Stores are no longer user friendly—and in some cases, neither is online shopping. In a world where you can preorder your skinny pumpkin latte (extra foam), have your own chauffeur-driven experience on demand and direct your in-home robot to sweep the floors in your absence, it can be beyond frustrating to shop. The culprit: a general lack of service in both the real and virtual world.
At last week’s NRF Big Show a panel of startups discussed how they’re using technology to bring service back—or at least making do-it-yourself shopping easier.
“Retailers are smart, but they’re on only smart about 10 percent of their business—online,” said Asaf Shapira, founder and CEO of Mystor-E. “They know when they rearrange a web site according to what makes sense they uplift their sales, but they’re not thinking about doing the same in stores.”
Instead of tapping into next gen technologies, stores, he said, are still in the stone ages.
Shapira said we should be moving toward shopping environments that mimic Minority Report. If you saw the movie, then you probably remember how responsive the world was to Tom Cruise. Everywhere his character went, the surroundings recognized him and greeted him accordingly. And while Tom Cruise, the actor, enjoys a high level of recognition in the real world, the rest of us don’t. And that, Shapira said, is a problem.
“We asked retailers, ‘how many people are looking at your mannequins?’ Or ‘what’s the value of your digital signage that’s showing the same video for four months?’,” he said. “And we found they don’t know that answer.”
The fact that your local grocery store or favorite clothing shop presents the same tired messages to you as it does to everyone else underscores the ways in which brick and mortar has fallen way behind the e-commerce experience. Every day we’re all bombarded with emails and pop-up ads that are seemingly tailored just for us. Meanwhile physical stores are all one-size-fits-all.
His company creates digital signage that, he said, fulfills the same role sales help used to, making recommendations based on the shopper using displays that can determine who you are and react accordingly.
[Read more about how retailers are attempting to transform the shopping experience: Amazon’s High-Tech, Self-Checkout Store is Open for Business]
Sam Vasisht, CMO of Magia.ai, is also on a quest to provide a personalized shopping experience.
Vasisht said today we’re spoiled for choice, which is great in theory. But when it comes time to wade through our options, making a purchasing decision can become daunting. He experienced this exact dilemma recently when shopping for a smart watch. He didn’t think it would be a tough task. He simply headed to the store and put himself at the mercy of the sales help. Unfortunately, they didn’t know much more about their products than he did. So he turned to the web, which had all the answers but it took him hours to read through the deluge of information to determine which product was right for him.
With Magia.ai he’s striving to take an hours-long task and boil it down to five or 10 minutes via a virtual assistant. “It understands your motivations and your requirements, knows everything about the products out there and can very quickly get the right product,” he said. The assistant also takes into account things like your gluten allergy or aversion to florals, only presenting you with options that fit your needs.
Beyond overwhelming shoppers, all of this options on the shelves also takes its toll on retailers.
A typical store might have 100,000 SKUs, of which 30 percent changes throughout the year. Somehow the retailer has to keep track of every product on every shelf in every store—at all times.
Enter Trax, a technology that uses computer vision to monitor what’s going on on the sales floor. “Today retailers are able to monitor the shelves—every SKU, every position, every shelf tag, out of stock, misplaced items, items blocking other items, promotions on end caps running out of product,” said Joel Bar-El of Trax Technology Solution.
Beyond recognizing what’s where, Bar-El said Trax can also help stores merchandise displays to boost sell-throughs.
“We can take the shelf data and correlate it with point of sale data, and we can scientifically predict and analyze the best planogram for each store,” he said, adding it’s a big step up from the cookie cutter method most chains are using. “You’re coming from centralized inventory management to the store by store level
Eventually consumers will also be able to take advantage of the Trax technology. “Imagine a time when, using our technology, consumers will be able to look up their own products, search what is gluten free, or whatever flavor they want to have,” Bar-El said. “That would not only disrupt the industry but shopping as a whole.”
It’s one thing to be able to pinpoint an item on a shelf or on a site when you know what you’re looking for, but sometimes shopping is more complicated than that.
Take furniture shopping online. While you might know you want a midcentury modern look for the family room or whimsical vibe for your nursery, finding goods that will bring that picture in your head to life is challenging when you can’t see the products in person—let alone in the space itself.
While it might be no big deal to order and return a bunch of red sweaters until you hit on the perfect hue, sofas and dressers will prove more challenging—and potentially costly—to swap in and out.
That’s why Francis Bitoni partnered with another former architect to found LexSet, a tool that allows shoppers to see the items they’re contemplating in context.
“You don’t know how it looks. You don’t know how it feels. You don’t know the ergonomics of it. And finding styles that match is very difficult. There are so many parameters,” Bitoni said, ticking of the reasons shopping for the home online is fraught with anxiety. “Interior designers are very expensive and inaccessible. We’re taking something that might have been a luxury and making it part of your e-commerce experience.”
By harnessing AI, machine learning and computer vision, these companies are removing the tedium that’s crept into shopping, replacing it with ease and convenience.