TECHNOLOGY

So what do shoppers really want from technology?

BY Deena M. Amato-McCoy

As consumers become increasingly digitally influenced, retailers are struggling to find the right mix of technology to drive engagement.

So what’s the solution? Here’s a hint: consumers desire a strong technology presence coupled with the familiarity of human interaction during a shopping experience, according to “What Shoppers Want from Retail Technology.” The study, from experiential retail marketing firm Interactions, a division of Daymon, surveyed more than 1,000 adult shoppers to further understand how to successfully integrate human and computerized interactions into a shopper’s retail journey.

According to the survey, today’s shoppers are influenced by both digital and human engagement. That said, 84% of shoppers expect retailers to successfully utilize technological features to improve their shopping experience, and 62% are motivated by an initial human greeting upon entering the store.

“Consumers want both digital and human interfaces today. They desire the integration of technology into their shopping experience, but nothing can truly replace the accessibility of a traditional store associate,” said Bharat Rupani, president of Interactions. “The key for retailers is to balance human interaction with technology to streamline and compliment the consumer’s overall retail journey.”

While consumers may require an in-person associate for guidance during their retail experience, they are also eager to fully integrate themselves into the technological advancements happening in the retail space. These include:

• Targeted notifications. Nearly 60% of consumers spend more money at stores that send mobile notifications, which can be received while they shop or while they’re at home. Retailers have the opportunity to influence purchase decisions through a consistent stream of communication, leading to unplanned purchases and motivation to visit a physical store or website.

• Customizable products. Thanks to technological advancements such as personalization and 3D printing, 95% of shoppers are looking forward to purchasing products created through 3D printing. Meanwhile, nearly 80% of shoppers say they are inclined to spend more at a retailer that can help create their own products through 3D printing.

• Efficiency and human interaction. Consumers want human interaction balanced with technological advancements to enhance the retail experience. Only 10% of shoppers want to interact with a store associate as part of the checkout process providing retailers the opportunity to employ alternative, more automated checkout methods. At the same time, over 60% want to be greeted in-store by an associate.

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TECHNOLOGY

Study: Handbags, purses, personalization top Mother’s Day

BY Deena M. Amato-McCoy

While handbags and purses have historically been considered a “risky gift,” times are a’ changin.’

In fact, handbags and purses were the most popular gift for Mother’s Day 2017, representing six of the top 10 gifts for the holiday. Overall, the accessories category led the top gifts purchased for Mother’s Day, according to data from Loop Commerce. Results were based on sales made on the company’s GiftNow platform.

While handbags and purses have historically been considered a “risky gift” given price points and personal preferences, the tide is turning. Loop Commerce’s GiftNow platform enables consumers to purchase a specific e-gift and have it digitally delivered to the recipient. Once they receive it, the recipient can select a size and color, or exchange the gift before it is actually shipped. Lily Pulitzer, Vera Bradley, Coach, Saks Fifth Avenue, Macy’s and Neiman Marcus are among the retailers using the tool.

“In offering consumers the ability to send a gift up until the very last minute, retailers are adapting to the needs of their consumers, creating the seamless experience shoppers have come to demand,” said Roy Erez, CEO and co-founder of Loop Commerce.

Apparel, health and beauty, and footwear categories followed accessories for in-demand Mother’s Day gifts. The apparel category was led by outerwear and active wear, followed by the health and beauty category, with products like fragrances and cosmetics. These product insights demonstrate what shoppers actually prefer to buy as Mother’s Day gifts when given the choice and flexibility of buying merchandize without the risk and associated barriers, Loop Commerce reported.

Women represented 62% of the gift senders this Mother’s Day, but men spent 42% more than women buying gifts this Mother’s Day season. Mothers who received gifts from GiftNow made the most of their experience — 28% utilized the service to customize their gift by changing size or color.

Meanwhile, 64% of all gift recipients accepted their e-gifts “as-is.” Only 8% exchanged their gift to select something different, which suggests that gift senders were very successful in selecting a thoughtful, personal gift using the GiftNow service.

Fifty-four percent (54%) of gifts purchased on Loop’s GiftNow platform were sent to a recipients greater than 50 miles from the sender. Interestingly, 62% of women sent a Mother’s Day gift to a recipient greater than 50 miles away, as compared to only 40% of men.

