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Product Guru secures £300,000 to build out solution

Product Guru, an online platform described as ‘Tinder for retail buyers and product suppliers’, has secured a £300,000 investment.

The Scotland-based company has received financial backing from Asia-based retail technology investor Belmond Capital, Scottish retailer Scotmid and Scottish Enterprise.

Buyers from High Street retailers including John Lewis, Tesco and TK Maxx have already signed up to use the technology platform, which allows their buyers to find new products for their shelves.

Simon Coyle launched Glasgow-based Product Guru in September 2018 after spotting a gap in the market.

“After running my own companies for nearly 20 years, I have first-hand experience of how difficult it can be for emerging brands to get their products in front of retail buyers,” said Coyle.

“From the retailers’ point-of-view, they may have lots of customer-facing modern technologies in their stores – such as automated checkouts or digital ads – but Product Guru is the first technology platform to shake-up their back-office product discovery operations and make it easier for them to discover the latest trends and find exciting new products for their customers.”

He added: “This £300,000 investment will allow us to further develop our platform for both buyers and suppliers with analytics and intelligent recommendations, while marketing our services to a much wider audience.

“Buyers are pushed for time, so Product Guru makes it quicker, easier and – ultimately – cheaper for them to connect with potential suppliers.”

Patricia Poon, Managing Partner and Founder of Belmond Capital, and a former head of retailer WH Smith’s business in Asia, said: “Product Guru is solving problems on both sides of the fence – it allows both local and international emerging brands to get their products in front of buyers and it allows retailers to stay on trend and choose from a wide selection of options cost effectively at the click of a button. Product Guru’s intelligent platform digitises retailers’ product discovery workflows, and greatly improves the productivity of retail buyers.  

“Belmond Capital invests in companies that are disrupting their markets, across retail, financial services, communications and industrial sectors.

“Product Guru fits perfectly into our portfolio and I’m looking forward to working with Simon to add more intelligent functionalities, and to scale the platform both in the UK and internationally.

Belmond Capital’s other retail tech investments include Nextail, a prescriptive analytics and AI-powered inventory optimisation platform based in Spain, Frenzy, an US-based exact-match visual search platform revolutionising computer vision and London-based Yapster, a mobile messaging platform for deskless hospitality and retail teams.

Paul Cross at Scottish Enterprise, said: “What’s most exciting about Product Guru is that it helps brands and distributors get their products under the noses of influential buyers.

“Simon is not only growing his own business but is also helping other emerging brands and smaller companies – in Scotland and elsewhere – to grow as well.

“Backing businesses like Product Guru is at the heart of the Scottish Enterprise’s mission.

“Technology has revolutionised so many parts of our working lives and it looks like Product Guru is now set to change the way that buyers and suppliers do business.”

Image by PublicDomainPictures from Pixabay

Khronos group created for 3D commerce standards and guidelines

The Khronos Group has formed an Exploratory Group to investigate standards and guidelines for the production and distribution of real-time 3D representations of products.

This is so they can be experienced realistically and consistently across all platforms and devices, such as mobile, Web and Augmented Reality (AR) or Virtual Reality (VR) solutions.

To gather industry input, the Exploratory Group is open to any company without cost or IP licensing obligations. If there is industry support, Khronos will form a Working Group to enable any interested company to join Khronos and participate under its proven multi-company governance process.

Those interested in finding out more and joining the Exploratory Group are invited to visit the 3D Commerce Landing Page.

Khronos cites Gartner stats that state “by 2020, 100 million consumers will shop in AR online and in-store” and “46 percent of retailers planned to deploy either AR or VR solutions to meet customer service experience requirements.”

Gartner says that “the impact of AR or VR in retail can be transformative”, and that “retailers can use AR as an extension of the brand experience to engage customers in immersive environments and drive revenue…Additionally, AR can be used outside the store after a sale to increase customer satisfaction and improve loyalty.”

Khronos says that with 3D poised to grow as a new shopping medium for product manufacturers, retailers and advertising platforms, key players in the industry are now looking at how to scale production and achieve broad distribution for virtual products with optimized industry workflows to minimize costs.

The leading global retail brands and technology companies proposing this initiative include 3XR, 4D Pipeline, Adobe, Autodesk, Dassault Systèmes, Deloitte Consulting, Facebook, Ferguson Ventures, Google, Houzz, IKEA, JD.com, Lowe’s, Microsoft, NVIDIA, Pinterest, Qualcomm, Samsung, Shopify, Target, ThreeKit, Topline Furniture, Unity Technologies, UX3D, Wayfair, and Williams-Sonoma Inc./Outward.

