ECOMMERCE

Search engine giant steps up fashion searches

BY Deena M. Amato-McCoy

Google hopes its new visual search tools will become a new accessory for its fashion shoppers.

To assist customers eager to buy merchandise featured in online lifestyle images, Google introduced two new mobile image-based search tools this week that will help customers locate their desired pieces more easily.

The first solution, called “Similar Items,” uses machine vision technology — or image-based analysis — to identify products featured in online lifestyle photos. As shoppers type their desired item into the search bar, the solution displays images and content of matching products — including prices and where it is sold.

Currently, the solution identifies images of handbags, sunglasses and shoes. More apparel, and home and garden categories will be added in the next few months, Google said.

 Meanwhile, Google’s “Style Ideas” solution presents lifestyle images and outfits that showcase how the searched product can be worn in real life. The tool also displays an expanded carousel for “Similar Items” recently viewed.

“Finding price and availability information was one of the top image search feature requests from our users. The Similar Items carousel gets millions of impressions and clicks daily from all over the world,” according to Google.

Both solutions are available in the Google app for Android and mobile Web, and will be expanded to other platforms during 2017, Google said.

The search tools rival a similar program launched by Pinterest last month. The social media site features a visual search tool that enables pinners to save images found online and use them as a jump-off point for discovering similar ideas on Pinterest.

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W.Bernacca says:
Apr-14-2017 02:38 pm

Similar ideas
Another similar idea is www.ShoesDsire.com. Since 2014 the startup Shoes Dsire is development a m-commerce platform with a powerful visual search engine that allows you to explore an endless selection of shoes from the best selling styles and brands with a direct link for purchase.

W.Bernacca says:
Apr-14-2017 02:38 pm

Another similar idea is www.ShoesDsire.com. Since 2014 the startup Shoes Dsire is development a m-commerce platform with a powerful visual search engine that allows you to explore an endless selection of shoes from the best selling styles and brands with a direct link for purchase.

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DESIGN/CONSTRUCTION

American Girl to unveil new Manhattan flagship

BY Marianne Wilson

American Girl is building a new and bigger flagship in the Big Apple.

The specialty retailer will open a new, 40,000-sq.-ft. American Girl Place at 75 Rockefeller Plaza in Manhattan. The new location, scheduled to open in fall 2017, will replace the brand’s existing flagship at 609 Fifth Avenue.

The new location is being built by Englewood Construction, and is the 12th project Englewood has completed for American Girl.

Designed by FRCH Design Worldwide, the new American Girl store will span two floors, including street-level space with direct entrances from both 51st and 52nd Streets. The interior will include enhanced versions of popular features found at all American Girl Place locations, such as an expanded salon experience and as a café. New elements will include digital and interactive opportunities that allow girls to create and share content and tailor their store visit to their personal interests.

“American Girl is constantly evolving its in-store experience, so as we incorporate prototype features, we’ll record best practices and processes that can be followed should the team decide to roll them out at additional locations,” said Bill Di Santo, president of Lemont, Ill.-based Englewood Construction. “Part of our program with American Girl includes maintaining and periodically refreshing their entire fleet of stores, so we’re always thinking in terms of how the work we do can be replicated on a national level.”

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mall
Insights

How Struggling Malls Can Find New Life

BY CSA STAFF

The struggles of brick-and-mortar retailers have dominated industry headlines over the past few months with an unprecedented number of store closings announced. However, while the bad news has come from all corners, specialty retailers as well as general merchandisers, it has been department stores that have perhaps attracted the most headlines.

Besides losing their department store anchors, however, many malls are also hollowing out from the inside. For instance, the list of big store closure announcements recently includes not just Macy’s, J.C. Penney, Sears, and Kmart, but also Wet Seal, American Apparel, The Limited, Payless and Gander Mountain, among others. This speaks to how broadly the retail sector is now impacted by consumers moving away from traditional retail channels and formats. In the not-too-distant past, it was only book, music, office supply, and electronic retailers that shrunk drastically or liquidated. Today, the pain has now spread to larger categories, including clothing, sporting goods and furniture. While these latter categories have relatively low online penetration (approximately 20% each) they have been among the most disrupted by growth in online sales over the last year.

While convenience is certainly a key reason shoppers opt for online, it is also affecting how consumers visit physical store locations, including those in malls. Shoppers are limiting their time in stores, focusing on finding what they need and exiting quickly. Some retailers are capitalizing on this trend: There is an expanding breadth of products offered by convenience formats like drug stores and discount retailers, and many retailers are investing in updating store layouts to meet the needs of consumers who want to get in and out in a hurry. Perhaps it was for that reason that Target recently launched its prototype store format in Houston that included a separate entrance dedicated to shoppers only planning to buy a handful of items. This is at odds with the traditional model for malls where anchor tenants drive traffic, and specialty retailers rely on shoppers taking the time to make additional purchases.

Another source of pressure for retailers is the decision by many consumers to dedicate a greater “share of wallet” to non-retail discretionary categories such entertainment and meals. According to US census data, overall spending in traditional retail has remained flat over the last decade while entertainment spending has grown more than 50%, highlighting a trend in consumer spending, shifting towards acquiring experiences rather than acquiring more goods.

So, what do these developments mean for retailers and mall owners, and what steps can be taken to address the continuing challenges posed by changing consumer behavior?

The challenges faced by owners and operators require, among other things, a heightened focus on a long-term strategic vision supported by in-depth analysis and detailed data analytics. The continuous improvement process should focus on areas such as store operational effectiveness, product sourcing and vendor management, SG&A optimization, and assortment optimization & inventory effectiveness.

The simple fact is that structural change is required, and both retailers and landlords need to adapt.

New Formats
For retailers, a viable solution must involve revisiting the way brick-and-mortar stores are positioned to maximize selling productivity as part of an integrated omnichannel strategy, and to ensure that store formats are optimized to the changing needs of consumers. Certain retailers have changed their format to create a buying atmosphere that is more experiential, appealing to the consumer visually and making the purchasing decision more interactive.

Sephora and Ulta, for instance, have embraced the interactive buying experience, allowing customers to touch, test, and interact with the product, creating a compelling buying experience. However, at the same time it should be noted that it can be a real challenge to fund these costly investments, particularly at a time when many retailers have limited liquidity.

Overall, the reality is that with today’s significant declines in retail volumes through traditional channels, additional store and mall closures will need to be part of the solution. For starters, REITs and landlords can minimize the bleeding by working collaboratively with existing tenants to structure lease terms that make sense for the current retail environment and location-specific foot traffic.

However, it is also essential that landlords proactively respond to vacating anchor tenants by finding a creative replacement that maintains, or even improves, traffic. Certain mall owners have been successful replacing anchor stores with discount retailers or converting the space to accommodate multiple vendors.

On the other hand, a reduction in the gross lettable area that is dedicated to retail may be required. Repurposing the space for dining and entertainment, which are grabbing a larger share of consumers’ wallets, or converting floor space to other mixed uses, might be viable solutions.

Given industry headwinds, and the relatively long lead time required for landlords to adapt their portfolios, it is imperative that retailers optimize how their stores interact with consumers, how they use data to improve processes, and how they work collaboratively with landlords.

Only then might there be some new life in the mall after all.


Kent Percy, Luke Ericson and Alvaro Corletto Costa are consultants with AlixPartners LLP, the global business-advisory firm.

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