DEVELOPMENT/REDEVELOPMENT

See’s Candies to open new stores in The Golden State

BY Deena M. Amato-McCoy

A specialty retailer continues to expand its breadth.

See’s Candies plans to open nearly a dozen new or relocated stores by the end of 2017. All new locations will set up shop in California.

The new stores will be located in San Jose, Castro Valley, Manhattan Beach, Paso Robles, Laguna Hills, Glendale and Calabasas. The new locations come on the heels of new shops that have previously opened or moved this year into new or larger locations in Escondido, Windsor and Pleasant Hill, California.

“When deciding where to focus our new retail shop locations, it was important for us to see where customer demand was,” said Ann Ostrander, senior VP of sales at See’s Candies.

“Many of our new and relocated stores are in convenient locations in outdoor malls and strip centers where our consumers are shopping these days,” said Ostrander. “In this time of uncertainty for many brick-and-mortar retailers, we’re very excited to be growing and expanding our retail presence throughout California, as we also look to add retail locations in the other states.”

See’s currently operates more than 240 locations, as well as an e-commerce site.

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ECOMMERCE

Study: Majority of retailers adding AI tools within two years

BY Deena M. Amato-McCoy

Eager to improve customer communication, a majority of retailers plan to increase in the use of artificial intelligence (AI) moving forward.

This was according to “How AI Technology Will Transform Customer Engagement,” a report from Linc and BrandGarage. The study polled 104 senior-level marketing and e-commerce executives from leading retail brands.

Retailers are increasingly evaluating how to alleviate points of friction for their shoppers — a move that can lead to improved customer loyalty and satisfaction. However, 55% of retailers said that their customer service costs are rising, making it hard to achieve their goals.

Increased human resources are the number one factor for these swelling costs, followed by higher shipping, logistics and reverse logistics expenses. However, retailers cannot afford a slip in customer service, as over 80% of customers will look to other brands for a more satisfactory experience after just one bad encounter, according to data.

As a result, 87% of retailers plan to increase their use of AI in customer service, and 44% will use a conversational commerce interface. While only 7.7% of retailers have rolled out AI as a regular part of customer service to-date, adoption is growing rapidly.

Already 34% of retailers reported they have begun experimenting with customer-facing AI trials or pilots. An overwhelming majority plan to embrace AI in the next 24 months, as they seek AI-powered solutions to improve customer service and engagement, the study said.

One in five retailers already believe voice will be an important channel along with chat within two years. As voice-first platforms grow, 44% of retailers that are increasing their use of AI will do so through a conversational commerce interface such as Facebook Messenger and a voice platform like Google Home or Amazon Alexa.

Retailers’ use of AI will also extend beyond routine customer service requests. Rapidly rising customer expectations mean that a wide range of questions need to be answered quickly across various channels of engagement.

To answer these questions, 68% of retailers plan to use AI to route customer service requests, 52% will use AI to help track packages, 43.5% will use AI for product suggestions and 42% want AI to handle returns and exchanges in the next two years. The role of AI will not be limited to post-sale service, either. AI will also be used to answer pre-purchase questions (39%) and for marketing (38%).

“The data provided by this survey is a clear indicator that the time is now for retailers to take action,” said Luke Starbuck, VP of marketing, Linc. “Sitting back and waiting to see what others do is not a defensible strategy and will not yield favorable results. Retailers need to act quickly to adopt AI technologies that will help them win and retain customers.”

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ECOMMERCE

Walmart speeds up the task of reordering frequent purchases

BY Deena M. Amato-McCoy

Walmart has found a way to make the digital shopping experience even faster.

The discounter launched a new service on Tuesday that streamlines how shoppers reorder merchandise via their desktop or Walmart app. Called Easy Reorder, the service integrates shoppers’ purchase histories —a list that is comprised of merchandise purchased both in-store and online. The service curates the customer’s most purchased items — including brands and sizes.

As customers log into the app or Walmart’s site, Easy Reorder automatically presents items that were bought in the past, and that are available for purchase. Among the top reordered items are Nabisco Ritz crackers, Oreo cookies, Tostitos Scoops, Jif creamy peanut butter, Honey Nut Cheerios, Pampers diapers, water, and Dawn dishwashing liquid, according to Walmart.

To find items more easily, shoppers can also sort how they view their recently ordered items. Searches can be filtered by category, recently purchased merchandise, or by price, ranging either high to low, or low to high.

“Easy Reorder contributed to the growth we saw in the first quarter,” Jordan Sweetnam, VP, customer experience and product, Walmart global e-commerce. “Easy Reorder is part of our team’s laser focus on helping customers save both money and time by leveraging our more than 4,700 stores and walmart.com.”

The service is Walmart’s latest move to blend the online and offline shopping experience. For example, the chain recently rolled out discounts for shoppers picking up online orders in-store, as well as new procurement options, including curbside delivery service, automated grocery kiosks and in-store online order pickup machines.

The service also competes with Amazon’s Dash Button. The Wi-Fi connected device, which is dedicated to a specific brand, enables Prime members to reorder merchandise from the brand with the push of a button. Product is automatically re-ordered from Amazon, and shipped free with Prime shipping. Amazon currently has more than 300 branded buttons, according to Amazon.

Walmart is also setting the stage to go head-to-head with Amazon in this category, as well. In May, the discounter filed a patent for its own version of a one-click wireless device that tracks how shoppers use products in their homes and then automatically reorders merchandise. The solution would also track expiration dates and product recalls, according to the filing.

“In today’s hyper-competitive retail environment, it is critical for brands and retailers to reduce friction at every step of the consumer journey,” said Ofer Klein, CEO, kwik. “The use of one-push ordering is a smart, simple solution, as it allows consumers to easily and directly reorder their favorite products. It helps to increase retention rates and generate customer loyalty.”

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