The aim of this initiative is to enable 3D virtual products to be experienced realistically and consistently across a variety of endpoints, including search results, social feeds, ad units, in apps, on e-commerce websites, on mobile AR devices and VR/AR headsets, and on in-store displays.

Standard specifications and guidelines would align and streamline interactions between retailers and manufacturers working with technology providers, content creators, and technology platforms distributing and displaying virtual products.

This initiative would also leverage and guide the evolution of existing Khronos standards such as glTF for transmission of photorealistic 3D assets, WebGL for interactive 3D applications on the Web, Vulkan for driving high-performance interactive 3D graphics, and OpenXR for enabling AR and VR applications that are portable across multiple vendor platforms.

Moonpig unveils eCommerce tech hub in Manchester

Moonpig is to create fifty new technology jobs across Manchester and London as part of a multi-million pound investment that it says will unlock the next phase of its growth plans.

The new office opens at No. 1 Spinningfields on 1st November and will lead the development and rollout of a new ecommerce, data and personalisation platform for Moonpig.

The project will be led by Peter Donlon, Chief Technology Officer at Moonpig, who said: “Moonpig produces over 15 million completely one-off items for customers every year, each one uniquely personal to the sender and receiver, and powered by our ‘emotionally intelligent’ technology.

“We’re seeking the best engineering talent out there to turbo-charge the Moonpig business going forward. We selected Manchester for its thriving tech scene and wealth of exceptional talent.”

Mark Evans, previously of Nested.com and Sainsbury’s has been appointed to lead the new office as Head of Engineering.

Since being founded in 2000, Moonpig has helped customers celebrate over 120 million special moments across the UK through its personalised cards, gifts and flowers.

The news comes on the back of the appointment of Nickyl Raithatha as Moonpig’s new MD in July and the move into its new award-winning Farringdon HQ in London.

Engage, interact and participate with BenQ’s new education mainstream series of interactive flat panels

BenQ’s new education mainstream series of 4K UHDinteractive flat panels (IFP) provide crystal clear images that engage students, as well as fine IR Touch enhanced touchscreen technology to encourage interactivity and participation, and built-in features that protect eye health.

Teachers and students can ‘write’ easily and clearly on the panel, with precise positioning that accurately displays the intended strokes. Thetouchscreen is so sensitive that it can detect the differences between strokes created with the IFP stylus, a pencil, a watercolour brush or even a finger, and will naturally display different stroke thickness based on the tools used. This unique feature makes the education mainstream series ideal for drawing or artistic creation. The panels also come with dual styluses that allow two users to write or draw with different colours simultaneously, making it ideal for lively classroom activities.

As well as these creative benefits, the education mainstream series also offers BenQ’s Eye-Care Solution to protect users from adverse eye health effects that can be caused by prolonged use of displays. The TÜV-certified Low Blue Light technology minimises blue light exposure and allows for healthier and more comfortable time spent in front of the display, while its TÜV-certified Flicker-Free technology is designed to remove LED backlight flickering. In addition, the RM series’ anti-glare glass surface can effectively reduce reflections, preventing excessive squinting and eye strain with more legible text and clearer images.

The education mainstream series offers the ultimate interactive display to achieve a touch-enhanced, smooth and fun learning experience for every classroom size, offering screens from 55” all the way up to 86”.

For more information or to organise a demo with BenQ’s NEW education mainstream series, please visit: https://business-display.benq.eu/en-gb/findproduct/ifp/education.html

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GUEST BLOG: How the personalisation trend in retail will continue to grow in 2018, enabled by the latest technology

Retailers can better connect with shoppers by using technology to create a more personalised experience. Gareth James, Prosper’s Business Manager looks at the key methods gaining ground and highlights some of the best examples of retail tech…

Personalisation is a key strategy that is rapidly developing across the retail sector in varied forms, to enhance product offerings, shop fit outs, marketing and customer service.

Personalised shopping experiences show consumers that retailers are paying attention and understand what they want and need at the right time too, so they feel valued. In today’s society filled with choice, personalisation also adds relevance and focus.

