P2P Toolkit (April 2020)
A roundup of technology-driven tools that drive consumer understanding, engagement and conversion on every step of the path to purchase.
- A social shopping app for buying presents for the kids of relatives and friends? Sounds tricky. Launched nationwide two weeks before Christmas, Shopafor is said to be a first-of-its-kind social networking “gifting space” created just for parents. It is said to utilize data and insights via artificial intelligence to understand the desires of a gift recipient, thus increasing the likelihood that the gift giver picks something they’ll like. There are quite a few privacy caveats and data bits being collected, but the service’s creators say they will not knowingly or specifically collect information from or about children under the age of 13. When a user (such as a parent or family friend) signs up to the site or installs the app, they’re asked for name, street address, email address, telephone number, sex, kids’ names and birthdays, and which holidays you celebrate. They can also sign up via social networks like Facebook. Like I said: Tricky.
- It’s been a busy few months at Pinterest. In mid-December, the social network rolled out a new tool called “Pinterest Trends” (Trends.Pinterest.com), albeit one that’s still in beta and, as of press time, limited in function to “Coming Soon.” Designed to give brands insight into planning behaviors on the platform, it will offer a view of the top U.S. search terms within the past 12 months as well as when they peak. The idea is that brands will be better equipped to allocate budgets to campaigns during various planning stages, validate their assumptions about emerging trends, refine search queries, and decide which key words they should include or avoid while planning media campaigns.
- This probably belongs in the “Where were you 10 years ago?” file, but Miami-based MyPark Solutions is rolling out an app that holds down parking spots at certain stores at a mall. The system, which is in place in Florida (Miami, Orlando, Jacksonville and Ellenton), Georgia (Atlanta and Buford), Minneapolis/St. Paul and Paramus, New Jersey, features a physical barrier that’s installed at key parking spots. A driver can reserve a spot on the way over and the barrier will automatically lower upon arrival. On hyper-crowded days (e.g., Black Friday), a “Park Now” feature allows users to immediately find and reserve the nearest available space. An interesting idea that might be a vacation-saver at certain hub airports.
- In February, Pinterest introduced “Try on,” powered by Lens, which enables Pinners to use the Pinterest camera to virtually “try on” lipstick before they buy from companies such as Estee Lauder, Sephora, Neutrogena, Lancome and Urban Decay from L’Oreal. Pinterest takes pains to note that it is “focused on inclusivity and equality” and has integrated Try on with its skin tone range feature to make matching lip shades more accurate. And here’s a pushback against Instagram un-reality: Try On doesn’t smooth the image taker’s skin or otherwise alter their image because “Pinterest believes in celebrating you (authentically). ... On Pinterest, you can be yourself and not your selfie.”
- The Food Explorer Club launched in late October through the Apple App Store. Built around gamification, the app is designed to coax picky eaters into eating a wider variety of foods and making healthier choices. Kids earn badges and points for specific types of food eaten along with surprise badges. They can trade points in for rewards (established by the parents and customized to each family), such as a trip to the park or getting to sit in dad’s chair at dinner. The app is available in the U.S., Canada, Great Britain and Australia. It’s free, says co-creator David Gibson, “until we get around 5,000 or so users, and we will make some decisions on how to have it make money.”
- Over the holidays, Laurel, Mississippi-based Sanderson Farms, the third-largest poultry producer in the U.S., announced that it was the first chicken producer to introduce voice-activated recipes. Some might question the utility of “yet another” voice-enabled kitchen tool, given the array of recipe apps and videos already vying for our attention. But I think Sanderson Farms might be on to something as a brand specialist, especially in regions like the South where chicken is almost an-every-other-day staple. By offering 170 recipes sorted by dish type, cuisine, cooking technique and cut of chicken, and being accessible on both the Google Home and Amazon Alexa platforms, this is one tool that just may make conquering its particular learning curve worthwhile.
SPOTLIGHT: AI/Machine Learning
In January, a series of bills to regulate artificial intelligence were introduced in the state of Washington that could set precedents nationwide. According to reports, both Microsoft’s president Brad Smith and Amazon’s Jeff Bezos have been pushing for laws and safeguards especially in the areas of facial-recognition software, biometric screening and digital profiling. The state will be considering a standalone facial-recognition bill alongside a data-privacy bill (similar to California’s data-privacy law and European Union rules) that would also cover facial recognition. A third bill, covering artificial intelligence-enabled profiling, would prevent machines from making decisions that could have real-life consequences for state residents. The bill defines “artificial intelligence-enabled profiling” as the “automated or semiautomated process by which the external or internal characteristics of an individual are analyzed to determine, infer or categorize an individual’s state of mind, character, propensities, protected class status, political affiliation, religious beliefs or religious affiliation, immigration status or employability.” The “state of mind” clause would prevent retailers from monitoring shoppers via security cameras and employing software that reads facial expressions and infers an attitude or propensity (e.g., to steal) in order to preemptively eject them as potential shoplifters.
