As technology becomes ever more important as fashion retailers compete for customer spend, Drapers looks back at some of the year’s biggest technological advancements and best new tech.
tk maxx chatbot resized
Artificial intelligence (AI) entered the mainstream in 2016. The advance of AI, used for both customer-facing chatbots and improving back of house operations, has been tipped to help retailers transform customer experience. Etailer Shop Direct was one of the first to embrace the technology, launching a WhatsApp-style customer service function within its Very app. Named Very Assistant, the new technology presents customers with a sequence of questions and multiple choice options to determine the need.
Burberry and TK Maxx both used bots within Facebook Messenger to add another channel to their Christmas campaigns. Burberry’s bot allows customers to move through the story of founder Thomas Burberry and also provides access to Burberry’s gift range. TK Maxx’s Facebook Messenger bot, called Baby Oracle after the youngest member of its TV campaign, is a personal shopping assistant designed to stop people buying boring gifts. Although some retailers are still reluctant to use machines to communicate with customers, chatbots and AI will only become more widespread throughout 2017.
Although still at the bleeding edge, deliveries by drone looks increasingly like becoming a reality. Amazon has partnered with the UK government to explore how the flying vehicles could be used safely used safely in the logistics industry, successfully carrying out its first Amazon Air delivery in December. The order took just 13 minutes to reach its destination in Cambridgeshire. Amazon chief executive Jeff Bezos has said drones will one day be as common as delivery trucks and the etailer seems determined to make it so. Across the Atlantic, Google is also testing drones.
The sharing economy
Picture-sharing platform Instagram added a wave of new business functions throughout 2016. The launch of Instagram stories caused a bit of a stir when it first launched in September, drawing comparisons with rival platform Snapchat, but the function has widely adopted by retailers including Topshop, Public Desire and Dune. Stories gives consumers a “behind the scenes” look at their favourite retailers in real time.
Instagram also introduced business profiles and – crucially – started to expand its ecommerce capabilities. In a trial with 20 US brands, including Kate Space and J Crew, retailers will be allowed to show prices and product descriptions in their posts. Consumers can then tap a “shop now” link, taking them the product on the retailer’s website.
In one of the year’s most impressive tech projects, German etailer Zalando worked with Google Zoo and digital studio Stinkdigital on a project that allows users to create their own fashion designs using machine learning. The Zalando collaboration created a design engine that incorporates the style preferences of more than 600 influencers.
Consumers at Berlin’s Bread & Butter show could then answer three questions and the design engine would translate the answers into a virtual design. Although the project was just a trial, Google has said it expects machine learning in fashion to develop further.
Ted Baker caught the industry’s attention with its innovative use of Google’s voice search, the first fashion application of the technology. As part of the retailer’s spy-themed Mission Impeccable campaign for autumn 16, shoppers could unlock vouchers and prizes instore by saying “code words” printed on store windows into the voice search function on Google’s mobile app. Ted Baker said it wanted to use voice search as the technology is accessible but unusual enough to make an impression in a world where retailers are looking to reinvent the in-store experience.
River island 2
Although perhaps not strictly a technology trend, retailers were busy planning and unveiling impressive new spaces for their tech teams throughout the year. River Island opened a new office entirely dedicated to technology in Shoreditch, east London, describing the space as “a big indication of our commitment to technology.”
Yoox Net-a-Porter Group revealed plans to bring all its technology teams together under one roof next year in a west London hub, and Shop Direct is also set to open a London office for people working across data, ecommerce and IT.