Lowes_virtual_training
TECHNOLOGY

Home improvement chain debuts VR-based ‘how to’ classes

BY Deena M. Amato-McCoy

Lowe’s Cos. is embarking on the next chapter of its virtual reality journey.

Starting Tuesday, March 7, the home improvement chain’s store in Framingham, Massachusetts, debuted its “Holoroom How To,” Lowe’s first-ever virtual reality DIY skills-training clinic. As consumers enter the interactive virtual reality (VR)-based environment, they wear an HTC Vive headset to receive “hands-on” tutorials on basic DIY skills, including supplies and steps, needed to complete a project.

The first module teaches how to tile a shower.

“This allows us to teach our customers in a way that we could have never previously imagined, and give them the confidence they need to undertake a daunting renovation,” according to Lowe’s Innovation Labs.

The chain’s prior virtual reality programs helped customers visualize their kitchen and bath renovations, “but we have found a unique opportunity to use the VR platform for skills training,” according to the chain.

“Our studies show that Holoroom How To actually lifts unskilled DIYers to a memory performance level comparable to that of experienced DIYers,” Lowe’s said. “This allows us to teach our customers in a way that we could have never previously imagined, and give them the confidence they need to undertake a daunting renovation.”

Two stores in Canada will be next to feature the VR-based classes.

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JillStandish
TECHNOLOGY

Gen Z: Seven ways to win the next big consumer market and purchasing powerhouse

BY CSA STAFF

For good reason, retailers in recent years have sought to understand the shopping habits and preferences of the millennial generation. The oldest millennials, born in or after 1980, are now well into their thirties – and have certainly reached maturity as consumers. It’s now time to shift the focus and look at the next generation behind these millennials to see if they differ from their digital-savvy counterparts.

If you think of everything that millennials have set the pace for change, think again. With the rise of mobile shopping and ongoing innovation in data analytics, it’s clear that the next generation of consumers – Gen Z who are those born after 1987 – will have some very different expectations, especially when it comes to digital shopping.

Recent Accenture research – based on a survey of almost 10,000 consumers from 13 different countries (750 from the U.S.) – highlights a number interesting trends regarding Gen Z’s shopping habits and preferences.

What is this generation looking for? Here we outline seven ways that retailers can win their loyalty and a share of their wallets:

Fully embrace social media

With 72% of Gen Z consumers in the U.S. enthusiastic about purchasing directly from social media, retailers should do more to build up their brand presence on the leading platforms and channels. With Gen Z, videos and pictures are becoming more important than text for many younger shoppers. Retailers should also take note for where they are spending their time; 89% of Gen Z are regular users of YouTube while Facebook remains a firm favorite and Gen Z consumers are also more likely to be regular users of Instagram and Snapchat than their millennial counterparts.

Deliver new shopping methods

More than three-quarters of Gen Z shoppers (77%) say they like the sound of curated subscription-type offers for fashion. And significant numbers would shift more than half of their purchases to retailers that can offer automatic replenishment programs. At the same time, 45% of Gen Z shoppers are willing to try voice-activated ordering. Investing in these new shopping methods will enable retailers to capture market share among Gen Z.

Learn to influence in new ways

Gen Z consumers are more likely than any previous generation to make their purchases on the basis of recommendations from friends, family and fellow social media users, with many seeking out others’ views before buying. Retailers must be alive to this trend and ensure their brand has a presence on video channels such as YouTube. It will also be crucial to develop sophisticated social listening tools that provide data on what potential influencers are saying about brands.

Indulge impulsiveness

Gen Z consumers are inclined towards impulsiveness. They often make purchases because they randomly see something that captures their imagination or receive a recommendation from those within their influencer circles. They also want purchases delivered at speed – 68% would pay more than $5 for one-hour deliveries. This impulsiveness offers retailers new opportunities: to develop experiences and tell stories that pique shoppers’ interest, and to invest in fulfilment to add value.

Don’t overlook the physical store experience

As digital channels proliferate, retailers need to stay focused on their brick and mortar channel to woo Gen Z shoppers. Our research found that 77% of Gen Z shoppers still prefer making purchases in-store. The challenge for retailers is to reimagine and reinvent their stores and to focus on the experiences that extend their brand. This may mean providing shoppers with an interactive and hyper-personalized experience or giving sales assistants tools to enhance the sales process.

