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Personalization is all in the wrist at True Religion

BY CSA STAFF

True Religion Apparel Inc. is enabling store associates to provide a highly personalized customer experience with a glance at their watch.

The specialty apparel retailer is partnering with Aptos Inc. (formerly Epicor Retail) and Formula 3 Group to enhance and extend the functionality of its associate-facing Apple Watch “Band” app. Originally released in December 2015, Band offers real-time access to the retailer’s full inventory selection from the store, along with intuitive search capability.

Now, Band is also integrated with Aptos CRM and clienteling solutions to provide a holistic view of shopper history and loyalty program data. As a result, the latest release of the Band app now gives store associates the ability to offer more personalized in-store customer engagement via insights delivered at a glance.

Once True Religion loyalty members opt in to a mobile app that integrates with geo fencing and in-store beacons, every time they enter a store, associates on the sales floor are alerted via Apple Watch haptic response. One tap of the watch opens access to customer information from previous online or in-store interactions, including the customer's buying patterns, sales history, and suggested selling recommendations based on constantly updated CRM data.

Specific CRM data served to associates via the app includes product imagery of past purchases, as well as social media integration that helps store employees recognize customers and greet them by name. Additionally, associates can understand what products are currently trending in a given category, location or across the store fleet, and filter items by price point.

"The Apple Watch clienteling application from Formula 3 Group powered by Aptos CRM/Clienteling is retail personalization realized," said John Hazen, senior VP president, direct to consumer & omnichannel, True Religion. "For store associates to be notified via haptic touch on the watch that a customer has entered the store and then provided with their purchase history in a visual manner is the ‘Holy Grail’ of insight and personalization. With this new integration, we hope to empower sales associates with the customer information and tools they need to better serve customers, while elevating the customer experience and converting more sales."

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1-800-Flowers guides customers with artificial intelligence

BY CSA STAFF

Consumers know the perfect gift when they find it, and 1-800-Flowers.com is trying to make the search a little easier.

The specialty gift retailer is offering a beta of “GWYN” (Gifts When You Need), an artificial intelligence (AI)-powered intuitive shopping experience across its brands. GWYN is based on the Fluid Expert Personal Shopper (XPS) software platform, which in turn is supported by IBM Watson.

GWYN acts as a gift concierge that intuitively guides customers through their shopping experience to help them make selections. Using IBM Watson's question analysis API, GWYN can interact with online customers using natural language.

For example, a customer might type, "I'm looking for a gift for my mother," and GWYN will be able to interpret their question and then ask a number of qualifying questions about the occasion, sentiment and who the gift is for. The platform then makes a tailored gift suggestion. As customers continue to use GWYN, its underlying cognitive capabilities will enable the platform to learn about their unique gifting needs and wants, refining and enhancing the shopping experience specific to each customer over time.

In the past month, 1-800-Flowers has launched a number of new services designed to create more automated and intuitive shopping experience. These include allowing customers to place orders using the Amazon Alexa voice-activated artificial intelligence platform, as well as blending bot and live customer service support on Facebook Messenger.

The retailer also recently deployed the IBM Commerce on Cloud solution to ease the process of conducting seamless transactions across its brands on Web, mobile and call center channels. With no physical stores to serve as customer experience anchors, 1-800-Flowers is intelligently leveraging leading-edge technology to ensure shoppers can conveniently and intuitively find and purchase the items they need.

"We created GWYN as part of our ongoing commitment to continually enhance our customer experience, providing ease and convenience for our customers to act on their thoughtfulness and deliver smiles to the important people in their lives," said Chris McCann, president, 1-800-Flowers.com. "As a company that embraces emerging technologies, we are thrilled to offer our customers another new and innovative way to engage with us."

GWYN is available for mobile and desktop users shopping 1-800-Flowers.con, Harry & David, Cheryl’s. Fannie Mae, The Popcorn Factory, and 1-800-Baskets.com.

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Another retailer to explore strategic alternatives

BY Marianne Wilson

Build-A-Bear Workshop on Tuesday said it has hired financial and legal advisers to help it explore strategic alternatives. The news came the day after General Nutrition Corp. (GNC) said it was doing the same.

“The disciplined execution of our strategy has led to three consecutive years of positive consolidated comparable sales and profit growth fueled by margin expansion and improved operational metrics, such as the highest average transaction value in our history while consistently generating strong cash flow,” said CEO Sharon Price. “The authorization to explore strategic alternatives by our board will enable us to evaluate the various opportunities to potentially accelerate our key growth initiatives while enhancing total shareholder value.”

The retailer said that it has not set a timetable for the review process, and there is no assurance the review will result in any new deals or initiatives.

Build-A-Bear on Tuesday also reported net income of $3.5 million for the first quarter of 2016, down from the $6.8 million in the year-ago period and less than analysts had expected. The company said its profitability was impacted by expenses related to the rollout of its new “Discovery” format stores, costs related to international expansion and a 33.3% increase in its tax rate.

“As expected, the expenses associated with these initiatives had a negative impact on our profitability in the quarter,” John said. “However, we have strategically elected to make these key investments during the first half of the year to maximize the number of Discovery locations open during our historically strongest season, the fourth quarter. Our confidence in this strategy is reflected in the reiteration of our annual guidance, which includes an expectation of a 15% to 25% increase in pre-tax income in fiscal 2016 while delivering our fourth consecutive year of increased consolidated comparable sales and improved profitability.”

Total revenue for the quarter was also less than expected, coming in at $95 million, compared with $93.4 million last year. Same-store sales rose 2.2%.

Sales from Build-A-Bear's Discovery format stores, which included 15 stores as of the end of the quarter, increased 14%.

As of April 2, 2016, the retailer operated 321 company-owned stores, including 15 in its new Discovery format, with 264 locations in North America and 57 in Europe. The company’s international franchisees ended the period with 76 stores in 11 countries.

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