Macy’s: Putting the ‘AI’ Into Retail

The Washington Post: “Macy’s … has teamed up with IBM Watson to use artificial intelligence as a customer service tool in 10 of its stores. The retailer dubbed the pilot program ‘Macy’s On Call,’ and it will allow customers to type in questions on their phones and receive answers. Unlike some chatbots that can only regurgitate pre-programmed responses based on keywords, IBM Watson will learn over time to give better answers that are customized to individual stores.”

“Macy’s move is an acknowledgment of what a habit it has become for consumers to swipe and tap on their smartphones while they’re on the go. And it’s a bid to figure out how to channel that behavior into an advantage — not a threat — to in-store shopping.”

“Macy’s is not the only retailer that is experimenting with some use of artificial intelligence. IBM Watson has already dabbled in using its tools to power other shopping experiences such as a collaboration with outdoor apparel brand North Face on a website that helps shoppers find the right jacket.”

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Theater as Retail: El Ateneo Grand Splendid

Boredpanda: “Tucked away in Barrio Norte, Buenos Aires is a beautiful bookshop called El Ateneo Grand Splendid … which currently welcomes over one million visitors each year … It is built within the almost 100-year-old Grand Splendid Theater, which opened in 1919.”

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50 Ways to Kill ‘Pokémon Go’

The Wall Street Journal: “Already some local businesses lucky enough to be near a key location have latched on to Pokémon Go … one New York pizzeria manager who dropped a ‘lure’ in the game for $10 to attract trainers to its proximity—and business spiked 75%. A Brooklyn bar noted that the Pokémon inside were for paying customers only … ‘sponsored locations,’ where companies would pay to become locations in the virtual world in order to drive foot traffic, will be coming to the game.”

“For example, a brand could pay for Wi-Fi at a popular Pokémon location. Or hand out samples … Or put up real world signs or video screens touting their message.”

“Dario Raciti, U.S. director of Zero Code, the gaming and virtual reality division of OMD … noted that one of the worst things the creators of the app could do would be to overload the game with ads, turning every Pokémon adventure into a walk through the virtual version of a billboard-filled Times Square.”

Meanwhile: “Gizmodo has learned that … every McDonald’s restaurant in this country will either be a PokéStop or a gym.”

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Amazon Is Dropping List Prices

The New York Times: Amazon “built a reputation and hit $100 billion in annual revenue by offering deals. The first thing a potential customer saw was a bargain: how much an item was reduced from its list price. Now, in many cases, Amazon has dropped any mention of a list price. There is just one price. Take it or leave it.”

Larry Compeau, of Clarkson University comments: “They are trying to figure out what product categories have customers who are so tied into the Amazon ecosystem that list prices are no longer necessary.”

“In some categories, like groceries, Amazon seems to be using just one price, the buy-it-now price. If Amazon brings the milk and music into your house, not to mention videos and e-books and the devices to consume them on, as well as a hot dinner and just about any other object you could want, that presents a pricing challenge of a different sort. Untangling what those deals are worth — as opposed to what they cost — is probably impossible.”

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Project Sync: Home Depot Streamlines Shelves

The Wall Street Journal: “Instead of filling its warehouse-style racks to the ceiling with Makita drills, rolls of Owens Corning insulation and cans of Rust-Oleum paint, Home Depot wants fewer items on its shelves and it wants them to be within customers’ reach … It is a shift happening across the retail sector as companies try to figure out ways to profitably serve the growing needs of online shoppers while making their network of stores less of a financial burden.”

Home Depot has “instituted ‘Project Sync,’ a series of changes that include developing a steadier flow of deliveries from suppliers into its network of 18 sorting centers … When the shipments get to stores, workers move them right to the lower shelves, eliminating the need to store and retrieve products from upper shelves using ladders and forklifts … Savings can be used to have more workers on the floor or finding orders for shoppers who are picking them up.”

“This also keeps stock from collecting dust out of reach. ‘You would stack it high,’ says Jessica Thibodeaux, manager of a Home Depot just outside Houston, ‘but it wouldn’t fly’.”

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Indie Bookstores: Something Better Than Amazon

The New York Times: “The pronounced stock shortage inside the Librairie des Puf … is not the result of an ordering mistake, but the heart of the shop’s business model. There are books, but they are not delivered in advance from wholesalers. They are printed on request, before the customer’s very eyes, on an Espresso Book Machine … It is a radical reinvention of a store that first opened its doors in 1921.”

“Independent bookstores … are beginning to carve a path out of their business’s decade of decline. ‘It’s an industry which is very much starting to rebound,’ said Nick Brackenbury, one of the founders of NearSt,” which “aims to help local shops adapt to the needs of the modern customers by making local shop inventories ‘shoppable’ from a smartphone, allowing customers to search for titles, find local stores that sell them and see routes there.”

“We just want local stores to be able to offer customers something which is just better than Amazon,” Mr. Brackenbury said.

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Small Bore: Is Apple Thinking ‘Different’ Enough?

“Apple’s view increasingly feels like an outdated way of thinking about tech. Many of its competitors have been moving beyond devices toward experiences that transcend them,” writes Farhad Manjoo in The New York Times. These new technologies exist not on distinct pieces of hardware, but above and within them … it’s hard to tell if Apple is thinking big enough.”

“Apple still seems to view online services as add-ons to its devices — not as products or platforms that rise above them.” For example: “Siri, as Apple is positioning it, is becoming a better app launcher for your phone … But it’s not clear that it’s becoming a truly intelligent assistant.”

“One problem is that the new Siri will not integrate with all kinds of apps … It’s hard to shake the suspicion that Apple is using Siri to give its own apps a leg up … Another problem is that Siri is still hopelessly tied to each Apple device … If Siri is an intelligent assistant, why … can’t she call Uber from the cloud, regardless of which device you happen to be using?”

“Google, Amazon and several start-ups seem to be rushing headlong to build such a system. But … I’m not sure Apple is,” Manjoo writes. “It’s taking a more moderate app-based, device-centric path. Many of its voice features will be fine — useful, even. But it sure isn’t pushing for a revolution.”

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The Future of Grocery: Yoga & Bike Repair

The Wall Street Journal: Shoppers looking to pick up milk and eggs may have other reasons to spend time at their local supermarket: yoga classes or a spa treatment, perhaps. Under growing pressure from discounters and online rivals, supermarkets are trying to transform themselves into places where customers might want to hang out rather than just grabbing groceries and heading home.”

“In Phoenix, a Fry’s Food Stores, part of a chain owned by Kroger Co., features a culinary school and a lounge with leather couches perched next to a wine bar. A Kroger store in Hilton Head Island, S.C., offers a cigar section to complement its wine cellar that stocks $600 bottles. Whole Foods Market Inc. has a putting green outside its Augusta, Ga., location and a spa offering peppermint foot scrubs and facial waxing in a Boston store. Elsewhere, it has bike-repair stations. A ShopRite store here in Hanover Township, near New York, runs a fitness studio with yoga, barre and Zumba classes and has a cosmetologist on weekends.”

“Most of these enhanced stores appear to be located in affluent suburbs and city neighborhoods—places where shoppers are more inclined to order groceries from e-commerce sites or meals from services such as Blue Apron … Some concepts have fizzled. The Fry’s in Phoenix made its debut in 2010 with a car wash but discontinued that after it didn’t catch on, a Kroger’s spokesman said. The cooking classes, by contrast, have doubled in size since the school opened, and the store offers at least a dozen sessions a week, he said.”

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