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TECHNOLOGY

Beauty powerhouse adds high-tech tool to its stores

BY Deena M. Amato-McCoy

Ulta Beauty chain is adding a new “consultant” to its in-store team.

Through its partnership with hair color brand Madison Reed, Ulta is deploying a color-recognition chatbot (called Madi) that gives consultations similar to those customers receive from a professional colorist in a hair salon.

Described by Madison Reed as the industry’s first-ever color-recognition chatbot, Madi combines artificial intelligence and selfies to engage in-store shoppers.

Here’s how it works: In- store customers looking for a hair color text “Hello” to 34757, activating Madi on their mobile device. The tool will prompt the shopper to upload a selfie focused on her face and hair, then followup with a few quick questions. Based on the guest’s responses, Madi will recommend the perfect Madison Reed hair color.

“For traditional hair color companies, technology is an add-on at the very end,” said Amy Errett, CEO and co-founder of Madison Reed. “For us, it’s a starting place for everything around an enhanced customer experience. We are proud to partner with Ulta Beauty to give customers access to our prestige hair color products and introduce them to Madi, which is convenient, seamless and fun.”

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TECHNOLOGY

Teens’ favorite apparel brand is…

BY Marianne Wilson

Athletic brands rule when it comes to teen preferences for apparel and footwear.

That’s according to Piper Jaffrey’s 33rd semi-annual Taking Stock With Teens research survey which details teen spending trends and brand preferences. Nike ranked as the top brand with teens, with a 31% share, up from 21% last year. Another athletic brand, Adidas, however, is the fastest growing brand in the survey across footwear & apparel.

The survey finds that overall teen spending decreased 2.4% year-over-year. Food is the most important category in a teen’s wallet, accounting for 24% of spend compared to 19% for clothing. The percentage of teens who plan to digitally download console video games is also on the rise.

“While the overall spending environment has been challenging, we are seeing teen spending continue to shift more toward experiences — eating out, video games and leisure,” said Erinn Murphy, Piper Jaffray senior research analyst. “Share of fashion spending has moderated but we continue to see undisputed strength in athletic — Nike remains the No. 1 preferred brand and Adidas was the fastest-growing brand in our survey.”

In other findings:

• Teens’ favorite website is Amazon at 43% share — up 200 basis points year-over-year.

• Starbucks is the only public brand to maintain double-digit share across teenagers of all income groups. It tied with Chick-fil-A at 12% preference.

• Fashion brands losing relevance with teens include Under Armour, Michael Kors, The North Face, Ralph Lauren and Vineyard Vines.

• Snapchat and Instagram remain teens’ favorite social platforms.

• Eighty-one percent of teens expect their next phone to be an iPhone, up from 79% in fall 2016 and the highest ever seen in the survey.

The Taking Stock With Teens survey is a semi-annual research project comprised of gathering input from approximately 5,500 teens with an average age of 16.0 years. Teen spending patterns, fashion trends, and brand and media preferences were assessed through surveying a geographically diverse subset of high schools across the U.S.

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TECHNOLOGY

(R)Tech: Navigating Retail’s Path of Disruption

BY CSA STAFF

The retail industry is going through an innovation revolution, driven by game-changing technologies such as artificial intelligence, virtual reality and advanced analytics.

As part of this revolution — which we call (R)Tech — we see leading retailers using technology to delight customers in bold new ways. It’s not just about selling smarter and more personalized products; it’s also about embedding new technologies in the back office and adopting innovative business practices. A leading (R)Tech business will balance the dependable customer-centricity of retail with the creative and entrepreneurial spark of Silicon Valley.

But innovation, by its nature, is difficult. Invest in the wrong technology, or roll out a business model that isn’t right for your market, and your profits will suffer. Conversely, if you are too cautious — if you never take a risk on new technology — you face opportunity cost or disruption from a new entrant.

So how can retailers import the best of Silicon Valley into Main Street without becoming a casualty of disruption? It might be best to think first about exactly what (R)Tech can do for your business. From there, you can work backwards to understand which elements you need to focus on in order to navigate the disruption ahead.

Here are five of the most exciting elements of an (R)Tech business:

Efficiency out of sight

(R)Tech is as much about efficiency as it is about innovation on the product level. The opportunities afforded by technology are immense. Driverless vehicles, for example enable you to move goods faster and more cheaply, whether that’s from shore to shelf or from warehouse to consumer. 3D printing also creates a range of new possibilities, allowing retailers to restock without waiting for a new shipment to arrive.

Satisfying the 24/7 consumer

Today’s consumers want to shop anywhere, anytime, and across any channel convenient to them. Primarily this is because Americans are time-poor and are embracing digital shopping, with the clear majority already owning smartphones. Research by UPS suggests that most Americans buy their goods on the Web and more than four in 10 make purchases through their device. As a result, leading (R)Tech retailers innovate their online and mobile shopping platforms so as to enable seamlessness and ease of access for consumers.

Loyalty through new experiences

Across retail, we see consumers increasingly spending as much on experiences and services as they do on physical products. Apps enable them to rent products, share ideas, and leave their own reviews, creating a more interactive and rewarding engagement with the retailer. At the same time, virtual reality is creating completely new and immersive experiences for consumers. For (R)Tech retailers, these experiences can be used to drive loyalty.

Creating trust through connectivity

To meet their high standards around corporate responsibility, healthfulness and transparency, consumers expect retailers to be upfront about their business practices. When it’s time to purchase, consumers are empowered to research and make decisions through social media and Web-based content. How does innovation come into this? (R)Tech businesses can provide the transparency that consumers are looking for by offering unprecedented social connectivity and engaging full time through social.

New horizons for retail talent

As the second largest private sector employer in the US, retail touches the lives of every American each day. The industry supports millions of store employees as well as tens of millions of people in ancillary industries. This is why retailers are not only focusing on improving their customer experience, but also on their teams and on their employee development. In turn, we see innovation creating new ladders of opportunity within the industry. Sales associates can work their way up to innovation officers. Store managers can become retail app developers. And, as retailers focus on (R)Tech, the opportunity for employees is endless.

(R)Tech is the best of technology and the best of retail rolled into one. For good reason, therefore, some significant changes are required if retailers are to make the most of this revolution. Increasingly, they may need to think about how they can work in partnership with innovators in the tech industry — which means engaging in an ecosystem that would have seemed alien to their predecessors. We believe in fostering an environment of creativity and innovation to help move the industry forward. Doing so will take courage, energy and an open mind, but the result is a place at the very forefront of tomorrow’s industry.


Jill Standish is senior managing director of retail at Accenture, and Sandy Kennedy is president of the Retail Industry Leaders Association.

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