HBC be­lieves it can use tech­nol­ogy to thrive even as Ama­zon grows

Edmonton Journal - - FINANCIAL POST - HOLLIE SHAW

Ama­zon need not be a bo­gey­man for all re­tail­ers, given what dig­i­tal ex­perts are learn­ing about con­sumer shop­ping pat­terns.

Some re­tail­ers have seen their store-based traf­fic in­crease after sell­ing cer­tain ex­clu­sive prod­ucts on Ama­zon, while oth­ers note con­sumers are us­ing the on­line gi­ant as a brows­ing tool for prod­ucts be­fore they buy at a store, says Jorge Carrasqueiro, di­rec­tor of dig­i­tal mar­ket­ing at Hud­son’s Bay Co.

“We have seen that many con­sumers read Ama­zon re­views be­fore go­ing to buy lo­cally,” Carrasqueiro told an in­dus­try con­fer­ence in Toronto on Tues­day.

Still, in an en­vi­ron­ment of de­clin­ing mall vis­its, Ama­zon rep­re­sents 51 cents out of ev­ery $1 of on­line growth, he noted. At the same time, only one in four shop­pers say they have a favourite re­tailer, mak­ing it a crit­i­cal time for mer­chants to lever­age tech­nol­ogy in order to re­main rel­e­vant to con­sumers.

“The in­tel­li­gence and in­sight pro­vided by search (mar­ket­ing) is in­valu­able for mar­keters to­day,” he said. “We want a com­plete view of our cus­tomers across all chan­nels to drive ac­tual in­sights.” Tech­nolo­gies such as machine learn­ing are help­ing to drive re­tail re­search about cus­tomer in­sights, Carrasqueiro said.

“We are re­ally ex­cited at HBC about AI (ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence sys­tems). As an ex­am­ple, if you search on Google Home or Alexa for a suit to wear to a wedding, it will pro­vide you with not only the prod­uct in­for­ma­tion but con­tex­tual in­for­ma­tion about the oc­ca­sion.” Those tech­nolo­gies will help re­tail­ers time ad­ver­tis­ing strate­gi­cally to suit a cus­tomer’s needs, he said.

Still, de­spite as­sur­ances from better-per­form­ing tra­di­tional re­tail­ers about their prospects, trep­i­da­tion is high in the in­dus­try. Hun­dreds of depart­ment stores have closed in the U.S. where HBC op­er­ates Lord & Tay­lor, Saks Fifth Ave and its as­sorted off-price ban­ners. Spe­cialty chains have also been hit hard, spark­ing the clo­sure of Bebe and Toys ‘R’ Us in the U.S., while oth­ers such as Nine West, jew­elry chain Claire’s and depart­ment store Bon Ton Stores Inc. filed for Chap­ter 11 bank­ruptcy pro­tec­tion this year.

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