To one customer, “buy milk” means buy a gallon of whole milk; to another, a 1.4-liter jug of unsweetened vanilla almond milk. Digital shopping lists, apps and virtual assistants must understand this and not force the customer to spell it out each time before these platforms can successfully become the new normal.
“We think about things in shorthand, not in terms of specifics,” Dave Barrowman, Skava VP of Innovation, told PYMNTS’ Karen Webster in a recent webinar. “I don’t want to have to have a long, drawn-out conversation with Alexa to order my milk. I just want her to know.”
While it’s true that eMerchants leverage machine learning to recommend products, target ads and optimize sort order and search results, Barrowman says retailers who only use AI for these basic functions are selling the technology (and themselves) short.
“Making products and ads better is just the tip of the iceberg,” he said.
Brands are competing for every customer in a hyperconnected world. The competition is fierce and retailers are vying constantly for the customers’ attention wherever they are. Considering the plethora of customer touchpoints and channels, it is easy for the messaging, value proposition and call to action to disperse and dissipate. Retailers interact with customers using social networks, websites, physical stores, and TV to name a few channels. Add to that the different devices customers interact with brands and you begin to realize how complex customer experiences have become to manage.
Omnichannel is the orchestration of all touchpoints into a consistent, seamless and emotionally engaging journey. Commerce should be thought of as a metonymy. We intuitively think of commerce from a transactional viewpoint and associate it with the exchange of products and services. However, this intuition is dangerous and retailers who fail to realize that commerce pertains to much broader relationships and emotional connections will find themselves on the losing end of this competition.
In a wide array of devices and channels, mobile holds a crucial role. It is oftentimes the first point of engagement for the customer and is the largest purchase influencer. According to a study by Deloitte, digital, as a whole, influenced approximately 56% of total in-store sales in the US ($2.1T) in 2016, a 14% growth compared to 2015. Mobile influenced about 36% of in-store sales, or $1.4T in 2016; a growth of 32% compared to 2015. Its ubiquity and meteoric growth as an influencer have made it pivotal in delivering seamless omnichannel customer experiences.
Skava’s VP of Innovation, Dave Barrowman, sat down in a discussion with PYMNTS CEO Karen Webster, about the recent merger of Amazon and Whole Foods.
[PYMNTS.com] Just a few short months from the merger announcement, and as of this week, the deal is done: Amazon officially owns Whole Foods.
To celebrate the news, grocery prices at Whole Foods are going down — quite an out of the gate change of direction for a brand that has become as synonymous with its moniker “Whole Paycheck” as it has with the organic and locally grown foods in which it specializes.
“We’re determined to make healthy and organic food affordable for everyone,” said Jeff Wilke, CEO of Amazon Worldwide Consumer, in the press release. “Everybody should be able to eat Whole Foods Market quality. We will lower prices without compromising Whole Foods Market’s long-held commitment to the highest standards.
“To get started, we’re going to lower prices beginning Monday on a selection of best-selling grocery staples, including Whole Trade organic bananas, responsibly farmed salmon, organic large brown eggs, animal welfare-rated 85 percent lean ground beef and more. And this is just the beginning — we will make Amazon Prime the customer rewards program at Whole Foods Market and continuously lower prices as we invent together. There is significant work and opportunity ahead, and we’re thrilled to get started.”
What is machine learning? According to Arthur Samuel, pioneer of computer gaming and artificial intelligence, “Machine learning gives computers the ability to learn without being explicitly programmed.” Samuel coined the term “machine learning” in 1959 during his time at IBM, and it has been widely used ever since.
This kind of machine learning and artificial intelligence is currently taking the technology space by storm. When most people think of AI or machine learning, they think of human-like robots in sci-fi movies interacting with people in different ways. While this idea may appear ahead of our time, it’s actually not as far-fetched as it seems. According to Gartner, “By 2020, customers will manage 85% of their relationship with the enterprise without interacting with a human.” What many people don’t realize is that machine learning isn’t limited to just physical robots, but also includes technologies with the capacity to learn about the end-user, including Amazon Alexa, chatbots, visual search, and product recommendations. Companies are gaining a newfound understanding of their customers’ behaviors without the hassles of programming new rules in order to get additional information. And machine learning is continuously improving the ways in which all of that new information gets interpreted and utilized.
Brick and mortar retailers are suffering. This year, over 5,000 physical stores across the U.S. have closed down so far. Retailers are struggling to keep their customers in store and prevent further store closures. Gap alumnus Dave Barrowman and now, Skava’s vice president of innovation, offers some insight to retailers on how they should rethink the role of physical stores, how the store associate plays a vital role, and what it means to provide customers with a really great experience.
Q: How can retailers provide the right balance when it comes to helping customers?
A: The hard part, but also the place where there could be magic is in the interaction between the associate and the customer. On the one extreme, [the customer] walks into the store and the best they get is a welcome greeting. In some instances, the associates are not even around. On the other extreme, some store associates are all up in your business.
The question is, how can the retailer develop a pattern of interaction, or hook for the associate to actually be helpful? One thing I’ve always said is – and this applies to both the associate and the technology – when you’re in a store, you never want them until you want them. When I walk into a store, I’m not looking for a screen to interact with and I’m not looking for an associate to interact with, but then there comes that moment where I don’t know the price, or I can’t find my size, or I’m curious about another version of a product coming in the future. At that moment, if the associate is there and is able to answer my question, then that is a really great experience.
[PYMNTS – Data Drivers] Can bricks-and-mortar survive the eCommerce onslaught?
In an interview with PYMNTs’ Karen Webster, Dave Barrowman, who serves as Vice President of Innovation at Skava, said that in the physical retail space, the death of physical retail remains greatly exaggerated. With some ingenuity and attention to the value proposition of the tangible retail experience, he told Webster, players big and small can do more than survive — they can thrive.
Data Point One: 5,321. This is the estimate, according to an analyst at Retail and Technology, of the number of stores that have closed so far in 2017. Said Barrowman, “It is tough out there. In the late 1990s and early 2000s, a lot of retailers over-expanded and there is rationalization going on” as customers have left the mall environment and shopping has shifted online.
[PYMNTS.com] That retail is changing rapidly — and that many of its oldest and most established players are struggling to keep pace — is not much of a surprise these days.
“Everyone knows retailers are in trouble — at this point, the whole market knows it. And retailers also know they have a problem,” said Arish Ali, CEO of Skava.
Retailers, he said, have some clarity about where the solutions might lie. Brick-and-mortar sales — still the lion’s share of revenue for the majority of retailers — are declining and stores are being closed, which further exacerbates the problem. On the other hand, digital commerce in its many omnichannel forms is soaring, but oftentimes not enough to compensate. Those who do well have found ways to successfully fold in the in-store experience into the greater omnichannel journey.
“So there is growth, and there are a variety of platforms powering that growth directly or indirectly. The retailers who play their cards right really can capture that opportunity,” Ali said.