Mobile device usage grew for both browsing and buying gifts. Specifically, 76% of consumers browsing online used their mobile devices (handheld and tablets combined), versus 24% browsing on desktop. While the majority of online purchases are still made using desktops, transactions on mobile devices grew to represent 40% of transactions made on the platform during the Mother’s Day season.

And not everyone was prepared with a gift for Mom. Over 44% of total Mother’s Day gifts sent using the GiftNow platform were purchased by procrastinators. These last-minute gifts were purchased two days before the holiday, when on time shipping is impossible for most retailers. Conversely, 27% of gifts were purchased over the past 30 days and scheduled in advance for digital delivery on Mother’s Day with GiftNow.

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TECHNOLOGY

Received a favorite Mother’s Day gift? Thank a chatbot

BY Lisa Seacat DeLuca

This year, consumer spending for Mother's Day was on pace to reach a record high.

According to the National Retail Federation's annual study, shoppers were set to spend $23.6 billion, spending an average of $186 per mom. And everything from flowers, gift cards and clothing to jewelry, personal services and consumer electronics were on shopping lists.

But did all that shopping land the perfect gift?

Gift-giving has become all about personalization — a trend that’s created real pressure for retailers. Time-pressed shoppers who search online quickly realize the sheer volume of gift choices available and may abandon their shopping carts — or the retailer completely — if the experience is too frustrating.

That's where chatbots can help. Playing matchmaker between retailers and their customers, artificial intelligence-based chatbots sift through retailers’ troves of products to find the best fit based on the customer's individual real-time needs. This technology also picks up on shifts in data, helping retailers and shoppers alike jump on hot emerging trends. Even during high traffic times like Mother's Day this past weekend, retailers are still able to provide the one-on-one, engaging experiences customers demand — and shoppers can leave feeling confident they found the best gift.

The global market for chatbots already reached $88.3 million last year, and is on its way to becoming a $1 billion market by 2023, according to Credence Research. Within the retail sector, chatbots are already successfully walking the virtual shop floor to deliver a more engaging consumer experience.

Here are three examples how:

• RareCarat's "Rocky the Artificial Intelligence Jeweler" guides buyers through the buying process for the perfect gem. Rocky, which uses IBM Watson Tradeoff Analytics and Conversation services to offer informed recommendations, taps into a deep trove of data that includes 10 million data points on diamond prices and parameters, and more than 500,000 user searches. The process has helped the company exchange more than 50,000 messages with users.

• The majority of the traffic for 1-800-Flowers.com is online. To replicate an engaging in-store shopping experience with e-commerce shoppers, the retailer features GWYN (gifts when you need). GWYN is a Watson-powered gift concierge that converses with shoppers and then makes personalized recommendations. According to early results, customers answer an average of five questions per session and interact with the bot for more than two minutes. To date, 80% of customers had a positive experience with GWYN and want to use it again.

• Harry & David, which offers gift baskets, baked goods, fruit and food gifts, will be the next beneficiary of the capabilities of GWYN. This means that consumers can type in something as simple as, "I'm looking for a Mother's Day gift,” and will be guided through questions to the item that best suits their idea of the ideal Mother's Day gift. According to data based on thousands of GWYN users shopping for Mom, chocolates (11%), were a top pick.

For retailers, cognitive technology offers several benefits along the path to purchase. Cognitive technology is capable of continuous learning, so it can become increasingly smart about the customer's unique needs over time. It can enhance the shopping experience specific to each customer. And its ability to understand natural language lets it learn from the vast amounts of unstructured data being generated each day, such as the 50,000 messages that RareCarat exchanged with its clients.

There are many potential uses of AI-powered technology beyond understanding and interpreting customer preferences, such as making more accurate product recommendations. AI-powered technology also has the ability to do tasks like managing inventory based on predictive modeling or identifying ideal locations for a future store.

Retailers know that customers are not going to get any less demanding in the future, especially when it comes to their loved ones, and that there are disruptors with unique business models always ready to try to capitalize on unmet consumer needs. Using cognitive technology — whether it's a chatbot or other applications — will help retailers deliver a personalized shopping experience and tailor future interactions in ways that will keep shoppers returning to your site, long after they've found that perfect Mother's Day gift.


Lisa Seacat DeLuca is a technology strategist, Cognitive Incubation Lab, for IBM Watson Customer Engagement, which powers a full spectrum of solutions including cognitive engagement offerings that are delivered as a service and on premise.

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