The following article by Deborah Weinswig was published by Forbes on January 26, 2018
The FGRT team attended and presented at NRF 2018 Retail’s Big Show in New York a couple weeks ago, and in last week’s article, I noted that retail technology had taken center stage at this year’s show. The Innovation Lab at the conference, which was sponsored by startup accelerator XRC Labs, showcased a variety of promising solutions from emerging companies. The products and services on display are designed to help retailers improve service, awareness, shopper consideration, engagement and the postpurchase experience.
Three of the customer engagement solutions on display in the Innovation Lab struck me as especially useful. Profitect has created an analytics platform that provides retailers with real-time data from all areas of their organization as well as with simple solutions for fixing issues. Fellow Robots uses robots to scan in-store inventory and engage customers in new ways—by providing directions to the location of specific products in a store, for example—and also provides store employees with tools for real-time inventory information. Findmine helps customers decide what to wear by acting like a personal stylist and choosing just the right product recommendations from among thousands of items online.
Profitect: According to Guy Yehiav, CEO, Profitect offers an analytics solution that shows retailers what works well and what doesn’t. Profitect’s technology then notifies the retailer in very simple terms how to solve or improve issues, or how to replicate and enhance what’s working.
Yehiav gave two real-world examples of how his company’s solutions work. First, he described how the solution supports inventory analytics. If a store shelf is empty, he said, Profitect will identify the problem using statistics and machine learning that yields a 100% true positive so that people don’t waste time looking at the wrong things, and will send a manager an email with instructions to refill the shelf location with a specified item. In this case, Yehiav said, “The email message will report ‘fill shelf B2 with two cases of water.’ It doesn’t detail why the shelf is empty, but rather helps to resolve the vacancy quickly. The message is simple and instructive.” Profitect’s inventory solution can help retailers improve inventory accuracy, on-shelf availability of products, adjustment of physical inventory, vendor quality, and operational execution lapses, while helping them reduce out-of-stocks, damage rates, and markdowns.
Yehiav’s second example highlighted how Profitect quickly determines areas of opportunity. He said that customers at a particular clothing retailer were returning a jacket that had a faux fur collar at a higher rate than usual. Profitect’s solution identified the minor increase in returns on its second day from launch. The retailer’s team received prescribed actions to identify the root cause and was able to quickly determine within one business day that the underlying problem was that the jacket did not have a “Dry Clean Only” care tag sewn in the garment. Therefore, customers were machine-washing it and the faux fur was falling apart, leading customers to return the jacket. Profitect’s analytics solution works at all points along the supply chain, including logistics, DC operations, planning and allocation, marketing, and omnichannel operations.
Fellow Robots: Marco Mascorro, CEO of Fellow Robots,participated in a panel title “Robotics and AI: Trailblazing Technology for Future Retail” at the NRF 2018 show. He discussed how autonomous retail technologies can transform organizations and said, “It is not uncommon for individuals to interact with robots today.” I was intrigued, having had my own robot interaction at CES last year—with a robot who actually made me blush when it said, “You complete me.”
I followed up with Fellow Robots to learn more about its technology. Lowe’s is using the company’s robots to provide inventory scanning, planogram compliance and data analytics. Specifically, if a customer comes into a Lowe’s store and asks a “LoweBot” where an item is located, the robot can physically direct the customer to the item. The robots also help the staff manage inventory levels and alert staff when product counts are low or when products are in the wrong place. Thavidu Ranatunga, Fellow Robots’ CTO, said that the company’s robots have helped client companies increase their return on investment by up to four times on average depending on the retailer’s needs. Ranatunga added that the robots have been positively received by store staff because inventory is not a task that employees generally enjoy performing. He believes that the robots’ design has helped endear them to customers, too, because they look friendly and engaging, and he said that customer response has been overwhelmingly positive. “There will always be that small percentage of people who are not going to engage with a robot, but we are finding that most customers are enjoying this experience,” Ranatunga said.
Findmine: “Personalization” and “curation” may be two of the most overused words in retail today, but Findmine’stechnology solution is an extremely good provider of both. In a panel discussion at NRF 2018, Michelle Bacharach, the company’s cofounder and CEO, described how Findmine answers the question “How do I wear this?” for consumers. Findmine has created an algorithm that serves over 11M outfits everyday across e-commerce and mobile websites and marketing channels like Facebook messenger and email campaigns. Bacharach emphasized that shoppers want recommendations of not just what to buy and but also they specifically want suggestions of items that will truly work for them in their lives. “When you show customers how to use what they’re buying, they will spend 200% more,” she said. This underscores the fundamental value of customer service—providing customers with items they feel are personal to them, and therefore special, and understanding how customers will put these items to work in their lives. Retailers may be providing customer service in new ways—such as through a website that shows personalized suggestions rather than through a store associate who brings particular items to a fitting room—but the core principle is still the same: making sure the customer feels valued. Findmine uses data to determine the best outfit to suggest to a customer that’s on-brand, in-stock, and seasonally appropriate, no matter what the customer is buying, Bacharach said, which makes shoppers feel like retailers really “get them.”