This growth in personalisation has been facilitated by advances in technology but also the collection and use of big data. Retailers can better track customers’ omni-channel activity then harness that data to better understand their preferences and tailor offerings accordingly.

So we’ve rounded up some leading methods and examples of retail-tech that are enabling a more personal shopping experience.

Smart mirrors and virtual changing rooms

In clothing retail, the changing room is where a customer sees what fits them individually so is a natural place for personalisation via interactive smart mirrors.

Pepe Jeans new flagship on London’s Regent Street London has changing rooms that use RFID (radio frequency identification) tags to automatically detect what a customer brings in. Smart screens inside allow customers to request different sizes and colours plus suggestions for similar styles or complementary items.

Virtual changing rooms have also been trialled by retailers such as Topshop and Superdry, to try items without the hassle of changing. This helps retailers connect in-store behaviour with a customer’s digital profile and learn preferences to personalise future recommendations.

In-store beacons

Now powerful mini computers – smartphones – are in many shoppers pockets, they provide more opportunities to track behaviour and influence it. Beacon technology and NFC (Near Field Communication) is one way to personalise the in-store experience.

Retailers including House of Fraser, Asda and Ted Baker have trialled beacons that send push notifications and offers directly to shoppers’ smartphones when browsing in store.

There are still various barriers to overcome though before there’s widespread adoption – such as having the app installed, bluetooth and location services enabled and accepting requests to receive notifications.

Personalised billboards

Beacon tech has also been used to develop personalised billboards. Aided by an app that compiles social media and demographic data, these billboards display the shopper’s social media profile, while listing relevant products and offers.

Shoppers that spend more than 10 seconds next to the display are sent a time sensitive

offer to their smartphone. This technology, which also scan what an individual is wearing to offer similar brands, has been trialled by the likes of Debenhams and New Look.

If these uses of beacon tech go mainstream, they could quickly become a nuisance, so offering relevant and useful content the customer values will be key to future success.

Conversational chatbots

Now usage of ‘private’ messaging apps has surpassed ‘public’ social media, the likes of WhatsApp, Messenger and Kik have become part of a consumer’s digital journey. So brands are offering convenient, personalised assistance in this conversational online space by using chatbots.

Built into a retailer’s website or app, or via open platform messaging apps, these programmed robots interact with customers and simulate human conversation through artificial intelligence (AI). As well as quickly responding to commonplace queries when staff may not be available, chatbots can provide decision support and enhance customer service.

A great example is H&M’s Kik chatbot which acts as a personal stylist. Shoppers are shown different outfits and asked to choose their favourites. The bot then figures out their preferences to suggest outfits which can be shopped, shared or saved.

Voice recognition tech

This tech is still in its infancy but people are getting more comfortable with talking into devices, so retailers are paying attention to this new voice-controlled frontier, where you say what you want to a Google Home or Amazon Echo device.

Right now, the biggest benefit is convenience for ordering regular, repeat purchases so food and drink brands have been natural first adopters. Domino’s Pizza has its own virtual ordering assistant named Dom, while Starbucks has introduced My Starbuck Barista.

Powered by bots that learn your preferences, it’s easy to see how personalisation will develop along with voice activated tech. It could be a complete game changer if widely adopted but won’t be right for every context.

Facial recognition and CCTV

Scanning images of people is another tool being explored for personalisation… to identify customer demographics to serve more relevant ads or recognise an important customer that requires attention.

Tesco uses CCTV in its petrol stations to determine shopper demographics and market relevant on-screen ads. Elsewhere, car brand Bentley uses facial recognition technology in its innovative London Westfield store to help create a bespoke Bentley.

Potential buyers are shown lifestyle films and images while a camera scans their expressions to judge emotional reactions. Software then builds a picture of likes and dislikes to create a car that Bentley thinks will suit the customer’s personality.

Tech equipping staff to better serve customers in-store

It’s not all about automation and bots – tech tools are empowering the human element of retail too. After all, interaction with real people is one of the benefits of physical retail, but to keep their job, many retail workers need to up their game.

That’s why Monsoon Accessorize is transforming its staff into helpful personal assistants, by arming them with iPads. By having access to live stock information, plus customer data with insights on buying habits and preferences, in-store assistants can better recommend alternative or complementary items. Monsoon Accessorize says this has increased average order values by 133%.

What’s next?

These last two examples show how a fine line must be tread in the quest for personalisation. The aim is to enhance the best parts of the retail experience without allowing things to become too automated, dehumanised or invasive.

