Nobal iMirror

Omnichannel Retail: Competing in new and innovative ways

As technology blurs the distinctions between physical and online retail, retailers will need to rethink their competitive strategies. We chat with Thomas Battle at Nobal who are enabling retailers to bridge the gap between offline and online through their iMirror technology.

Talk to us about your latest venture and what excites you about it.

Right now retail is undergoing a revolution where the definition of shopping is being re-defined. Is the future of retail entirely digital? Does brick-and-mortar still excite shoppers enough to bring them into stores? Will a combination of e-commerce and physical sales drive customers to purchase more?

We believe that the future of retail is experiential shopping that combines the best features of e-commerce with the best of a brick-and-mortar store. Customers will come to a store to partake in an experience and just happen to buy a fully customized product which will be sent to their home via drone.

Experiences will range from workouts to educational workshops to community meetups during which customers will be surrounded by a tailored brand, community and set of products that shoppers will engage with on an emotional level. Shoppers will build outfits that match their personalities and then have it delivered directly to their homes.

We’ve built the iMirror, the world’s most advanced interactive mirror, to be the digital interface that facilitates the experiences delivered by these stores. The iMirror brings every mirror in the store to life and allows brands to engage their customers with an intuitive digital experience. Our flagship experience, the digital fitting room, is already allowing customers to get product recommendations, order out of stock inventory, and communicate with sales associates in real time anywhere in the store.

Re-imagining and re-inventing an industry with major retail thought leaders, and building products that change the way we interact with the physical and the digital worlds is incredibly exciting.

Nobal’s iMirror bring online commerce into the physical store.

What do you see as the biggest challenges in retail these days?

The biggest challenge in retail is creating those unique in-store experiences. A production that draws in people not just to shop, but to learn, interact and enjoy.  Right now every store needs to look at themselves and ask “Is coming into my store a fun or amazing enough experience that I overcome the convenience of buying products online?” Creating these experiences is hard and the companies exploring this space are exploring a new frontier of opportunities. That being said, for the first companies to discover how to do this right, there is a lot of long-term upsides.

 

What are the most important trends that you see and how do you see retail changing in the next 5 years?

Combining physical and digital sales channels into truly omnichannel experiences is probably the most important trend currently in retail. Most companies have siloed their online and brick-and-mortar experiences and they don’t talk to each other. Each sales channel has their own value and issues, by combining the best features of both, you create an environment in which your customers have a much better experience in your stores.

Immersive in-store experiences created with the iMirror

 

What makes a great omnichannel experience? Are there any companies that you think are nailing it in this space?

Great omnichannel strategies are ones that seamlessly integrate the technology into the environment around you. Technologies like tablets are at a huge disadvantage because they take you out of the shopping experience. Companies like Perch are doing a great job of this seamless omnichannel integration in places like Sephora, (and us of course!).

Nike and Perch Omni-channel Retailing Experience

Perch in collaboration with Nike – reimagining the retail store experience based on merging the Physical + Digital.

What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as a business leader?

Task prioritization is one of the hardest things in the world to do and (at the same time) one of the most valuable things to get right. For me, I work through living To Do lists that keep me on track at a macro and micro level throughout the day.

What is the one book that you recommend our audience should read and why?

The Up Side of Down is one of my favourite books. As a startup, it is key to celebrate and embrace failure. Failure is how we learn and grow as human beings. Once we start fearing failure, we become stagnant and cease to grow.

What is the one piece of advice that you would give to business leaders looking to incorporate innovation into their strategy? What’s the best way to make that happen?

Right now, no one knows what the store of the future is going to look like. In 15 years, it is going to seem like the most obvious thing in the world as to what experiences become omnipresent in retail. The market is ultimately going to decide what works and what does not. Companies that take risks, test and iterate on as many innovations as possible will be in a much better position to take advantage of the huge upside that comes from being the first to market with a new breed of the shopping experience. The only other option is to risk going the way of Sears and Toys R Us.

 

How Retailers Can Leverage Innovation and A.I.

Innovation is an essential component to success in retail today and into the future. 

Kostas Koukoravas speaks to Validify‘s CEO, Fergal O’Mullane, about the biggest innovations in fashion retail and how retailers can leverage technology to stay ahead of the curve.

 

Talk to us about your latest venture and how did you come up with the idea.

Validify helps leading retailers access curated and vetted information on the latest emerging retail technology from around the world. I have been working in the retail tech space in London for the last 15 years, consumer shopping behaviour has transformed in this time on the back of transformative innovation, in particular, the use of smartphones and social media. The number of tech companies launching new solutions has also increased exponentially and retailers are finding it increasingly difficult to identify the right technology for them.

We founded Validify to help retailers to discover groundbreaking innovation and to help streamline the selection and adoption process.

 

What are the most interesting applications of A.I. in the retail industry?

