQ is the foundation of how Uniqlo will provide customer service on a personal level not just reactively but also proactively.”

The service was initially tested in the US via Facebook Messenger, before a soft launch in October 2017, when it was available to 2,000 select users in Japan. It is now available through the Uniqlo app, Asian social media platform LINE, and Google Assistant.

How are you thinking about 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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e-commerce Editor's pick Retail Startups technology

H&M Home to launch Google Assistant app for voice-enabled style advice

H&M Home - google assistant
H&M Home

H&M has teamed up with Google to experiment with voice technology for its homeware brand, providing customers with personalized style advice through Google Assistant.

Announced during Stockholm Fashion Tech Talks, the voice app provides suggestions, mood boards and inspiration for every room in the house.

To make the experience even more personal the H&M Home Stylist, as the assistant is called, will reportedly have an exclusive human voice responding. This comes off the back of the Google I/O event last month, which featured an incredibly human-sounding version of Google Assistant placing a call to book a hair appointment.

H&M’s Monki brand has also announced it has partnered with London-based startup HoloMe to test high-definition human holograms in augmented reality.

The initiative sees images of nine select Monki outfits enhanced with digital effects, allowing the viewer to explore each of them in greater detail via their smartphone or tablet and experience the holograms as though they are present in the room.

“At H&M group we constantly work on innovations that create extraordinary customer experiences. The fashion industry is changing fast and technology is more important than ever as an enabler in adapting to an ever-changing society,” says Elin Frendberg, who leads business development for the H&M group.

Both initiatives come off the back of a tough trading time for H&M and a commitment to technology in order to turn things around.

“We know the industry is undergoing a huge shift – the catalyst for this transformation is technology. It’s not just one technology, but a set that includes artificial intelligence (AI), augmented reality (AR), robotics and more,” said the group’s CEO Karl-Johan Persson at the company’s Capital Markets Day in February.

“There are changing consumer behaviours as a result – they are expecting more and more. They expect a more tailored offering in how we set up our stores, in how we communicate with [them]. They want a hassle free shopping experience, and the ability to shop anywhere and anytime. And they want even better designs at higher quality and better prices.”

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mobile technology

Google announces Style Match discoverability feature for Google Lens

Google Lens Style Match
Google Lens Style Match

Google has announced Style Match, a feature allowing users to point their smartphone’s camera at an outfit so it generates suggestions on what to buy online.

The feature is part of Google Lens, the company’s camera-powered search engine that was unveiled last year and is now fully integrated into its smartphone’s native camera.

The news, which was announced at the Google I/O 2018 conference in California on May 8, means any user can discover a specific item or receive suggestions to similar styles not only for fashion, but other categories including accessories and furniture.

Such functionality could give the tech giant the lead in facilitating discovery through mixed realities, particularly because by being embedded in the phone’s native camera, it doesn’t require the user to learn a new behavior or download a dedicated app they will eventually ditch. So far, brands such as eBay and ASOS have tinkered with image recognition within their own apps, but the ability to trigger the image via a smartphone’s main image-capturing tool can only lead to mass adoption.

Other new features of the Android phone include a smart text selection where users can ‘copy and paste’ texts from the real world, such as recipes and articles, directly onto their smartphone screens. Google Lens then allows users to highlight copy or bring up relevant information, such as the word for a dish at a restaurant menu, and receiving an image of said food.

In order to enable this, Google is leveraging its knowledge in search to help recognize word terms and the context of certain words.

Meanwhile, for the updated Google Maps, users can trigger augmented reality to navigate via Street View – this means the user can wave a phone in front of themselves to know their exact position on the map, and giant arrows will point to where they should walk next.

Beyond augmented reality and image recognition, the company also announced developments to Google Assistant that means users can increasingly have more natural interactions with voice. During the keynote, they used singer John Legend’s voice to demonstrate.

This includes the ability to have “Continued Conversations”, where the Assistant remembers your most recent questions, as well as being able to ask more than one question within the same voice request. The future Assistant will also be able to call places on the user’s behalf, which proves particularly handy when booking appointments via phone with businesses that don’t have an online booking system.

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

ICYMI: Macy’s buys Story, Gucci’s new flagship, AI and the future of fashion

Futuristic fashion by Tim Walker
Futuristic fashion by Tim Walker

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

TOP STORIES
  • Macy’s buys Story concept [RetailDive]
  • Gucci plants its flag in Soho [BoF]
  • How artificial intelligence will impact the future of fashion [Vogue]
TECHNOLOGY
  • Can AI and AR turn your prospects into customers? [Inc]
  • How beauty brands like Coty and Shiseido are using voice assistants [Glossy]
  • Ticketmaster to trial facial recognition technology at live venues [Venture]
  • Verisart brings blockchain certification to the global art auction market [TechCrunch]
SUSTAINABILITY
  • Fast fashion goes green with mushrooms, lumber scraps, and algae [Bloomberg]
  • Applied DNA Sciences confirms traceability of leather [WWD]
RETAIL & E-COMMERCE
  • Walmart.com redesigns as the anti-Amazon [Co.Design]
  • Farfetch partners with Stadium Goods on sneaker hub [WWD]
  • Brandless’ pop-up is focused on community engagement rather than selling products [AdWeek]
  • China’s live-streaming fashion boom changing the way Gen Z shops [SCMP]
MARKETING & SOCIAL MEDIA
  • Inside the bitter war to bring Tupac and Michael Jackson back to life [Wired]
  • Diet Prada unmasked [BoF]
  • Instagram quietly launches payments for commerce [TechCrunch]
PRODUCT
  • Amsterdam is solving its gum litter problem by making shoes out of recycled gum [AdWeek]
  • ElektroCouture: Inside the fashion house behind Swarovski’s $60,000 light-up dress [Forbes]
BUSINESS
  • Over 400 startups are trying to become the next Warby Parker. Inside the wild race to overthrow every consumer category [Inc]
  • Prada: Making the most of its moment [BoF]
  • Alibaba’s anti-counterfeit group now has 105 brand members, including L’Oréal and Bose [TheDrum]