TECHNOLOGY

Footwear retailer ups its commitment to artificial intelligence

BY Deena M. Amato-McCoy

The Aldo Group is delving deeper into artificial intelligence as it looks to simplify its enterprise IT operations.

The Canadian footwear and accessory retailer is well underway with the digital transformation of its business operations. By adding an artificial intelligence (AI)-based platform, the retailer will be able to more rapidly deploy new services in a manner that ensures resilience of its digital solutions and reduces operational risks.

Through its partnership with Digitate, a software unit of Tata Consultancy Services, Aldo is adding the “Ignio” cognitive automation solution. The SaaS-based technology is designed to intelligently automate and optimize enterprise’s IT operations and processes, which results in improved speed and flexibility, reduced risk and an enhanced user experience.

The platform integrates information from a wide range of sources to blueprint, self-learn and be contextually aware of an enterprise’s technology and operations. It will also gives Aldo the ability to make informed decisions quickly and self-heal from operational incidents, while reducing the reliance on manual processes and modeling tasks.

“It is a major priority for The Aldo Group to move all of our services to a digital platform, and ensure a high level of resilience and agility,” said Dominic D’Amata, VP, architecture, governance and infrastructure for the Aldo Group.

“In recent years, as our business has expanded, our systems have become ever more complex,” she added. “As such, Ignio will help us to simplify the management of these systems, giving us greater efficiency and control over critical aspects of our IT operations.”

This is not the footwear company’s first foray into AI. In June, Aldo added an AI-based solution to optimize the fulfillment of online orders from all corporate stores across its global network. It enables Aldo to fulfill online orders from the most profitable location, a move that targets stores likely to experience a lower demand for a particular item. It also prevents the company from selling from locations that are more likely to sell out.

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TECHNOLOGY

Amazon Watch: Weekly recap

BY Deena M. Amato-McCoy

In addition to selling Party City’s merchandise on its website, Amazon made the headlines for several other stories. Here’s a rundown:

Amazon adds a twist to its Whole Foods Market grocery delivery service. The online giant launched grocery pickup, a service that enables Prime members to pick up their order at a local Whole Foods Market store within an hour — without leaving their car.

Study: The top-selling categories on Prime Day were… Amazon’s 36-hour mega-sale underscored the online giant’s fight for dominance in home improvement, grocery and private label.

Amazon reportedly wants to hire new employees — but there’s a twist. The online retailer is going on a hiring spree, but potential candidates won’t be working in an office.

Customers’ shopping savviness pays off for Amazon big time. The sophisticated price searches of Amazon Prime members on Prime Day contributed to the highest level of event participation — and spending — to date.

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TECHNOLOGY

CSA Exclusive: BabyList carves unique niche

BY Deena M. Amato-McCoy

BabyList is not your traditional baby registry—not by a longshot.

The online upstart—the fastest-growing baby registry in the United States— puts a unique spin on the concept of baby-gift registries with a tool kit that combines a “universal” registry, subscription box and robust editorial content, all backed by the latest technology.

Unlike traditional store-specific registries, BabyList allows parents-to-be to put any item from any store on its one registry — with all merchandise curated in one place. And in another major point of distinction, BabyList lets parents request unconventional items – from diaper service subscriptions to family memberships at children’s museums. They can also register to create cash funds that can be used toward everything from cooked meals to babysitters to college — and, most recently, life insurance.

“Every family is unique, and people today don’t want to be constrained to one retailer,” said Natalie Gordon, founder and CEO of BabyList. “Parents-to-be often have between two and three store registries, as well as those with boutiques and on Instagram. However, many parents are also looking for help in favors or cash funds. This is a way to connect with your ‘village.’”

The site is designed for ease of use. Expectant parents start their journey by creating a registry and adding specific items to their wish list. They can also create their registry from a personalized “checklist” tool, answering a series of questions about their lifestyle and preferences. BabyList then creates a personalized checklist of items based on responses, and also suggests additional items tailored to the user’s preferences.

Browser bookmarklets enable registers to add items to their lists from any retailer on the Web. The site is optimized for Pinterest, enabling users to click a “BabyList Button” to save content from any store on the social media site. Users can also add links from other stores’ registries, and receive alerts when item prices change.

Founded in 2011, BabyList is the brainchild of Gordon, a former Amazon software developer, and member of the team that launched AmazonFresh. After moving on from the online giant, Gordon launched Lenguajero, an online language learning community that connected English and Spanish speakers in real-time.

However, Gordon found a more personal way to put her programming skills and entrepreneurial spirit to work while pregnant with her first child. Unhappy with existing baby registry choices at the time, Gordon created a site that fit her needs by letting her register for items she really wanted as a new parent.

“At the time, nothing was easy to share, or had the items that were important to us, then — like a monthly cloth diaper subscription service, or someone willing to walk our German Shepard each morning,” she recalled.

BabyList was live within two weeks — coinciding with the birth of Gordon’s first son, Max. What started as a “part-time project” however, quickly began gaining traction and soon became Gordon’s “second baby,” so to speak.

In 2012, she was accepted to the 500 Startups, an accelerator program that helps grow promising startup companies. Armed with seed money, Gordon began spreading the word about BabyList through niche pregnancy blogs, customer reviews and word of mouth.

These efforts soon gained the attention of product manufacturers, which eventually evolved into business partnerships. BabyList began collaborating with these suppliers and started highlighting their products on its Instagram and Facebook pages, which earned the company even more customers.

Since then, the company has also partnered with online retailers, a move that expanded the company’s breadth, as well as its income.

“We created an affiliate program with some retailers, so each time an item is purchased on their website through our link, we get revenue,” Gordon explained. “We also feature paid advertising for brands to them reach more customers through our site.”

The site has developed a fast following — one-third of all first-time families now create a BabyList registry. And increasingly they are doing it on their mobile devices. Seventy percent of BabyList traffic is now generated on mobile devices. She also said that people have given $400 million in gifts using the registry — overall. $150 million of this was generated last year.

BabyList is media savvy. It bolsters its website content with a YouTube channel filled with product videos that are uploaded several times a week. Content includes baby gear demos and reviews created by parents, “how-to” videos, as well as an informational pregnancy series. To date, 1.5 million people have watched the BabyList product videos.

“We want to show how products work, so we use videos as a way of helping customers virtually ‘test’ merchandise, and make product decisions with confidence,” Gordon said. “We are trying to make our content as helpful and trustworthy as possible.”

The company keeps expanding with new services. In January, BabyList launched the Hello Baby Box, which is filled with all sorts of trial size products, and includes a “registry cheat sheet” to streamline the registry process. (The box is offered to new members whose registries meet certain criteria.)  The company also plans to launch a series of personalized weekly emails to registry parents highlighting what to expect during their baby’s first year.

In July, BabyList broke new ground by launching a strategic relationship with Prudential Financial to create a crowd-funded life insurance solution designed specifically for expecting parents. (Babylist conducted a national survey of nearly 5,000 expecting parents in which 97% said life insurance is important, and 61% said they plan to get insurance in the next year.)

Users who create a Babylist registry now can also select a Prudential policy, asking friends and family to contribute towards the life insurance premium.

A custom tool created by Prudential and Babylist helps estimate how much life insurance coverage is needed for each individual family. After funds are gifted to the expecting parents, they will have the option to visit Prudential’s website to apply for a term life insurance policy.

“Given our customers’ interest in life insurance, we think that a strategic relationship with Prudential, a company that people have relied on for their protection needs for more than a hundred years, makes perfect sense for our users,” stated Gordon.

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