In collaboration with Member, Hammerson, we explored the implications of emerging technologies for retailers online and in store.
New technologies such as AI, VR and AR are providing retailers with exciting new opportunities to engage and delight customers. On Wednesday 30th November in Hammerson's King's Cross offices, we explored different applications of these technologies as well as their future potential and pitfalls.
We heard from a panel including Alastair Harvey, chief solutions officer at Cortexica, Henry Cowling, head of VR and creative director of Unit9 and Philip Handford and Amy Green, respectively chief creative and marketing manager at Campaign.
Here's what we learnt.
One application of artificial intelligence is image recognition, or as Cortexica chief solutions officer Alastair Harvey puts it, "making computers see how we see". Image recognition and visual search does not require words or tags unlike traditional search methods. "It removes and transcends language, intelligence and ability," said Alastair. "It’s a very unifying thing." Born out of the bioengineering department of Imperial College London, Cortexica harness the technology of image and visual recognition for retailers to enhance customer experience both in-store and online.
The technology is already being applied to great effect in e-commerce. For example, John Lewis’ app uses it to present shoppers with similar looking garments to whatever they are viewing. This removes barriers to the online shopping experience and makes it more similar to browsing in store.
Berlin-based startup Zalando can analyse a piece of clothing in a photo and then bring up similar items from its inventory. The software looks at colour, pattern and shape so will recognise a garment even when it is folded on a shelf.
Image recognition is also creating new opportunities with shoppable video. "Streaming is the new scrolling," said Alistair, who demonstrated how highlighting clothes in a video can prompt a computer to find similar items available to purchase.
"Anything we imagine we can create now," Unit 9’s head of VR and creative director Henry Cowling told an inspired audience. The innovative production studio has a dedicated VR divison that works with brands to deliver immersive storytelling experiences. Henry explained that as VR headsets become sleeker and less embarrassing to wear (see this Tumblr devoted to headset-cringe, for example), the technology will begin to rival more traditional means of consuming media.
VR could also be the next evolution of social networking. Mark Zuckerberg’s plans for Facebook point towards the network becoming more about socialising a virtual space, where people interact via avatars that can express emotion.
"I believe social VR is the point of VR," said Henry. Unit 9 has already experimented with social VR in a product for Samsung. Bedtime VR stories, developed with BBH London, enables parents to tell their kids a bedtime story remotely. Both parent and child wear a headset and share the same virtual experience as if they were side by side.
Blending online and in store
"What do luxury customers want from their experience?" asked Campaign Design founder Philip Handford. His design agency specialises in crafting engaging retail experiences for clients including adidas, Selfridges and Dunhill. Philip explained that the best experiences had three key parts:
Connected. A connected experience helps the customer to feel in control. While shopping, they want their own mood and preferences to be paramount.
Curated. Customers look to brands to help them discover what they are looking for. In fact, 73 per cent of people prefer to shop with brands that use personal information to make the experience more relevant.
Convenient. People buy online because it is easy, however it lacks the more meaningful experience that can take place in store. Bricks and mortar retailers need to maximise the convenience factor while enabling customers to play with products.
For more depth around this topic, Members can read our interview with Philip.
Thanks to our speakers, and to Rob Parfitt for the photos from the evening.
90 York Way,
London, N1 9GE,
Start:30th November, 2016 at 6:30pm
End:30th November, 2016 at 8:30pm
Cost:Free by invitation to Hammerson guests and YCN Company Members