Technology is a great tool for capturing data and building intelligence, but can it ever deliver the same service, value and empathy as a real person? Human behaviour is complex and not always formulaic – people have strong routines but can also be unpredictable and impulsive.

What’s more, the arrival of the EU’s GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) in 2018 will impact developments. Consumers are going to become more mindful of how their data is used. For customers to feel comfortable providing more information about themselves, retailers must offer them more valuable reasons to do so.

If you would like to find out how we can help you personalise your retail experience, please get in touch. Email hello@madebyprosper.com.

1,500 jobs to be created by ASOS over the next three years…

The online fashion retailer ASOS has confirmed it will introduce 1,500 new positions at its Camden headquarters over the next three years, adding to its current workforce of 2,500.

The company is expected to spend an estimated £38 million on hiring experienced professionals in the marketing, technology, editorial content and retail buying fields as it aims to double its sales over the next five years; in addition to investing a further £40 million on developing a 40,000 sq ft space to accommodate the extra employees.

Read more from The Telegraph here

Shop Direct ‘first UK retailer to launch WhatsApp-style service platform’…

Shop Direct has become the first UK-based retailer to apply conversational user interface (CUI) technology for customer service, launching ‘Very Assistant’ for customers to find answers to their questions in a WhatsApp–style chat environment.  

The owner of Very.co.uk, Littlewoods.com, VeryExclusive.co.uk and LittlewoodsIreland.ie has initially made the automated platform available via the Very.co.uk iOS app, and claims the technology makes the user journey even simpler for customer service questions, allowing people to easily interact with Very.co.uk representatives in a format that they are adept at using on a day-to-day basis. 

Developed in-house by Shop Direct’s multi-award-winning eCommerce team, Very Assistant works by asking the app user if they need any help. The customer is then presented with a sequence of questions and multiple action options, which the customer taps within the chat environment. The customer’s answers enable the platform to instantly serve up the information they are looking for. 

Jonathan Wall, eCommerce director at Shop Direct said: “This fully native platform is squarely focused on what our customers need. It’s delivered through our app because that’s where they want to have questions answered. It’s also the best place for us to collect feedback and constantly improve Very Assistant. 

“We think this new technology will simplify our user journey, improve satisfaction, and help to boost efficiency in our customer service operation. It’s also the first step towards ‘natural language’, AI-driven CUI – which is something we’re hugely excited about.” 

Customers can use Very Assistant to make a payment on their Very.co.uk account, check their payment dates, track an order, confirm that recent payments have been processed and request a reminder of their account number. 

Retailers that shun technology risk major dip in consumer confidence…

Three quarters (75 per cent) of UK shoppers say they have more confidence in retailers that use up-to-date technology, with Londoners and the under-35s considered the most judgmental. 

Conducted to support the launch of Worldpay’s My Business Hub till system – an all-in one, tablet based point-of-sale (POS) created to help independent retailers transition into the digital age – the payment company’s research found that 80 per cent of respondents in these demographic groups said they are more likely to trust retailers that utilise up-to-date technology than those that do not. Many state tech-savvy retailers come across as more professional and committed to improving the overall experience. 

Among the 2,000 consumers surveyed, only seven per cent said they had concerns that technology could get in the way of delivering the type of experience they were looking for in-store. 

Retailers that refuse debit and credit card payments provoked a particularly strong reaction within the research, as one in five under-35s said they would be concerned about the quality of products in stores that only took cash, and a further 22 per cent have abandoned purchases when their preferred payment option is not available.  

Dave Hobday, UK managing director at Worldpay, said: “Consumers still have a strong connection to the high street, but technology has transformed their expectations. Today’s digitally driven shoppers want to be able to research their purchases online, seek advice from staff in-store, pay in any way that they choose, and return items at the click of a button. Businesses that fail to offer that level of service are increasingly viewed with suspicion. 

“80 per cent of consumers think retailers could be making better use of technology to improve the instore experience, so it’s reassuring that similar proportions of high street businesses see technology as holding the key to their future survival. Innovations like My Business Hub ensure that great technology is easily accessible to all business. Small businesses need to embrace change and digitally evolve in order to thrive as part of a modern and diverse high street.”   

