Re­tail­ers worry about keep­ing up

The Buffalo News - - BUSINESS NEWS -

DATA •fromB6

she said, will be used to make their shop­ping ex­pe­ri­ences eas­ier.

“I think the world will evolve that way,” she said. “Peo­ple are al­ready play­ing around with those things.”

A pre­sen­ta­tion by FaceFirst demon­strated how re­tail­ers could use fa­cial-recog­ni­tion tech­nol­ogy to en­gage cus­tomers after they walked into stores.

The com­pany’s chief ex­ec­u­tive, Peter Trepp, showed how stores could send au­to­matic text mes­sages to shop­pers and re­ceive their pro­files to as­sist them bet­ter. He showed an ex­am­ple of a pro­file, which con­tained a shop­per’s visit his­tory, the min­utes she spent in the store on her last trip, what she bought dur­ing that visit and the sum of her on­line pur­chases with the store’s chain.

In an email ex­change after the con­fer­ence, Trepp em­pha­sized that the com­pany was fo­cused on the pri­vacy and se­cu­rity of cus­tomer data. He said “most of what we’ve sold in the past is re­lated to loss pre­ven­tion and mit­i­gat­ing or­ga­nized re­tail crime.”

“How­ever,” Trepp said, “we see our busi­ness shift­ing to­ward pro­vid­ing so­lu­tions for im­prov­ing the cus­tomer ex­pe­ri­ence and be­lieve that optin so­lu­tions like these will be­come the largest part of our busi­ness in the fu­ture. We are work­ing with sev­eral large re­tail­ers on this to­day.”

The chal­lenge of gath­er­ing more in­for­ma­tion from stores – which lack the reams of cus­tomer data col­lected by re­tail­ers on­line – was fur­ther high­lighted in a pre­sen­ta­tion from Or­bital In­sight, a com­pany that uses satel­lite im­agery for a va­ri­ety of anal­y­sis, in­clud­ing count­ing cars in park­ing lots to help gauge traf­fic to re­tail chains.

James Craw­ford, the com­pany’s founder and chief ex­ec­u­tive, said that within the last year, the com­pany had added ge­olo­ca­tion data from cell­phones to its of­fer­ings. While the data is anony­mous, a unique num­ber is as­so­ci­ated with each phone so the com­pany can study traf­fic pat­terns within malls or other “trade ar­eas,” he said.

Craw­ford said that while re­tail­ers knew the foot traf­fic in their own stores, they weren’t typ­i­cally aware of what was hap­pen­ing in front of their stores or else­where in a mall or com­mu­nity.

Or­bital In­sight can gather ge­olo­ca­tion data from 10 to 20 per­cent of phones in any mall, he said, with pings every 15 min­utes on av­er­age. The com­pany said in an email that it gath­ered in­for­ma­tion from ven­dors that draw data from “a com­bi­na­tion of safety, so­cial, fam­ily and weather apps,” and that it worked only with those that re­quired con­sent for location ser­vices.

While many con­ver­sa­tions dur­ing the week cen­tered on data – one re­tailer even men­tioned the term “off­line cookie” to re­fer to in-per­son brows­ing in­for­ma­tion – re­tail­ers are also try­ing other tac­tics to drum up busi­ness at their stores.

“We have to ad­mit we’re not just in the prod­uct busi­ness any­more,” Daniella Vi­tale, chief ex­ec­u­tive of the Bar­neys depart­ment store chain, said in an in­ter­view. “The ex­pec­ta­tion of what a re­tail ex­pe­ri­ence should be is be­yond just good prod­uct and ex­cel­lent cus­tomer ser­vice.”

As the var­i­ous tech­no­log­i­cal ex­per­i­ments showed, Amer­ica’s old­est re­tail­ers are aware of how chal­leng­ing the re­tail land­scape re­mains.

When asked about her big­gest fear, Foulkes of Hud­son’s Bay said, “Our own in­abil­ity to move fast enough.” Erik Nord­strom, a co-pres­i­dent of his fam­ily’s chain, said that while the com­pany’s strate­gic choices and di­rec­tion had been right, “we need to be more agile.”

And Art Peck, chief ex­ec­u­tive of Gap Inc., which just spun off its Old Navy brand, closed his pre­sen­ta­tion with three words that he said the com­pany’s founder, Don Fisher, used to say fre­quently: “Change or fail.”

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