TECHNOLOGY

Home goods retailer inspires shoppers through AI, social media

BY Deena M. Amato-McCoy

West Elm is upping the ante on how it recommends merchandise to customers.

The company, a division of Williams-Sonoma, introduced a new online tool that utilizes artificial intelligence (AI) to detect customers’ style patterns and connect them with products they can buy at West Elm stores and online. Called the Pinterest Style Finder, the tool is powered by Clarifai’s image and video recognition AI technology.

Utilizing images from a Pinterest board (either a user’s own board or someone else’s), the solution recognizes a user’s style and color preferences from the collected array of images. The style finder then filters products from West Elm’s online catalog of nearly 5,000 products, and suggests three options from each product category, including furniture, rugs, curtains, mirrors, and decorative accessories, among other merchandise.

Unlike other recommendation engines that rely on a user’s buying or browsing history, the style finder recognizes the categorization of a customer’s preference. It also begins “learning” a shopper’s style from a single photograph. The tool is an extension of West Elm’s Style & Service program which offers customers design, installation and registry services at each of its 100 stores across the U.S., Australia, Canada and the U.K.

“Our free design consultations often start with customers sharing their Pinterest board to best illustrate their vision in terms of colors and style,” said Luke Chatelain, VP of Innovation at West Elm. “Pinterest boards are an efficient tool to quickly get us on the same page, and understand what inspires our customers visually.”

By launching the new tool, West Elm was able to further automate the process, and “provide our customers with a seamless experience when seeking design guidance, as well as to streamline the process of searching for home products that best express their personal style,” Chatelain added. “It’s a great resource for us to take direct input from our customers and be able to deliver the personalized products and styles our customers are most interested in.”

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TECHNOLOGY

Amazon sets sights on new retail segment

BY By Deena M. Amato-McCoy

Amazon has found a way to further expand its foothold in the grocery industry.

The online giant has submitted a trademark application that will enable it to enter the meal kits business. The move will directly rival meal kit provider Blue Apron, according to CNBC.

According to a filing with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office on July 6, the company registered a trademark for the slogan, "We do the prep. You be the chef." The slogan refers to "prepared food kits," composed of “meat, poultry, seafood, produce, sauce and seasonings" as well as "frozen, prepared, and packaged meals," which also includes salads, soups, grains, rice, noodles, pasta and bakery products, according to USA Today.

The filing comes on the heels of Amazon’s announcement in June that it plans to purchase Whole Foods for $13.7 billion. By making a play for the prepared food kits segment, the online giant is preparing to grab its share of the growing $2.2 billion meal kits business, USA Today reported.

This isn’t Amazon’s first try at meal kits. Though its Amazon Fresh service, shoppers can order fresh meal kits. However, this assortment is not branded, according to CNBC.

The announcement had an immediate effect on Blue Apron. First, the company garnered less-than-stellar interest upon announcing its initial public offering in late June (selling at $10 per share). Amazon’s trademark announcement took a toll on Blue Apron’s stock in early trading on Monday, July 17, when the prepared food kit provider’s stock tumbled more than 7%, hitting an all-time-low and dropping below the $7 mark, CNBC’s report said.

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TECHNOLOGY

Study: Mobile, social media promotions top back-to-school investments

BY By Deena M. Amato-McCoy

Besides exceeding their 2016 efforts, retailers’ back-to-school marketing investments are going digital this year.

This was according to the “2017 Retailer and Consumer Back-to-School Insights Guide,” a report from RetailMeNot. The study, which was conducted June 6-12, tapped 1,000 U.S. consumers aged 18 and over about their back-to-school spending and deal-seeking goals.

According to the study, 85% plan to invest more in their back-to-school marketing efforts this year compared to 2016. At the top of their list of investments, 89% of retailers will increase their marketing spend on mobile, and 88% plan to increase social media spending. Meanwhile, 70% of retailers will issue mobile offers through a partner platform.

These efforts respond to shoppers’ demand for a seamless, integrated shopping experience. Yet, nearly 1 in 10 retailers indicated they do not have an omnichannel promotional plan for this season.

"Discounts and deals are incredibly important this time of year to both retailers and shoppers,” said Marissa Tarleton, chief marketing officer, RetailMeNot. “Parents want to maximize their spending power and are increasingly turning to mobile as part of their shopping journey.”

With 63% of parents reporting they will spend more than $100 per person on back-to-school shopping, and 33% spending more than $250, it is not surprising that BTS shoppers are looking for deals. In fact, 36% of parents agree they look for more savings during back-to-school than any other time of the year. Nearly half of shoppers (49%) say price is the biggest determining factor in what they buy, and 70% of RetailMeNot users are anticipated to look for deals on their mobile device.

The shopping journey also isn't limited to just one channel this season. More than half of shoppers (54%) surveyed do the majority of their back-to-school shopping in a physical retail location, and nearly 1 in 3 (28%) always search for items online before going in store.

"For retail marketers, the opportunity to capitalize on omnichannel offers is more important than ever to reach consumers online, on mobile and in store,” Tarleton said. “Consumers are seeking discounts, and it's imperative that retailers and brands meet them where they are with compelling content."

Consumers are likely to do the bulk of their spending in August, and the top shopping day is expected to be August 5. While other top shopping days will occur in the first two weeks of August, the number two biggest back-to-school shopping day is predicted to be on Labor Day, September 4, according to data.

The back-to-school shopping time frame is the longest shopping season in the U.S., lasting nearly three months. The highest level of consumer engagement with back-to-school content on RetailMeNot happens between July 9 and September 9.

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