TECHNOLOGY

Forever 21 gets more personal with launch of AI visual search

BY Marianne Wilson

Forever 21 has taken its online search capabilities to a more customized — and intuitive — level. And the early results are encouraging.

The fast-fashion powerhouse is moving beyond text-based online search to offer shoppers AI-powered visual search and navigation. With the new tool, developed by Donde Search, Forever 21 shoppers are no longer limited to searching for a new look online by typing fashion terms into a search bar. Instead, they can search items by simply clicking icons that represent the features they want in an outfit, ranging from the length of a skirt to the neckline of a shirt.

“Visual search technology bridges the gap between the convenience of online shopping and the rich discovery experience of traditional retail by enabling our customers to search for clothing in the same way they think about it — using visuals, not words,” said Alex Ok, president of Forever 21.

The search feature debuted as “Discover Your Style” in the Forever 21 iOS app in May, and was initially available only for the dresses and tops categories. In the first month after the launch, the retailer saw an increase in sales conversions and a 20% increase in average purchase value for the two test categories.

The initial success led Forever 21 executives to fast-track the large-scale web integration of Donde Search’s technology. It uses AI, computer vision and natural language processing to provide to provide intuitive online search capability based on products’ visual features rather than keywords.

The visual search and navigation function will appear as a stand-alone “Discover Your Style” module on the Forever 21 Web and mobile Web homepages. In addition, the retailer will leverage the technology for merchandising, recommendations and lifecycle marketing efforts.

“Integrating Donde into our mobile app and web environments has been seamless and efficient,” Ok said. “Fundamentally changing how our customers search for products and interact with our brand is no small task, but our partnership with Donde has been everything we could have hoped for as we build out our visual search capabilities.”

Founded in 2014, Donde Search launched its software-as-a-service platform for retailers in January 2018.

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TECHNOLOGY

Walmart makes move on Amazon’s own turf

BY Marianne Wilson

Walmart is taking on Amazon in one of the online giant’s signature categories — and undercutting it on price.

In a first for the discounter, Walmart is launching a catalog of e-books, available in stores and online. The service, WalmarteBooks, is being launched in partnership with Rakuten Kobo, the digital book division of Japan’s top e-commerce company, Rakuten.

Customers will be able to subscribe to the chain’s new Walmart eBooks audiobook service for $9.99 per month, which includes one audiobook per month. The fee is cheaper than Amazon’s Audible audiobook service, whose subscriptions start at $14.95 per month.

Walmart customers will have access to Kobo’s library of six million books, and a variety of Kobo e-readers, which will be available online and in store. Walmart eBooks will also be accessible through co-branded iOS and Android apps.

Customers will be able to purchase digital book cards in 3,500 Walmart stores. Nearly 40 titles will be offered.

To kick off the new offering, Walmart is offering new customers $10 off their first a la carte e-book or audiobook. And audiobook subscription customers can try the service free for 30 days.

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Vish Ganapathy
TECHNOLOGY

Four Tech Trends Transforming the Retail Industry

BY Vish Ganapathy, Accenture

Technology is rarely the disruptor. The most significant disruptions in the market typically occurs due to disintermediation in the value chain. Yet, technology is at the forefront. Acting as a catalyst in facilitating and accelerating the disruption.

There is a fundamental paradigm shift underway in retail. We have already seen the pivot from merchandising focus to customer. Yet, in this age of mega-platforms where large integrated marketplaces offered by Alibaba, Amazon and Walmart exert a kind of gravitational pull, the, battle is shifting. It’s shifting because the cost of customer acquisitions keep going up and the ability to retain is going down.

This requires a new level of sophistication in how data is harnessed, analyzed and used. To deliver the kind of integrated innovation that’s needed, retailers need a profound level of insight into people’s lives. For intelligent enterprise, this level of connection — and this degree of trust — require a new type of relationship. It’s not just business. It’s personal. And it’s how retail leaders will redefine their company based on the company they keep.

In Accenture’s latest Technology Vision, we identified five technology trends that will reshape how we live, work and play in the next few years. While all the trends resonate with the retail industry, four represent key opportunities to transform retail business models. Let’s take a quick look here:

1. Extended Reality
Traditional stores will in general become smaller and fewer in number. But as they become more connected and digitized, they’ll also become much more impactful. And to that end, retailers are making numerous investments that are driving physical-digital synergies to offer unique in-store experiences.

Across the sector, we see immersive experiences in the form of touch-screen ‘smart mirrors’ that recognise the items that customers bring to the fitting room via RFID and suggest ways to style them. And it’s not just personalisation that is enhancing the in-store experience. At one retailer, customers can use digital self-checkout that invisibly recognises their chosen items—no scanning necessary.

2. Citizen AI
Point of sale is now becoming “point of service” and the next generation will be tightly integrated with shared platforms between online and offline – delivering seamless movement across shopping cart, purchase history and returns. AI will be fundamental to achieving this capability. For example, one high-end retailer gives its sales associates an AI-powered device that enables them to extend their personal knowledge of customers beyond a level that any human could manage.

3. Frictionless Business – Moving to The New IT
To succeed in this digital era, retailers need to behave more like tech companies. That means a shift in how IT is organized – from funding projects to funding products.

Changing how the business makes money is no mean feat, however, and requires a new level of agility. As a result, retailers must incorporate agile methodologies, develop multimodal IT that can run at different speeds, and make full use of DevOps and the cloud.

Replacing longstanding wholesale models will also require taking some radical steps away from legacy technologies: creating flexible and responsive integration through the adoption of server-less computing and micro-services.

4. Internet of Thinking – Building Ecosystems
To compete against online-only retailers, retailers need IT architecture that helps them respond to market shifts and emerging consumer trends.

Without the scale of an Alibaba or an Amazon, retailers are increasingly teaming up with other organizations to share customer insights, technology and industry knowledge. These new ecosystem partnerships are delivering capabilities that extend way beyond the borders of retailers’ operations.

The beauty of ecosystems is that no single company owns or operates all components of the solution, making the value generated much larger than the combined value each of the players contributes individually, and risk is distributed equally. In our mind, they are the new imperative to drive growth in today’s digital economy.

Conclusion: Intelligent enterprise unleashed
Changing established models will require technology to answer how a business can be purposeful, how it can be organized and work, how it will engage consumers, and how the data and analytics will be used.

Retail applications may be in silos but operating models and data (and resulting insights) can’t afford to be. The pressure that digital will put on systems to behave like one; sharing things like product information, customer preferences, segmentation, propensity, history, price, promotions, inventory availability etc. is giving rise to new ways of delivering technology. New IT operating models, microservices and API based architecture are all critical to delivering the kinds of innovations needed to match the tone of the prevalent disruption in the marketplace.

Success is reliant on internal transformation, retailers building new partnerships across industries, and then creating a blended retail proposition, which takes the best of the digital and the physical and mixes them to forge more powerful connections with their customers.

Vish Ganapathy is managing director and global retail technology lead at Accenture.

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