The bill would also extend to other areas of biometric data, such as fingerprints and iris scans, granting individuals legal ownership of their data and “an exclusive property right in the person’s biometric identifiers.” And just in time: An Amazon patent published in December details a “non-contact biometric identification system” featuring “a hand scanner that generates images of a user’s palm. ... Polarization at a second time show deeper characteristics such as veins.” This creepily thorough scan of your palm is then connected to a credit card or other payment method. The Wall Street Journal says that while this hand-waving tech (checkout time equals 0.3 seconds) is a no-brainer for Amazon Go, the company is already talking to financial institutions about much wider deployment.
New York-based Entrepreneurs Roundtable Accelerator recently revealed its latest class of startups. Leading the way was CoolR, a Chantilly, Virginia-based software company that boasts of a machine-learning platform for retailers and brands who want to track inventory and shelf performance. The company uses wireless cameras and sensors to feed the machine-learning platform and detect planogram non-compliance, foreign products and pricing inconsistencies. The company says its analytics come with a distinctive difference as they are “descriptive, predictive and prescriptive.”
TPG Rewards is collaborating with scientists at the Imperial College of London to develop a digital food-freshness sensor. The sensor, which eventually might be affixed to packaged perishable foods in supermarkets, is designed to inform shoppers of a product’s true expiration date and help reduce food waste. Packaged perishables encounter various conditions (heat, cold, delays) in their supply chain journeys that may affect their freshness. However, the expiration dates on such products are pre-printed and assume less-than-optimal conditions – erring on the side of safety and public health – but that extra caution can also result in good food being thrown away. Eventually, a TPG Rewards shopper may be able to use her NFC-enabled phone on the package’s Freshness Sensor to get a digital readout of the product’s actual freshness, determined by measuring gases found within each sealed package, and thus discover that, contrary to the conservative, preprinted estimated expiration date, the item is still fresh enough to eat.
“It is likely that large-scale commercial adoption is at least three years out,” said John Galinos, president & CEO of TPG Rewards, in an email. “That said, we anticipate that manufacturers would want to put the sensors through extensive testing before rolling it out. Both the sensors and our NFC-based platform are available for test programs with as little as two- or three-months’ lead time.” Eventually, when fully deployed, a shopper using the Freshness Sensor might also receive intelligent marketing experiences, algorithmically curated based on the product’s remaining life. For example, if the product is getting close to its actual expiration date, she might get a higher-valued coupon and/or a recipe that matches the weather or time of day where the consumer is located.
One last thing: Where do AI and emotional intelligence “meet cute”? To hear Amazon tell it, inside its fulfillment centers, warehouses, logistics facilities and customer service centers. A Valentine’s Day promotional video, posted at (I kid you not) Amazon.com/FindingLove, charts the romance between one of its new Xanthus package sorters and a Scout delivery robot, which the company has recently begun referring to as “adora-bots.” After machines learn all about love over a spaghetti dinner, a night at the movies and a walk in the park, we’re treated to a montage of live Amazon employees who’ve also found their significant others while working at the company.
One obvious reason for romancing the public this way is to counter the negative media and social media chatter about warehouse working conditions. It’s also clear that Amazon wants to acclimate the public to seeing these Scout devices because, over the winter, they made their way out of test conditions up in the Seattle area and onto the mean streets of Irvine, California. The Scout was consciously “designed for boring” so as not to alarm the public (it looks like a beer cooler on top of a Little Tikes wagon) and while it is now making actual deliveries, it’s still accompanied by a human chaperone.
In January, Amazon was issued a patent for a next generation delivery bot: A storage compartment vehicle (dubbed an “SCV”) that could make multiple deliveries along a street and pick up items for return as well. There are also model variations with floats for marine use and propellers for aerial deliveries. The world of near-instant delivery is creeping closer: Morgan Stanley analysts estimate that 40% of units fulfilled by Amazon in the U.S. “went through” one-day delivery in the fourth quarter, adding that Amazon shipped 16 times more e-commerce packages than Walmart in 2019.