Hi-tech targets you, the buyer

Retail expo shows gadgets merchants hope will keep them relevant.
The Big Show expo demonstrates a growing emphasis on the personalisation of retailing. Photo / Bloomberg
The Big Show expo demonstrates a growing emphasis on the personalisation of retailing. Photo / Bloomberg

If you're staying at a hotel and realise you didn't quite pack right for your trip, apparel retailer Gap wants to come to your rescue.

At Virgin Hotels, guests can open the establishment's app, Lucy, and reserve items for purchase from Gap. The idea is customers may want to buy a jacket if the weather is unexpectedly cold, or workout gear if they realise they have time for a jog. The concierge picks up the order at a local Gap store, stows it in the guest's closet and puts the purchase on their tab.

"The ability to share each other's customers, that acquisition is of high value," Tricia Nichols, Gap's global lead of consumer engagement and partnerships, told the National Retail Federation's Big Show.

It's an experimental way for Gap to sell clothes, and it shows how far retailers are venturing out of their comfort zone as they aim to stay relevant: Consumers are spending more time on their gadgets, and on-demand delivery and transport apps are conditioning them to expect greater speed and convenience.

The NRF's expo, which has drawn thousands of retail professionals to New York this week, has been heavy on demonstrations and discussions of similarly minded attempts to drum up bigger sales by catering to newly emerging shopping preferences or with new technologies.

Chocolate giant Hershey says it has tested an in-store display using facial-recognition technology. When shoppers smile, they get a free piece of chocolate. (And sorry, chocolate lovers, the technology can tell when you come back for seconds.)

Hershey is also testing ways it can use technology to personalise its treats. It has implemented 3-D printing in the Hershey's Chocolate World store, where shoppers can watch their snacks being made. And in some Giant Eagle stores, Hershey has machines that let shoppers personalise the packaging of an oversized Hershey's Kiss. It has doubled sales of associated Kiss products in stores.

"This is a way to really capture and transition from impulse purchase to more of a planned purchase," said Hershey's Michele Buck.

Like Hershey, other brands were showing off technology to turn shopping into a memorable experience.

At Intel's booth, demonstrators showed how its RealSense 3-D cameras were being tested in some stores to measure shoppers' feet.

The shopper stands on a platform with embedded cameras which scan their feet within about three seconds.

Shoppers get detailed information about not only size but also slight differences in, say, the widths of their feet, helping the retailer to guide them to a well-suited pair of shoes.

Wander the long aisles of booths at the expo and you'll also see plenty of attempts to improve the online shopping experience. Outdoor-apparel seller North Face is turning to software designed to mimic online the experience of having a real-life personal shopper. Customers can answer a series of questions in a conversational way, such as saying they're looking for something that will be good to wear in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, in February.

Technology that relies on IBM Watson will help figure out what item that shopper should buy. Watson's natural-language processing ability will process the shopper's request, and the system will analyse the likely weather, among other things, and suggest a jacket.

- Washington Post

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