ECOMMERCE

Social network giant improves visual search engine

BY Deena M. Amato-McCoy

Pinterest is giving its image-based search engine an upgrade.

Pinterest introduced Lens in February. Since then, users have been pointing their mobile cameras at objects they see out in the real world, from apparel and accessories to decor, and Lens serves up similar styles or related information on their mobile device’s screen.

A series of upgrades is taking the four-month-old tool to the next level. For example, Pinterest has doubled the number of categories Lens is trained to recognize. “We’ve also upped its style game, so Lens can recognize and recommend outfit ideas for a much wider variety shoes, shirts, hats and other styles you’re wanting to wear,” said Anton Herasymenko, Pinterest designer, explained in the company’s blog.

Other new features include an “instant ideas” button. As Lens serves up an idea, users can tap a small white circle found in the corner of each “pin” to see more possibilities inspired by that original idea. Thumbnails of recent photos will also be embedded in the lower right corner of Lens’ screen, making it easier to access recent photos.

These updates coincide with the service’s food features. Introduced last month, this option enables Lens users to point their smartphone cameras at individual ingredients or entire dishes. The goal — to help Pinners purchase the exact merchandise “and recreate your favorite restaurant meals at home,” Herasymenko added.

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BUSINESS INTELLIGENCE/ANALYTICS

Study: The missing link in omnichannel success is….

BY Deena M. Amato-McCoy

Retailers can gain huge competitive advantages in an increasingly digital marketplace by leveraging consumer insights.

That's according to “The JDA Voice of the Category Manager.” The report, from JDA Software Group, tapped nearly 100 professionals responsible for category management and merchandising activity in North America.

Among this group, their top investment priority in the next five years is big data and predictive analytics (4%), followed by investments in customer-driven data science (37%). This is promising, as the study also revealed that most companies currently lack the ability to mine and leverage important customer data, therefore failing to meet evolving shopping demands.

Currently, companies have access to volumes of essential data about their customers’ shopping preferences and behaviors. Where companies fall short is in their ability to derive actionable insights from this mountain of consumer data. While respondents on average stated that they are “somewhat” successful in mining consumer data to generate usable insights (82%), less than one-fifth (17%) feel they are “highly” successful in their ability to leverage the data to derive actionable insights.

When asked to identify which processes they lacked the most proficiency in, nearly 70% of participants indicated that they are most behind on leveraging predictive analytics for improved pricing and merchandising — two capabilities that are of paramount importance for sustained success in today’s customer-centric world. Additionally, nearly 60% of respondents claimed that they are also behind in leveraging geographic and socio-economic data for targeted promotions and offers.

The modern shopper has transformed the ways retailers and manufacturers operate and maintain profitability, and shoppers expect merchandise assortments to meet their needs from the first attempt. That said, participants cited personalization and localization (68%) and increased development of digital technologies (62%) as the top two priorities they plan to implement within the next year to reach modern shoppers. Omnichannel retailing also remains a high priority. In fact, it is among the top two among nearly 60% of respondents.

Effective assortment localization is dependent on a company’s ability to identify the key product attributes that drive local preferences and demand in each category. Companies are best able to evaluate the success of their localization efforts by measuring an increase in sales (37%), increased visibility into stores (21%) and improved inventory levels (21%).

With increased focus on localized assortments, technology investments are top of mind for both manufacturers and retailers. The top two priorities driving the need for new technology solutions are automation as a means to do more with less, and consumer insights as a tool to support increased localization, dynamic pricing and improved merchandising.

“Retailers and manufacturers that want to stay on top will need to be able to implement personalized localization at scale and with speed,” said Todd McCourtie, senior director, solution strategy at JDA. “While this will require some organization-wide changes to policies and procedures, as well as the adoption of technology solutions to help automate processes, it is a necessary evolution for those responsible for merchandising decisions.”

When it comes to adopting mobile technologies to engage shoppers, respondents differ on what is most beneficial to their business:

• 26% indicated augmented reality technology that provides shoppers with personalized information while shopping;

• 25% deemed the ability for customers to leverage beacon technology (Internet of Things) via mobile device for increased self-education on products;

• 21% identified in-store mapping for easy self-navigation around stores; and

• 19% believe location-based mobile coupons would be most beneficial.

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Apparel retailer using social media to enhance product development

BY Deena M. Amato-McCoy

When Chico’s FAS wanted to put the “customer’s voice” into the merchandise it designs, it took a bold step — and tapped social media.

Through its partnership with First Insight, Chico’s is adding a consumer-driven predictive analytics solution. The technology leverages shopper data that will help users to quickly and accurately make design, buying and pricing decisions on the apparel, shoes, accessories, and jewelry it features in stores and online. However, Chico’s isn’t relying on historic buying patterns for these endeavors.

Leveraging First Insight’s online social engagement tools, Chico’s will gather direct consumer input on new products. The data will then be analyzed using First Insight’s predictive models, enabling Chico’s to better understand its customer base and calibrate inventory buys, optimize allocation strategies, and offer products that align with their needs.

“One of our key strategic imperatives is to leverage actionable retail sci-ence to improve our operational performance,” said Shelley Broader, CEO and president of Chico’s FAS. “Our rich customer data combined with First Insight’s online customer engagement and analytics should help us to identify top performing product as much as 12 months pre-season.”

More importantly, the “voice of the customer” will be integrated into its product development process. This insight will help Chico’s increase sell-through and reduce markdowns while continuing to deliver trend-right products, according to First Insight.

“We expect this partnership will enhance our ability to consistently de-liver the merchandise our customers want, resulting in stronger sales for our company,” Broader added.

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