Categories
Editor's pick Retail technology

JD.com on a future where robots replace humans

Richard Liu, CEO, JD.com
Richard Liu, CEO, JD.com

“Sooner or later, our entire industry will be operated by AI and robots, not humans,” said JD.com’s CEO, Richard Liu, at the World Retail Conference in Madrid this week.

Speaking to a large audience of retail professionals, the head of China’s second-largest e-commerce company (behind the Alibaba Group), highlighted the fact he believes the future of retail is all about automation.

The Asia region is known to heavily invest in technologies that enable more personalized, seamless, and often self-directed retail experiences, as we recently highlighted on the site, making this a more natural leap for such businesses, but Liu’s views were not met by everyone worldwide.

Mango chairman Daniel Lopez disagreed on the idea of automation as inevitable, saying that humans are sociable at the core, so stores should strive to provide that element. “This is part of the experience that consumers are looking for, and by all means we shouldn’t lose that human touch,” he said. Mango has always had ‘experience’ as a central part of its DNA as a result, he explained.

In another conversation, John Lewis’ group development director, Tom Athron, delivered a warning on the same note: “Walk away from the power of the human at your peril. To assume consumers want everything to be automated or screen-based is naive, they want that in some ways, but I have a belief that humans and machines together will always be better than humans on their own, or machines on their own.”

Athron agreed, however, that some automation is necessary when labor is a retailer’s biggest cost. As the industry and technology evolves, it’s inevitable computers will be able to perform certain jobs more efficiently, he explained, making it essential to shift accordingly to an extent in order to remain competitive.

Véronique Laury, CEO of Kingfisher, which owns companies such as UK DIY retailer B&Q, says that the only benefit a physical store will have in the future is to provide emotion-led experiences, which are more often than not facilitated by humans. “That emotional connection is not completely fulfilled through digital techniques or technology. The human being side of talking to someone who understands what you are going through will be really important even in the future,” she said as she likewise dismissed the idea of purely automated or robotic-led stores.

Beyond experience, convenience and frictionless shopping was also a central theme of the conversation at the event. JD.com’s Liu also spoke about how the company is always finding opportunities to invest in logistics capabilities to serve the Chinese consumer’s evolving expectations around speed, for instance.

JD.com’s delivery service currently covers 100% of China and offers next day delivery to 90% of its 252 million customers. Liu’s goal for the next few years is to have a convenience store in every Chinese village, and the retailer is currently deploying drone technology to source and supply more remote locations until it reaches that milestone.

Categories
e-commerce technology

Asos wins tech award at World Retail Congress

Asos_fitvisualiser_virtusize

Asos won the retail technology initiative of the year at this month’s World Retail Awards, for its Fit Visualiser tool.

Powered by Swedish company Virtusize, the technology enables shoppers to see how well an item might fit based on similar pieces they already own.

As pictured, it plays out in the form of a button next to the colour and size options on a product page (at this point for Asos’ own-brand products only). By clicking on it, users are invited to add measurements of a piece they already have to compare to the one they’re trying to buy.

The tool will then display overlaying silhouettes of the two garments in two-dimensional form and pinpoint the exact variations in bust, waist and length for instance. Different sizing options alongside allow the shopper to work out which to buy.

According to reports at launch earlier this year, using such a tool is proven to reduce fit-related returns, in some cases by up to 50%. Virtusize co-founder, Peder Stubert, said: “Many virtual fitting companies have tried and failed in this area because their solutions have been too costly or inaccurate. Our positive results from the ASOS [six-month] trial signal that there is a bright future ahead for our 2D garment comparison method.”

Other retailers who have used the tool include Nelly.com and Stylebop.com. A video below loosely demonstrates it being experimented with: