Computers and artificial intelligence have come along at an exponential rate over the past few decades, from being regarded as oversized adding machines to the point where they have played integral roles in some legitimately creative endeavours.
Retailer Lord & Taylor hopes to increase customer engagement as well as sales by connecting mobile shopping with old-fashioned print advertising.
Lord & Taylor's parent company, Hudson's Bay Co. (HBC), deployed a mobile app in January that allows customers to scan print pictures with their mobile phones and then buy the items immediately, without having to visit a Lord & Taylor website.
Ryan Craver, senior vice president of corporate strategy at HBC, says the ability to engage customers who are interested in what they see in ads is imperative in this digital age. The mobile purchasing capability lets customers follow through instantly when they see something intriguing while paging through the newspaper or an ad circular. Ordinarily, customers may put off purchasing the item until they are in front of a computer or in a store -- increasing the risk that a retailer will lose a sale, Craver says.
About 40 percent of the people who downloaded the app scanned an item in a print ad right away, Craver says. On average, customers scan seven products every time they use the application. He expects the app, from mobile commerce vendor Pounce, to help convert print material into actual sales.
To enable the process, HBC provides Pounce with product materials slated for print ads a week or two in advance. Pounce then ties image-recognition technology to the store's mobile site, which provides product information, such as available colors, price, sizes, ship time and, if available, more photos.
Getting to Frictionless
Craver says partnering with Pounce is another step toward omnichannel retail, which brings together every possible consumer touch point from in-store shopping to online purchasing.
Craver says he hopes the technology may someday allow a consumer to use a smartphone to scan a product pictured on a sign, displayed on a mannequin or hanging on a store rack and then read about or order it right then and there.
"It's about making everything in the store shoppable off someone's mobile phone," Craver says. "If I have a product that we don't have in a particular size, [the customer] can order it using a mobile phone."
Forrester Research analyst Julie Ask says HBC is on the right track. "We know with the mobile phone, to get someone to look through a website is hard. This is one thing that can remove a little bit of that friction."
However, she says, retailers can take this technology only so far right now. Image-recognition technology works when a specific item is already cataloged for identification. But it's not yet capable of taking any image scanned by a consumer - -a yellow dress, for example -- recognizing it and then displaying where to buy it. And it can't yet pinpoint which stores near the curious consumer have the desired item in stock. "That has to come together before powerful stuff starts to happen," Ask says.
Read more about retail in CIO's Retail Drilldown.