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Why OZ Retailers Have To Change Direction

Australian retailers who have been described as “light years” behind when it comes to collecting customer data or the use of technology to “enhance a consumer experience”, should have been at this week’s European Shoptalk Conference.

Executives from Westfield one of the few Australian retail groups at the conference claim that Australian retail has a long way to go to even catch up with US and European retail groups.

One of the big topics at the conference was the use of artificial intelligence which if configured and set up properly could cut costs for retailers.

Other topics included machine learning to visual search, natural language processing and more, the role of systems that facilitate smarter and more personalized customer experiences was key.

Keynote talks from Google, Alibaba, Westfield and more all referenced how technology could change the face of retail in Australia.

Rachel Arthur a business journalist, innovation consultant and the founder and editor of Fashion & Mash, a daily news site covering the intersection of fashion and technology said in an article in Forbes that by 2020, 85% of customer interaction in retail will be managed by AI, according to Gartner, multiple speakers said. And 30% of all companies will employ AI to augment at least one of their primary sales processes in the same period.

“We’re putting AI front and centre as a driving force to make [smart commerce] happen,” noted eBay’s chief product officer, RJ Pittman. “The curve is steep but the opportunity is extraordinary. So, we’re going to start climbing; we’re right at the precipice of a transformational inflection point.”

He referenced the company’s Shopbot on Facebook Messenger, as well as its Google Home pricing tool for sellers. AI is what will make commerce more personal, he explained, and importantly also scalable.

Levi’s claimed its virtual stylist chatbot, created with Mode.ai, which aims to replicate the experience customers have in store by helping them with the fit and style of jeans to suit them online.

Flash sales site BrandAlley showed how it works with marketing automation company Emarsys for persona based targeting in its email campaigns, which has led to a 16% conversion lift.

AI firm Sentient Technologies also showed how providing 256 real-time website design variations for consumers for Swedish flower delivery chain Euroflorist, has resulted in a 17% increase in conversions.

An underlying thread throughout the conference was how much more work there is to be done to move towards true personalization and the use of better content inside a SKU.

Among the organisations that retailers such as Walmart, Staples and K Mart are turning to in the US and European markets are Webcollage who have recently introduced new tools that provide retailers with better information on their customers shopping habits. They have also introduced new capabilities that has seen brands such as Sonos increase sales at the likes of Best Buy by introducing key information inside a SKU. In Australia several retailers including JB Hi Fi are using Webcollage technology.

Rees-John reminded the audience how many retailers are still operating on legacy systems with “jumbled data” making it hard to move forward fast, for instance. His focus, he said, is on “making little changes that have robust business cases”.

Meanwhile, Bruce Macinnes, chairman of BrandAlley, noted that he hopes to move towards personalizing the entire customer journey from homepage to checkout. “We have plenty of personalized content along that journey but it’s not fully personalized yet and we believe there is a way to go to using all the data that we have,” he explained.

Charmaine Huet, chief marketing officer of Woolworths South Africa the Company that owns David Jones and Country Road, wants to work towards having millions of different communications plans every day. “78% of our revenue comes from credit cards, so we already know a lot about our customers. Now what we’re really thinking about is how do you really personalize the experience for them and how do you create content that is really personalized and resonates with [each of them] – and this is difficult, it takes humans and data and AI.”

Vladimir Stankovic, global digital and e-commerce director at Camper, said AI can be seen as the enabler for all this. “It will allow us to get closer to our consumer, to give them what they want.” His big hopes lie in how it can impact discovery: “Natural language processing and visual search are providing new ways to discover product. I believe there is huge value from this technology.”

Visual search companies particularly dominated the exhibit floor, including the likes of Slyce, which works with Tommy Hilfiger, and Fashwell, which works with Zalando. Ted Mann, CEO of the former, said being able to search through your camera lens will become common practice for shoppers down the road, noting new functionalities his team is adding including being able to use visual search to create Wishlist and to fill shopping baskets.

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