Another week ripped off the 2016 calendar. Whether you see that as good news or bad news, you can celebrate, or drown your sorrows, with a quick read of the BloomReach Relevance Report.
Embrace your Facebook overlords
In its march to world domination, Facebook continues to shake up e-commerce, this time by unleashing Messenger bots that, among other things, could make it easier to shop online.
Like many new technologies and systems, it’s apparently in a bit of a shakedown period, according to TechCrunch. Let’s just say the bots are still getting their footing. Once the digital butlers are up and running at full speed, it might not only be easier to check the traffic and weather, but it could also be easier to find just the right dress for that upcoming party.
The Menlo Park, California-based social network is opening up its platform to retailers and other brands that want to connect with customers using chatbots. For example, if you’re looking for a pair of running shoes, you might start a conversation with a shopping bot.
The bot could eventually ask you what sort of distances you run, on what terrain and in what sort of weather, and then offer you some selections. Over time you would train the bot to know your preferences, making each subsequent shopping excursion better.
It’s the sort of personalization that successful retailers have been working toward for years. The ultimate chatbot experience sounds like what The North Face is trying to do with IBM’s Watson. For now, on The North Face site, you can run through a few simple requirements for the jacket you want, for instance, and Watson will help narrow down your choices.
As with the Facebook initiative, all involved with Watson’s gig at The North Face acknowledge that it’s relatively early days for a work in progress. Naturally, tech bloggers and others are going to have a field day taking shots at the technology. It’s a bit of a blood sport, as Gizmodo’s take illustrates: “Chatbots are frustrating and useless.”
The BRRR, of course, appreciates bloggers and other tech reviewers keeping those who would overhype technology in check, but we’d also suggest everyone simmer down a little bit. As amazing as it is, artificial intelligence is still in its infancy. Some fantastic applications are available now, but some very big things are coming.
For those in retail, it’s going to mean some major shifts in the way consumers seek and discover products, buy products and think about shopping. Facebook, which has already shown itself to be ready to step into e-commerce in a big way, is likely to be right in the middle of things. It does, after all, claim 900 million regular Messenger users.
One particularly interesting thing about the Facebook Messenger move is the way it intertwines e-commerce and chat. The Times quotes FB’s VP of messaging as saying that chat is a natural thing, making it a natural way to shop. (Little side note: We first read the title as vice president of massaging and thought: Wow. Guy’s got a hands-on job.) The chat/shopping combo has proved very powerful in places like China, which had historic roots in a robust digital chat culture.
We’re not trying to say that U.S. enthusiasm for buying on mobile devices will necessarily hit China levels, but a move to a chat-based shopping culture might certainly accelerate U.S. consumers’ comfort with mobile buying.
Whatever the case, it’s going to be interesting to watch — and quite likely crucial that retailers act on the coming change.
It’s comparing apples and oranges
A nifty bit of research highlighted by eMarketer shows that online grocery shopping is growing in the United States, but that it also faces one high hurdle: People really do like to squeeze the Charmin — or the cantaloupe and the red, (maybe ripe/maybe not) tomatoes.
The research conducted by Bricks Meets Clicks found that almost two-thirds of online grocery shoppers surveyed said the reason they don’t do it more often is that they like to pick out their own fruit and vegetables.
The BRRR has some experience in this regard. We like calling on Instacart to save us from blowing a soul-crushing hole in our otherwise delightful Saturday, but this product-thing is an issue. We once ordered a “one-inch” piece of fresh ginger. When the order arrived, we were presented with a piece of ginger the size of a small tree limb.
Anybody have some recipes?
Would you like an apartment with that?
For generations, downtown Chicago’s Marshall Field’s store was known as the place where you could find just about anything. The dozen-story building stocked everything from lawn mowers to wedding rings.
Now, reincarnated as one of Macy’s urban flagships, the store is a place where you can buy an apartment — more or less.
The Chicago Tribune reports that Macy’s has teamed up with the apartment complex known as Marquee at Block 37 to create a studio and one-bedroom apartment, furnished with Macy’s stuff, inside the State Street store. Lookie-loos and serious rent material can even get an idea of what an apartment view would be via a monitor at the display that shows building shots and sample views.
Macy’s plans to eventually furnish a model apartment in the nearby complex, which is scheduled to open in June, the Trib reports.