Invest in making the brand stand out

Gen Z has yet to form its loyalties – just 5% shop at a single store for fashion and only 26% frequent one particular health and beauty retailer. These figures are notably lower than for older millennial generation shoppers. Fickle Gen Z shoppers provide an opportunity for retailers or brands. Those that wow Gen Z’s with exciting store or digital experiences could become their go-to for the future.

Keep it local

We may be increasingly globally connected, but Gen Z has characteristics that certainly differ by market and country. In China, shoppers are more likely than elsewhere to shop online and leverage social media. In Europe, Swedish shoppers are almost twice as willing to buy direct from social media as the global average. Retailers will need to hone their approach to each market according to local attitudes and preferences.

One lesson from the last few decades has been that consumer behavior and preferences evolve extremely rapidly. Keeping up with the latest trends – especially when it comes to technology adoption – is a huge challenge for retailers. Retailers need to continually rethink and redesign their offerings to satisfy ‘Gen Z’ or risk losing market share as these consumers come of age.

The good news is that shoppers born after 1997 have increasing purchasing power. They are open to trying new things and shopping in new ways and in new channels. The question is: Is your brand where they are?


Jill Standish is senior managing director of retail at Accenture.

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MAchine_learning
TECHNOLOGY

Discounter uses machine learning to stay ‘on Target’ with shopper demand

BY Deena M. Amato-McCoy

Target’s omnichannel journey may have started five years ago, but newly-emerging digital touchpoints continue to change the game.

By leveraging machine learning to tap into customer demand, the retailer is defining which touchpoints are not only valuable, but influencing its shoppers' paths-to-purchase. The initiative was discussed during a session ("Determining New Omni-KPIs To Hit Goals And Key Drivers") at the recently held eTail West 2017, in Palm Springs, California.

Retailers continue to break down the barriers separating channels and lines of business as a means of delivering a seamless shopping experience. However, as the industry moves even closer to the holy grail of frictionless, unified commerce, they need to take the next step: transforming their organization, business processes and technology to align with the demands of their customers.

For Target, this means delivering convenience, customer satisfaction and better engagement regardless of the touchpoint consumers use when shopping with the chain.

“We need to tailor assortments to individual shoppers’ needs, and make sure merchandise is available both digitally and in-store,” Meghna Sinha, senior director for enterprise data analytics and business intelligence, Target, said at the session. “This requires us to understand our customers’ demand. To do so, we needed a single view of the shopper.”

This can be a complex task when shoppers engage with the brand through five touchpoints: the Web, a mobile-optimized site, Target's native app, the Cartwheel app, and its network of approximately 1,800 stores.

Aligning digital and in-store shopping data in a central location was the first step in getting a single view of the shopper. However, “looking at [their] total store and enterprise sales wasn’t enough. We needed to dig deeper if we wanted to understand how they visit us and make decisions,” she said.

Enter the value of machine learning — sophisticated artificial intelligence (AI) that is not only robust enough to siphon through increasing levels of unstructured digital information, but continues to learn from previous computations, improving the level of data analysis.

Target began its machine learning journey about a year ago, applying the analysis method to its supply chain operations. Running daily and weekly tests, machine learning is already helping the chain to optimize operations based on insights derived through tests. “We are still at the beginning of this journey,” Sinha said. “The only way to prepare for the future is to understand customer demand.”

Knowing this demand is harder to harness at store-level, Target will use machine learning to measure the influence of its touchpoints — including those used in-store — on customer purchase decisions. “It allows us to test the customer journey as one experience vs. multiple broken experiences,” Sinha said.

Target is in good company when it comes to leveraging AI and machine learning, as 50% of retailers reported they already extensively use automation powered by AI to deliver IT tasks. Meanwhile, 47% use the technology for customer interactions, according to “People First in Digital Retail: Accenture Technology Vision for 2016.”

While it was too soon to share results, Sinha believes the chain will remain committed to machine learning. “Knowing this is not a slam dunk, we will continue to test and learn,” she added. “It’s an ongoing, multi-year journey that will be fine-tuned over time.”

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