Innovations in retail will bring creative and technology closer than ever

Jason Dooris

Jason Dooris is the CEO and founder of growing Atomic 212, Australia's fastest growing media and marketing agency on the BRW 2014 list. Over the past 20 years, Jason has held a variety of senior local and global industry positions including CEO MediaCom UK, deputy CEO MediaCom Europe, GM Saatchi & Saatchi NZ, GM Ogilvy & Mather Australia, GM Dentsu Aegis Australia and consulting practice director, Deloitte Asia. His vertical experience covers most categories with a particular focus on retail, automotive and FMCG.


While approaching a customer in a shop and asking what you can help them with is Retail 101, how many of us actually enjoy being approached? Generally, you have to give the forced, fake smile and say, “Just browsing, thanks,” while screaming on the inside, “just leave me alone!” Maybe it’s just me?  

This indicates an inherent flaw in the retail model - when it comes to physical brick and mortar experiences, there is an immediate point of friction for many retail shoppers.  

But not for long. In fact, the combination of technology and creativity with retail shopping are creating some truly unique customer acquisition and retention experiences. We are increasingly seeing consumers move into the digital-only retail space, but this opens the way for physical retail spaces to become far more experiential, a blend of the physical and the digital. These are the types of spaces customers don’t want to leave.  

Developments in artificial intelligence and technology are obviously present across the entire marketing sphere and society in general, but an examination of developments already underway in the retail space might hint at some of the amazing things to come for marketers.  

North Face’s personal shopping assistant  

Outdoor clothing retailer, The North Face, hit the AI space last year with the help of IBM’s Watson.  

Using the Expert Personal Shopper (XPS), The North Face aim to give online shoppers a totally individualised experience when buying a jacket, simply by asking a series of natural language questions, mimicking the experience of an in-store salesperson: Where are you going? When are you going? Is it for a man or a woman?  

XPS shows you what the weather conditions are likely to be for when and where you’re heading, then you can hone your selection based on what you’ll be using the jacket for – say, whether it’s for hiking or simply to keep you warm for the daily commute.  

Given The North Face has around 350 jackets, this certainly makes the experience a whole lot more streamlined – plus it will only get more efficient, as Watson is constantly learning.  

AI doing the browsing for you is going to be a huge shift for the significant chunk of the world who go shopping purely for function, and just want to get in and out. Particularly as AI assistants become ubiquitous – and we’re getting there – the ability to have Siri, Alexa, Cortana or Google Assistant do the legwork for you, with you looking at the suggested purchase as the only point of screen interface, is a future for which brands need to be prepared.  

Staying social when shopping solo

After the whirlwind that was Pokemon Go, you’d be forgiven for thinking that augmented reality was a gaming fad gone as quickly as it came along. But this particular fad is just getting started, and it’s coming to a store near you.  

Neiman Marcus has been installing ‘memory mirrors’ in a number of its US department stores. These smart mirrors, which use MemoMi’s patented technology, allow customers to record an eight-second clip of themselves in an outfit, so they can see themselves from all angles.  

Big deal, right? It’s just a camera, and we’ve all got those sitting in our pockets.  

However, these mirrors allow you to compare the last outfit you tried on with the one you’re wearing now. You can also see the given style in a range of colours, as well as email videos and pics if you want a second opinion from friends and family. You can do it all with makeup and glasses as well.  

It’s the kind of technology that serves as a reminder that, while we may not want to be contacted, we still want to be social. People do want to stay in touch, but they prefer doing so as and when they’re ready. This shows there are ways of both facilitating your customer’s desire to be social, without actually getting in their way.  

Starbucks personal emails

Of course, the best salespeople aren’t deterred by browsers – they get in there and make a sale anyway.  

Essentially, you can’t just sit back in retail and wait for the customers to come to you, you’ve got to get out there! But if you’re going to succeed, you need to personalise your sales pitch – and that’s still absolutely the case in the digital world.  

Take Starbucks. In January last year, the company had 30 different weekly emails to send to customers. This is a company that, as they put it, “delivers the Starbucks Experience more than 85 million times per week at more than 25,000 stores in 75 countries” – 30 isn’t going to cut it.  

So in June, Starbucks made the move to an AI-based system that analysed customers’ habits in real-time.  

Take someone who bought a lot of drinks. They would receive suggestions for the kind of food Starbucks sell that would go well with their regular beverage of choice. As for people who popped in less frequently, they would receive incentives to get back in the habit of visiting Starbucks.  

The result was 400,000 individualised emails being sent per week.  

“It is not a single algorithm used across the entire population; it is a data-driven AI algorithm based on your own preference and behaviours,” Gerri Martin-Flickinger, the company’s EVP and global CTO, explained.  

As the David Mayer and Herbert M. Greenberg wrote in the Harvard Business Review, a good salesperson “senses the reactions of the customer and is able to adjust to these reactions”.  

Previously, an automated email couldn’t do this, but with AI, a customer’s reactions can be adjusted to in real time. Simply sending out the same email to everyone isn’t going to cut it much longer.  

It looks like the future is here, and the world of retail is reaping the benefits. A combination of creativity, data and technology can make all the difference.

Tags: digital marketing, creative strategy

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