And, of course, Macy’s shoppers are welcome to use a tablet at the store to set up a meeting with the Block 37 rental folks.
No prospective renter has bought the whole furnishing kit and kaboodle from Macy’s, the Trib says, but somebody could. And Macy’s, no doubt, hopes somebody will.
We love technology — please pass the popcorn
Say, do these pants make us look fat?
Seriously, the move by Landmark to allow movie-goers to order popcorn on an app and then pick it up at a lobby kiosk, as reported by The Globe and Mail, is a great leap forward. And Dunkin Donuts, possibly feeling the heat from Starbuck’s new loyalty program, is joining the fun, according to the Nation’s Restaurant News, by letting customers use Apple Pay to grab their coffee and doughnuts. The chain is moving toward a system through which customers can skip the line altogether.
There is a bigger picture here. I know: Bigger than popcorn and doughnuts? What could possibly be bigger than popcorn and doughnuts?
The two moves by seemingly unrelated businesses — movies and breakfast addictions — are a sign of a bigger trend that will no doubt continue to grow. The Globe and Mail’s story about Landmark quotes an NPD analyst saying that outfits that don’t adopt order-ahead apps are going to be at a disadvantage within 36 months.
He appeared to be talking about movie theaters, but the statement might well apply to restaurants and even some retailers. Think of the power of a buy-online-pickup-in-store model with a do-it-yourself twist. Yes, BOPISDIY.
Sounds fun already.
Getting customers is half the battle; maybe not even half
This interview with Amit Sharma, founder of Narvar, resonated with us here at the BRRR. Sharma, whose company helps e-commerce operations with customer relations after a purchase is made, talked to Women’s Wear Daily about the gap in service many retailers have created.
He said that only 16 percent of companies are focused on customer retention. He didn’t elaborate, but consider all the energy that goes into making a sale. There is getting your site and the products on it discovered. There’s offering a high-quality site search, so shoppers can find what they’re looking for — and find items they might not have been looking for, but that are relevant to them. There’s having an easy-to-use check out system.
But then what? Sure, a number of retailers do a good job on follow up. But Narvar focuses on those who don’t. And the fact is, not following up just won’t cut it anymore. As online transactions grow and digital shopping and buying become more dominant, consumers are holding retailers to a higher standard.
Consumers want to know when their order is going to arrive. They want updates as their goods make their way across country or across town. They want it to be easy to return things they bought online.
If you’re looking for someone to blame, which of course you aren’t, look to Amazon. Amazon Prime offers two-day and same-day delivery. The packages are easily tracked. Returns are generally smooth — and Amazon will send you a replacement product on an exchange before they even receive the product you’re returning.
Sure Amazon has room for improvement, which might be the good news for competitors. If competitors can find a way to fill the service gap better, they might also find a way to survive in the era of Amazon.
Be forewarned: Golfsmith wants to hook you on golf
It’s cruel, what Golfsmith is doing. Golf has been called a good walk spoiled. It’s prompted prudes to curse, yogis to scream, otherwise sensible people to wrap clubs around trees and toss them into ponds.
And now Golfsmith wants to lure Gen Yers into golf, MediaPost reports. Then again, why should they be so happy? Turns out, the idea of spending seven, eight, 10 hours of a Saturday standing around for the foursome in front of you to 12 putt a green just doesn’t appeal to the younger set.
But Golfsmith is coming out with ads that say it’s really OK to stink at golf and still play — which should be evident to anyone who’s been on a golf course lately.
Do we sound bitter? We’re not bitter.
Anyway, according to MediaPost, there is reason for Golfsmith to be optimistic. It turns out that as millennials get richer, they are more likely to golf. (Maybe another reason to work on this whole income-inequality thing we hear so much about this election season.)
The Golfsmith ad campaign appears to be a part of a shift in the way the retailer is positioning itself. A marketing VP told MediaPost that the chain had focused on establishing its own brand. Now it is shifting to highlighting the golf equipment brands it carries.
It’s not our business: Golf if you like. Just don’t say we didn’t warn you.
Quote of the week
“This turnaround has been driven by sales. We have seen strong sales across all routes to market and the key has been house brands which deliver higher profit margin.” — Nigel Oddy, CEO House of Fraser, to The Guardian, regarding the store’s return to profitability.
Mike Cassidy is BloomReach’s storyteller. Contact him at email@example.com; follow him on Twitter at @mikecassidy