TECHNOLOGY

Predictive analytics help Rue21 drive speed to market with right items

BY Deena M. Amato-McCoy

Rue21 is creating assortments based on customer buying behavior.

The teen apparel retailer’s new predictive analytics solution from First Insight is helping the company make design and buying decisions across its apparel, footwear and accessories categories based on customer sentiment. The technology will also enable the company to invest in merchandise that will differentiate their assortments.

The solution’s online social engagement tools gather real-time preference, pricing and sentiment data on potential product offerings. The information is filtered through First Insight’s predictive analytic models that determine which products present the greatest opportunity. As a result, Rue21 can evaluate a greater number of products, and reflect direct consumer input in their buying decisions, according to the company.

“First Insight is enabling us to test a wide range of possible new products within 24 to 48 hours,” said Karen Pinney, chief merchandising officer. “This capability enables us to drive speed to market with the right items, which is critical for a fast fashion retailer. When compared to in-store testing, First Insight is faster, more accurate and less costly because we avoid buying unproductive store test inventory.”

The solution also ensures the company can differentiate its assortments with merchandise that its customers want to purchase. “We are already seeing results through eliminating under-performing products early in the selection process, while re-investing our inventory dollars into higher performers,” said Michael Appel, CEO of Rue21.

Rue21 currently operates 752 stores in 45 states.

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TECHNOLOGY

Amazon goes on tech hiring spree in North America

BY Deena M. Amato-McCoy

Amazon is looking for some new tech talent for its two new innovation labs.

Coinciding with the expansion of its Boston Tech Hub, Amazon is creating 2,000 new technology jobs focused on machine learning, speech science, cloud computing, and robotics engineering. In addition to doubling the company’s tech workforce in Boston, these hires — combined with its customer fulfillment facilities — will give Amazon more than 3,500 employees in Massachusetts.

Amazon’s new hires will primarily focus on Alexa, Amazon Web Services and Audible. Machine learning scientists and engineers will also be tasked with enhancing customers’ interactions with Alexa, a move that will help it bolster conversational artificial intelligence and the development of machine learning, according to the company.

Amazon’s Boston Tech Hub is currently located at its Cambridge corporate office. However, Amazon is moving its tech lab into new digs — a 430,000 sq. ft. building that resides in the WS Development’s Seaport project, a 7.6 million sq. ft. development that is designed to transform Boston’s waterfront. The new lab will open its doors in 2021.

“In just a few years, we’ve grown from a handful of software developers and scientists to a team of more than 1,200, inventing new capabilities and products on behalf of millions of customers around the world,” said Rohit Prasad, Amazon’s VP and head scientist of Amazon Alexa.

The online giant is also filling 3,000 jobs focused on e-commerce technology, cloud computing, and machine learning at it expands its Vancouver Tech Hub in Canada. Amazon currently employs more than 1,000 researchers and engineers in the city who primarily create new products and services for the company’s international retail business and Amazon Web Services (AWS). New tech hires will be tasked with enhancing the customer experience across mobile shopping, delivery experiences, payment options, and Alexa.

“Vancouver is home to an incredibly talented and diverse workforce, and these thousands of new employees will invent on behalf of our customers worldwide,” said Alexandre Gagnon, VP of Amazon Can-ada and Mexico.

Overall, these new employees will bolster Amazon’s Canadian workforce of 6,000 people.

To accommodate its growing tech team, Amazon plans to relocate its Canadian lab to a 416,000 sq. ft. development center in Vancouver. The facility will open in 2022, according to the company.

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The factors driving purchases made by Gen Y parents are…

BY Deena M. Amato-McCoy

Technology and convenience are influencing Millennials’ shopping habits — especially as they move into parenthood.

With so much information available on mobile devices for example, Millennial parents use their smartphones at every point during their shopping journey— more than parents among any other generation, according to the National Retail Federation’s quarterly “Consumer View” report.

According to data, 78% use their phones to research products (compared with 58% of other parents), 75% to check prices or availability (again, compared with 58%) and 71% use it to pay at checkout or place an order (51%). In addition, 71% will leave a review, process a return or chat with customer service after purchasing, compared with 43% of other parents.

Since Millennial parents are often in a hurry, they want convenient shopping options. Thus, 86% use same-day shipping. This is compared with just 67% of parents from other generations.

Gen Y is also willing to pay for convenience – only 53% expect free shipping on small orders under $50 compared with 66% of other parents. This also makes subscription services – which can supply automatic refills and discounted prices on items such as diapers, formula and baby wipes – attractive to Millennials. As a result, subscription services are used by 40% of Gen Y parents, compared with 18% of other parents, according to the study.

Millennial parents say it matters where they shop, so 44% only shop at brands that reflect their social or political values. This factor only influenced 23% of parents from other generations.

Once a brand gains the loyalty of millennial parents, they are much more likely to stick with it than other parents. For example, 49% remain loyal to a brand despite cheaper options, compared with 30% of other parents. Meanwhile, 52% will remain loyal despite having more convenient options, compared with 35% of other parents. And 64% will shop at a brand they are loyal to before looking at a competitor, compared with 54% of other parents.

“As many Millennials move into parenthood, we are beginning to see how their expectations and shopping preferences compare with those of previous generations,” said NRF director of retail and consumer insights Katherine Cullen.

“Whether it’s using a subscription service to make sure diapers don’t run out or going online to research the best crib or car seat, millennials shop differently than other parents,” she added. “Millennials are also very concerned about good customer services, and are twice as likely to back out of a purchase for lack of it. For Millennials, service ranks ahead of convenience, selection and loyalty programs.”

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