It’s very early days for AI in retail. Artificial intelligence is an overused term and encompasses a number of areas from machine learning to deep learning all the way through to image recognition and natural learning processing (NPL) that underpins voice technology. At present, the application of AI in the retail industry is limited or in ‘pilot’ phase. Despite current limitations, there are interesting applications of AI in the areas of personalisation, stock inventory, search and customer service (chatbots).

Personalisation

Retailers turning to machine learning and predictive analytics to serve up personalised content and product recommendations to their customers. Whilst conceptually not new (Amazon has led the way in this for years), the detailed level of customer and product attributes that can now be assessed in real-time significantly improves personal experience.

 

 

Inventory Management

AI is used to automatically analyse swathes of data to predict demand, forecast inventory and replenish in real time. Can reduce stocks, excess build-ups and the need for markdowns. It also enables retailers to stock the store with different products depending on demographics.

 

Image analysis

Prevalent in the beauty industry, facial recognition technology being used to provide customers with personalised recommendations based on skin types. Image analysis also being used in-store to analyse customer footprint and sentiments in relation to the environment and product.

 

Panasonic showcases its new Future Mirror at CEATEC 2016

Chatbots

Though still in relatively early stages, NLP being used to enable these ‘bots’ to interpret human language and sentiment in order to respond in ‘human-like’, conversational manner. Similar to the technology being used in Amazon Alexa and Google Home etc.

 

Can you give us some examples of the most innovative companies in retail? What makes them stand out?

There are some great examples of innovation coming from both mature retailers and the newest online players.

H&M is a great example of a company that used to lag behind. However, in recent years has deployed innovative technology across the business including investing in automated warehousing, employing AI driven inventory management technology to its recent development of voice-activated mirrors in its flagship store in New York. Ikea is another great example of a company embracing innovation as a core pillar of their business. They continue to invest in new technologies such as AR and VR whilst partnering with Apple and Amazon to further their technology ambitions. They were one of the first to use AR in a practical application enabling customers to visualize product in their homes without ever going near a store.

 

 

On the other side of the spectrum, new retail incumbent Stichfix is innovating with fashion design, using AI to create and design garments reactively to consumer opinions/ buying habits.

What makes these companies stand out is their understanding that innovation and technology is core to the future of their business, not an afterthought. In particular, these companies are willing to experiment with new technologies ahead of their competitors via trial and error. The acceptance that failure is part of the innovating process and the ability to move on quickly will enable these retailers to potentially stay ahead of the curve.

What are the biggest barriers to adopting innovation for mature companies?

Mature companies are often burdened by legacy technology, processes that prohibit technology adoption and a culture that doesn’t foster innovation. Mature businesses working off legacy technology lack the agility to adapt to the pace of change we are currently seeing in the retail space. This is conflated by the elongated internal processes and decision-making often found in larger, more mature companies. The culture of ‘innovation’ has traditionally been harder to foster in more mature companies often seen as the responsibility of a single person/ team to manage. Without company-wide acceptance that innovation is necessary it acts as a barrier to adoption especially in the current climate where retailer budgets are under increasing pressure. Finally, many companies (not just mature) struggle to know ‘how’ to innovate, what technologies to employ and where to source them.

 

“…businesses need to take a more agile,  test and learn approach to innovation…don’t be afraid to fail, but fail fast…this is the approach taken by the most successful businesses in the world…”

What are some good ways to overcome them?

To overcome some of these challenges you often have to start to form the top – getting senior management to embrace innovate and make a commitment to invest in doing so. Also, businesses need to take a more agile,  test and learn approach to innovation…don’t be afraid to fail, but fail fast…this is the approach taken by the most successful businesses in the world…including the biggest retailer Amazon.

What do you think the impact of Brexit will be in London as an innovation hub?

Without having a crystal ball, it is difficult to predict the exact impact Brexit will have. There are concerns that incredible talent available in London will move out. The reality is that London already relies on talent and companies outside the UK to help support it as an innovation hub. At Validfy we continue to work every day with technology companies looking to settle in London and build out their teams. There are still huge investments being made into the UK in general and some of the biggest technology companies are still setting up in London.  The UK has over 5million start-ups and that continues to grow – made ever more apparent by the number of co-working spaces popping up in London to support the ecosystem. We do not believe that London will collapse as an innovation hub overnight but it may need to adapt.

What is the one piece of advice that you would give to business leaders looking to incorporate innovation into their strategy?

The first step should be ensuring you truly understand who your customer is, what value you deliver them and what can you do to deliver the best possible customer experience. Innovation is a powerful enabler, but the fundamentals of being a successful retailer haven’t changed, you need to deliver a great product and a great customer experience.

Retailers also need to take a more agile approach to innovation, they need encourage a test and learn the methodology to innovation…it’s ok if something doesn’t work, pilot it, if it works roll it out, if it fails throw it out, the important thing is to fail fast!

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