A roundup of technology-driven tools that drive consumer understanding, engagement and conversion on every step of the path to purchase.
- In mid-April, IKEA (via its Ingka Group) acquired Geomagical Labs, an AI-imaging startup based in Mountain View, California. Geomagical is said to be on the “bleeding edge” of high-fidelity indoor reconstruction and photorealistic augmented reality by using AI advancements in computer vision and deep learning. Its first product will enable a smartphone user to scan a room, render the image into a panoramic 3-D picture in a few minutes, remove all the existing furniture in it, and create accurate visualizations within the space. Users will be able to manipulate imagery of IKEA pieces (furniture, lamps, rugs, paintings, etc.) and wall colors to envision how they’d look in that room. IKEA deployed an AR-visualization tool several years ago that was based on the Apple developer kit. The Geomagical product is said to represent a far more accurate technology. Geomagical says it is preparing to release its first products in late 2020, but has a sign-up sheet up now (Geomagical.com) for those hoping for early access.
- In late April, Fort Lauderdale, Florida-based Chiquita partnered with Spotify, placing interactive stickers on Chiquita bananas at grocery stores that, when scanned by shoppers, unlock exclusive playlists of “feel-good” music. An additional “Golden Banana” sticker takes them to a Spotify podcast that opens a Chiquita website game. The playlists, which range from trending tunes and hits from the past to mood music and singalongs, give Chiquita a touchpoint with Spotify’s base of 248 million active monthly users in need of mood elevation during the pandemic. In a semi-related move, the “Miss Chiquita” icon was taken off the logo on the company’s classic blue sticker as part of a global effort (amplified mainly through Twitter) to support social distancing.
- Shopify kicked off May with the release of “Shop,” a “first-of-its-kind” mobile shopping app designed to unify all stages of its services, from product discovery and personalized recommendations to payment and package delivery tracking. (It’s a great app name as long as it doesn’t get buried under a pile of search results.) During its launch on the iTunes store, it came up instantly as the first result. The Shopify commerce platform features more than 1 million (mostly local) businesses in more than 175 countries, along with participation by prominent brands such as Allbirds, PepsiCo and Staples. As part of the release, the “Arrive” app (which Apptopia says is the delivery tracker most often downloaded by quarantined shoppers) was integrated into the “Shop” app, along with “Local Filters,” which helps users discover nearby merchants; “Shop Pay,” a checkout system that works across all brands; and “Customized Recommendations,” which alerts users to new releases and deals.
- Despite countless surveys and seminars over the years, “Reports of the death of paper coupons have been greatly exaggerated,” to paraphrase Mark Twain. But now digital-couponing giant Ibotta is taking its shot, using some heavy artillery. In late April, the Denver-based mobile rewards and payments platform launched a sustainability event to spotlight the “37,000 trees wasted every day on unused paper coupons.” Ibotta partnered with Trees for the Future to plant up to 1 million trees during a monthlong sustainability campaign, featuring a real-time tree tracker on its website to show its progress. Ibotta is also summoning the support of a coalition of 20-plus CPG brands, using special cash-back offers and promotions. Danone, Edgewell Personal Care, Nestle, New Belgium Brewing, Pacific Foods and Post Consumer Brands are among participants. In semi-related news, Winston-Salem, North Carolina-based Inmar has announced it will be combining its digital promotion platform with Ibotta’s performance-based promotional content. Ibotta thus becomes the first content-technology “Platform Accelerator” in Inmar’s “Innovator Ecosystem.”
- What’s the opposite of a “doorbuster”? Social distancing, as retailers slow store traffic to minimize contagion. But what about retail employees and brand distribution personnel? BeverageX, a supply-chain management startup based in Denver, believes it has a machine-learning social-distancing tool that can help reduce workers’ in-aisle exposure as well. It launched a Web-based application that enables off-premise retailers to share inventory data for analysis via algorithms to ID and group products that are likely to stock out. The software, already rolled out at Colorado’s Big Bear Wine & Liquor chain, enables distributors and suppliers to “manage by exception” and reduce their employees’ time in store aisles by not having to count inventory or verify sales performance for items without issues. Proactive communication alerts are triggered for products that require immediate attention. In late April, BeverageX announced that off-premise retailers and distributors nationwide can access the service, and that the company is waiving all fees while COVID-19 guidelines are in place.
- One behavior that just might endure post-pandemic is the neighborhood social-distancing cocktail hour. Oscar Mayer hopped onto this trend quickly, declaring May 2 “#FrontYardCookout” day. Kraft-Heinz will monitor the number of tweets using the hashtag during the promotion and donate a like number of meals to Feeding America.
- The Dole Food Co. will launch blockchain product tagging and other “advanced traceability solutions” across its tropical fruits, fresh vegetables and other diversified products business divisions by 2025. Dole is undertaking a system-wide redesign of how it traces its food and identifies trouble spots in the supply chain as part of its association with Walmart, the IBM Food Trust and other partners. According to a company report, “Blockchain cuts the average time needed for food safety investigations from weeks to mere seconds,” enabling instantaneous tracking back through the supply chain, and “giving retailers and consumers confidence in the event of a recall.” Dole has shared blockchain data already with several retail customers, using security measures that limit the dissemination of proprietary information. “Distributed data” not only makes investigations more nimble, the company says, but the data can even be shared with shoppers. Eventually, the company will offer scannable vegetable packages that track the product’s “journey from farm to store shelf.”
- “Porch Pirates” who snatch Amazon deliveries off front stoops aren’t on the FBI’s “Most Wanted” list – yet. The New York Times says 1.7 million packages are stolen or go missing every day (90,000 a day in New York City alone). Well, guess what: Drone pirating may be next. In November, IBM won a patent for “Preventing anonymous theft by drones.” In this software solution, an IoT sensor is placed on a package and is triggered if, after the package has been delivered and left on a doorstep, it detects a change in altitude far above what would be expected – i.e., it is suddenly grasped and lifted up, up and away by a pirate drone. The sensor will track the package’s altitude, store the info on a blockchain platform and then send its location to the intended recipient. Using blockchain, IBM says, allows disparate trusted entities such as the merchant and shipping company to input the package’s whereabouts.
- In early April, Eka Software Solutions released “COVID-19 Risk Monitoring,” a free app designed to give customers visibility into supply chain risks by showing a company’s contract positions across those countries with reported cases of the virus. The app’s cloud platform uses blockchain, AI and machine learning to visualize and anticipate which contracts are at risk and identify alternate suppliers to maintain business continuity. Using advanced machine-learning analytical algorithms, customers can continuously assess the impact on inventory across geographies, commodities, business partners, customers and suppliers. Eka has pledged to make the app available free of charge for 90 days.