Cash only payments, handwritten receipts and the lack of a website were among the main ‘technology triggers’ which led consumers to think twice about whether or not to part with their money. 41 per cent of consumers said trustworthy retailers make it easy to pay by card as well as cash; while 39 per cent said they trusted retailers who offered digital receipts to make returns easier.  

Learn more about ‘MyBusinessHub’ here 

Capita and Tesco Mobile form customer experience focused partnership…

The international business process outsourcing and professional services company, Capita Plc, has announced its partnership with Tesco Mobile to enhance its existing ‘award-winning’ customer service strategy using technology and service design methods.

The deal, which is reported to be worth an estimated £140 million, will run for an initial five-year term and is due to commence on August 1, 2016.

Chief executive at Capita, Andy Parker, said: “With more than 4.6 million customers in the UK, Tesco Mobile is a quality brand renowned for its excellent customer services and, as a result, market leading levels of customer satisfaction. Capita is ideally placed to work in close partnership with Tesco Mobile to continue to enhance the customer experience through greater knowledge of customer behaviours, technology advancements and innovation.

He continued: “Capita has extensive experience working with household names in the private sector and we will leverage our customer experience transformation expertise to enable Tesco Mobile to continue providing flexible, market leading services for customers.”

Approximately 550 permanent employees will transfer to Capita following due consultation under TUPE regulations, and a further 240 temporary staff will continue to work on the Tesco Mobile account under Capita’s management.

Guest Blog, Nassar Hussain: Why retailers need to embrace the mobile technology movement…

The concept of mobility is influencing consumers and changing their expectations from retailers. It is integrated into their day-to-day lives and they want to expand this relatively new platform to every shopping experience. Nassar Hussain, managing director Europe and Africa at SOTI, looks at how the retail landscape has changed, why in-store technology has succumbed to an inactive status, and what approaches retailers must adopt in order to meet growing customer demands and transform their business to remain competitive

Changing landscape

The retail landscape has dramatically changed in the past ten years; the days of consumers only visiting brick-and-mortar stores and retailers competing with a small number of mail order businesses has changed beyond recognition. The introduction of internet retailing following by the revolution in smart devices continually changes consumer shopping habits and the pace of traction is highlighted by the fact that, according to statistics from the Interactive Media in Retail Group (IMRG), sales via smartphones has increased by 101 per cent during March 2016.

A study SOTI conducted this year, ‘Retail Mobility: The Changing Face of the European Shopping Experience – 2016’ has proved that consumers want to use technology in-store, and not only to order a product online if it isn’t in stock – with 62 per cent of smartphone users more likely to take immediate action in this area – but to add to their overall experience. In order to support these changing habits, retailers must rethink their approach to the installation of in store technology and consider the benefits that this could potentially produce.

So what’s holding retailers back from embracing this avenue and creating additional sales?

Uncertainty

It is certainly not the technology that is holding retailers back; we now have agile mobile technology that meets consumer demands. However, the one missing element I believe we don’t have is the correct mindset.

It is apparent that retailers want to embrace new technology. However, based on previous experience where 48 per cent of Britons claimed that self-service checkouts were a nightmare’, retailers feel that if they were to introduce technology advances too quickly, customers may instantly reject the change and therefore result in sales losses.

They may now pat themselves on their backs for implementing point of sale terminals, but they need to still think bigger and not let out-of-date thinking hinder their innovation.

Retailers must follow the lead of industry pioneers, such as Amazon, and not take what they do on a daily basis for granted. They must look to disrupt the market, break down the barriers and take the next step; as in Amazon’s case, it uses existing customer data to upsell relevant products. Subsequently, if others opt to follow the e-tailer’s strategy and incorporate in-store mobile technology, it would allow them to utilise customer data in a similar way and increase customer engagement levels.

So what’s next?

To convince the retail industry to endorse the mobile technology culture, it needs the guidance of brick-and-mortar retailers to lead the way. This is currently being steered by the big four supermarkets, as they already show signs of increased mobility and other retailers must innovate to stay competitive. This is essential to meet consumer demands for a more rounded retail experience and implementing mobile technology will allow retailers to expand their offering, improve the overall customer experience, increase sales opportunities and open endless possibilities for growth in the future.

 

Nassar is the sales director for the European and South African regions at SOTI, a position he has held since joining in 2009. Nassar has established significant strategic partnerships and customer relationships to bring SOTI’s industry leading mobile device management solution, MobiControl, to customers across Europe.

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