A roundup of technology-driven tools that drive consumer understanding, engagement and conversion on every step of the path to purchase.
In mid-December, Walmart tested TikTok’s new “shoppable product experience” feature, enabling TikTok users to shop fashion items during a one-hour livestream. Walmart was hopping onto a trend that seems to have as many names and variations (social shopping, shoppable livestreaming, social consumer sales, social commerce, etc.) as practitioners, but it is huge in China and most hope the West is ready to hop on board in 2021. Proponents believe that, as 5G cellular network service gets established in the U.S., livestreaming will grow as augmented- and virtual-reality features become more easily accessible.
In November, Bellevue, Washington-based Coinstar introduced adPlanet, a digital advertising platform featuring a 32-inch diagonal high-definition screen that sits atop its coin-counting kiosks in grocery stores. Coinstar says the adPlanet network has 4,000 grocery retail locations in 35 of the top 50 U.S. designated market areas, with initial retail participants including Albertsons/Safeway, Ahold Delhaize and Tops.
The screens are said to have 178-degree viewability atop the 6.5-foot-high kiosks and can be seen from distances of up to 50 feet. Messaging can be tailored by geography, demographics, brand behavior and interests. Jersey City, New Jersey-based Neptune Retail Solutions (formerly News America Marketing) will exclusively sell adPlanet media to CPG advertisers in the grocery channel.
In mid-December, 2-year-old online retailer Verishop unveiled Shop Party, an iOS app that lets users “hang out” in groups of up to five people over video chat, explore shoppable content, watch what others are browsing, and then check out. The Santa Monica, California-based retailer will also allow brand partners, industry experts and stylists to host a Shop Party for individual or small group shopping and education sessions. Users can also create a profile to upload photos and videos, tag products, share curated collections, and follow favorite brands. The company offers more than 1,000 vetted brands across women’s and men’s clothing and accessories, makeup, skin care and home decor.
In September, a popular Chinese web app named ShopShops began servicing U.S. brands and retailers. This livestream, interactive global shopping marketplace connects brick-and-mortar fashion retailers with consumers on their mobile devices. ShopShops, founded in 2016 with headquarters in New York City and Beijing, lets viewers interact both with presenters and each other to chat about whether to buy products and how to use or wear them. The service features brands like Marni, Maison Margiela, ETRO, Phillip Lim, Ganni, The Webster, MaxMara, Laura Mercier and Kate Somerville.
In November, San Francisco-based Darkstore Inc. launched a premium-delivery iOS app irreverently named “FastAF” in New York City. (If you’re still fuzzy about the name, ask a kid or look up “AF” on UrbanDictionary.com.) The goal is to facilitate the discovery of new products from direct-to-consumer companies or local brands and have them delivered to doorsteps in two hours.
FastAF will use “dark stores” (AKA micro-fulfillment centers) that are strategically located in New York City and Los Angeles. The product assortment will range from essentials and last-minute gifts to “must-have self-care treats” for consumers and pets. More than 350 brands are said to be offered, including national names (Nike, Aesop and Sonos) and premium DTC lines such as Glossier, Public Goods and Byredo. FastAF employs a team of curators who are tasked with discovering interesting items such as celebrity-favorite haircare products and the latest hand sanitizers “before anyone else.” The company says its ambition is to offer its two-hour delivery services in every neighborhood in the country.
“LIT Live,” a social media-powered shopping app and web platform, launched in mid-October. The app, which is offered on the App Store and on Google Play, lets expert influencers present brands via live streaming, where shoppers can ask questions, participate in product unboxings and see product demos. The company boasts that its “seamless native check-out” has multiple touchpoints that boost sales conversion.
In late October, LG ElectronicsUSA launched its new Shop Time app on LG Smart TVs. Working with Qurate Retail Group, a leader in the video commerce industry, the app enables owners to make purchases directly from multiplatform video retailers such as QVC and HSN, along with several other at-home shopping channels. The LG Magic Remote lets users navigate from their TVs to receive curated recommendations, save items and complete purchases with retailer partners. Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey-based LG is making the app available via free download for all of its LG Smart TVs manufactured since 2016.
SPOTLIGHT: Artificial Intelligence (AI)
In November, Palo Alto, California-based Resonai launched “Vera Concierge,” a mobile application that uses both AI and augmented reality (AR) to provide “digital concierge services” at retail stores. The app provides contactless indoor navigation and context-aware information through a personalized AR interface. For example, the Vera Concierge app can aid shoppers in product discovery, deliver an AR-based brand experience, or simply point out where facilities like specialized services, returns desks or restrooms are located.
The app also collects real-time data analytics on traffic flows, user behaviors and product interaction as shoppers move through a store, enabling managers to integrate brick-and-mortar data with e-commerce data to map the complete buyer journey. The system is also designed to aid in the testing of merchandising strategies by gauging the effectiveness of various product placements, displays and signage.
In October, Boston-based iAdvize, a conversational platform used by major e-commerce brands including Lowe’s and Samsung, launched an “Augmented Intelligence” solution designed to analyze millions of client website conversations and interactions, determine intent and maximize conversions. By combining human and artificial intelligence into its messaging system, iAdvize can now identify and sort out online visitors who are just browsing from those deemed “serious shoppers,” enabling retailers to, for example, immediately offer an option to talk to a brand expert via live chat.
The company says its conversational platform (chatbots, live chat, customer support, etc.) handles the exchange of millions of messages every month between brands and customers. It also reported an 82% increase in online conversations since the start of the pandemic.
In mid-December, Los Angeles-based Centerfield announced the addition of AI-powered chat to its customer acquisition platform, Dugout. Centerfield, which claims it “optimizes millions of shopping experiences” for leading brands, says Dugout can now engage with customers via an automated chat experience that understands shopping intent and then hands it off to purchase via e-commerce, sales center or other channels.
In 2020, Centerfield executed more than 100 AI-powered chat and web experiments that prove shifting to a self-serve experience through AI chatbot or e-commerce reduces non-sales interactions. During Black Friday and Cyber Week, AI-powered chat was able to replace human qualification entirely during high consumer demand.
In December, Conway, Arkansas-based Acxiom announced a partnership with diwo and its patented analytic-insights and decision-making platform. “Acxiom Optimization Solutions, powered by diwo” aims to combine customer-level data with AI technology. The initial focus will be on larger retailers in the area of inventory management.
Traditionally, inventory planning uses historical aggregated data and spreadsheets, while marketing decision-making is done independently using campaign-based customer-level data, creating insight gaps and inefficiencies. This “first of its kind,” AI-powered platform is said to enable cross-functional teams, from supply chain to marketing, to automatically leverage customer data to improve operations. The platform has already been deployed by one large chain, achieving $35 million-$45 million in annual savings and a 50% improvement in inventory allocation.