- By Colleen McNamara
As we blast into 2017, marketers are wondering: what innovative technological developments will this year bring? How will these changes affect my strategy? What are my competitors doing, and more importantly, what are my customers expecting?
These big, important questions require extensive research, if not a sixth sense for weeding out what’s merely a fad, and what’s as equally as groundbreaking as, say, the internet. (Let’s not forget that at one point, some reputable publications thought the internet would “pass.”)
To save you time, we’ve done the work for you. We’ve been keeping our eye on trends for 2017, and a consistent theme that continues to emerge — across several industries — is AI. Artificial Intelligence has already begun making serious noise, both at home and in stores. Consumers are making robots like Amazon Echo, Google Home and Mayfield’s utterly adorable creature Kuri part of their everyday life. Which means they’ll be even more adaptable to AI in stores, right?
There are two main hesitations that come with AI territory: first, many don’t want robots to replace the human experience altogether; how much are we willing to sacrifice for the warm ‘hello’ from our barista at Starbucks every morning? And, closely tied to this, many are scared that robots — as they become more “intelligent” than humans — will take their jobs, making for more efficient workers.
But we think there’s a happy medium to be found. Consider this: AI enables brands to generate a wealth of useful information about consumers, thereby allowing businesses to offer a highly curated, personalized experience to shoppers. Imagine going into a clothing store, dentist office, or even grocery store, and you save a ton of time sifting through piles, walking down aisles or waiting in lines, because half of the work has been done for you, before you even arrive? If that doesn’t entice you, perhaps something as simple as the store clerk knowing your name will win you over. The sooner we begin to embrace the potential for AI to make our lives more seamless, and more enjoyable, the sooner we can start reaping the benefits.
Some savvy brands are already integrating AI into their in-store experience. In a feature by Adweek, the publication highlighted five retailers that are introducing AI into their brands, and gaining a ton of data about their consumers along the way. Here’s our favorite three innovators from the list.
Wandering around a huge store like Lowe’s, wasting time looking for that one item you need but you can’t find anywhere, only to discover that every employee is held up talking to another customer, is an incredibly frustrating experience every consumer hopes to avoid. Lowe’s new LoweBots are going make this a thing of the past.
Through natural-language processing, LoweBots will be able to take inquiries from customers such as, “where can I find shower curtains?” and offer direction. All the while the LoweBot is generating important inventory data for Lowe’s to better understand sales patterns, and keep its shelves stocked accordingly.
According to Lowe’s Kyle Nel, this is just the beginning. Lowes plans to launch a virtual reality in stores (working with Microsoft’s Cortana AI), allowing store visitors to digitally design a kitchen using a HoloLens headset. The headset makes recommendations based on the consumers Pinterest account, acting as the best interior designer shoppers didn’t know they had.
SWIQ Local Take: Gathering inventory data in real-time is an incredible advantage for big franchises. Marketers can take this data and create marketing campaigns that are location-specific, using information on what’s most popular per area, and finding new ways to market products that aren’t moving in particular areas. Most importantly, real-time analytics allow marketers to react and adjust quickly based on the needs of each store.
If you thought something as aesthetic and tactile as fashion can’t be mastered by a robot, think again. At the 2016 Met Gala, the theme was “Fashion in an Age of Technology.” Luxury fashion house Marchesa collaborated with AI’s leading superstar, IBM’s Watson, for the event, creating a robotically designed dress for model Karolina Kurkova.
Watson was “crunching hundreds of images to find the right fabric and color. The gown was also embedded with 150 tiny LEDs that changed colors based on real-time social media comments about the event.” What’s more, Watson’s design-savviness has even more potential, according to VP of Watson Stephen Gold: “Can you really anticipate a best-selling dress before you ever design it? The answer is yes.”
SWIQ Local Take: Retailers already place certain products in specific stores based on the demographic of each area (you’re not going to find Zara parkas at its Playa del Carmen location), but imagine you could take this experience to an even more personalized level? AI with Watson-like capabilities could cultivate an entire outfit recommendation for a shopper based on activity on social, Pinterest, the store’s app, and more, with a display carousel at the ready once the shopper enters the store. This type of AI takes your local data to an entirely new, fascinating level.
Changing the oh-so-precious morning ritual of grabbing your crack-of-the-dawn venti soy milk half-sweet vanilla latte might seem like a terrible idea; after all, why change one of the few things that are so predictable? But, what if change meant faster service, and therefore more time for you to catch some Z’s in the morning? Seems like a no-brainer to us.
Starbucks is set to release the “My Starbucks Barista” this year on its hugely popular app, which will allow users to speak to a virtual barista and place their order. It isn’t surprising that Starbucks is taking its mobile-ept consumers to the next level, considering that over 25% of its payments in the United States come through mobile, according to Adweek.
All of the data generated from your mobile payments means once the My Starbucks Barista hits the app, the bot will already know consumers preferences well, and therefore be able to offer a highly curated experience. While coffee lovers might love placing their order with their favorite smiling barista, it’s impossible to argue with the convenience of ordering coffee from the comfort of one’s own bed.
SWIQ Local Take: More data, more data, more data, more data! With greater use of the My Starbucks Barista, local marketers will gain a deeper understanding of the behaviours of consumers in each area. What are people asking for in each area? What is your location lacking that it could provide more of? You can transform this data into more inventory of particular products, and then offer complementary items your customers might like: “would you like to try a fresh fruit salad with your soy latte this morning, Sara?”
Want to read more on what the future will hold? Read our CEO’s Local Marketing Predictions for 2017.