Since its inception in 2016, Shoptalk established a new zenith for what retail industry conferences will be judged. Big, brash, tight, and epic are all adjectives that describe the Las Vegas event that has become, at least in my opinion, retailing’s “must attend” annual gathering. Hence, like every other COVID-19 induced cancelation, it was going to leave a void.
In mid-June, I was happy to learn that Shoptalk Meetup, a first-ever virtual event scheduled for October 20-22, would be substituted. The broad-brush plans talked about facilitating some 20,000 meetings among some 2,500 virtual attendees. It was promised to be a groundbreaking event. Given the organizers’ track record, that had cred.
The tactical wizardry necessary to pull off an event of such complexity, in a mere four months was facilitated by the Shoptalk teams’ proprietary technology, workflows, and scheduling algorithms, integrated with interactive video capabilities. The planners expected to allow attendees to participate in up to 36 mostly 15-minute one-on-one and group meetings.
Attendees started by creating in-depth profiles, the underpinnings for the what’s, whys and wherefores for requested meetups. The audience was a broad mix of retailers, brands, solution providers, tech companies, startups, media, equity analysts and agencies that chose to participate. The data input led to multiple-level matching of attendees, which was further facilitated by a single-purpose app acting as everyone’s meet-up map. The outcome was nothing short of sensational. Think speed-dating meets retail-tech spiel.
I took twelve meetings, with a total of around 18 people, over the three-day period, clearly at the lower-end of the meetup spectrum. My focus was on retail tech, with an emphasis on customer experience. Because many of the meetings were staged back-to-back, we all soon perfected the “quick wrap” before the timer brought the mini meetups to an abrupt end. Here is a brief sampling of a few of the companies I met with.
I spoke with Abhay Mahajan, Omnivor’s CFO and head of business development, they are a product of the Seattle based “startup studio” Kernel Labs. Omnivor is a pioneer in 3D Holographic content, providing 3-D images, pop-up experiences, holographic videos, and telepresence. They also provide the capability to do building, hosting, compressing, and streaming of 3D Holographic content.
Their deep tech AI solution for 3D content is being used both online and in stores. Fully manipulative real-life 3D holographic images allow 360-degree control of the hologram. They enable fashion items to be properly sized to the shopper’s body type, creating an immersive and highly personalized product experience. They are working with Nike NKE , Ikea, Amazon, and T-Mobile, and are in their third SKU roll-out for Nike with plans for an upcoming 100 SKU production.
Personalization has become the gold standard for digital marketing leaders. And this year Gartner added ZineOne to its “2020 Magic Quadrant for Personalization Engines” under the category of Niche Players. I spoke with Debjani Deb, ZineOne’s CEO, and one of the few women CEOs among the enterprise startups. This is her second go-around, after successfully building a start-up to 500 employees and selling it in 2011.
Debjani refers to her “customer DNA mapping” company as the Uber UBER for retail brands. Its Intelligent Consumer Engagement (ICE) platform is used for digital commerce personalization, focusing on helping users leverage in-session behavior and machine learning to optimize key moments in a customer’s purchase experience. A recognized department store leader (for which I was sworn to secrecy) is receiving a 30% lift in conversions using the machine learning engagements.
With the catastrophic disruption that COVID-19 brought to retailers in a very short period, ZineOne was able to respond quickly with something they call “Speed to Sense” which blends advanced data analytics with AI and Machine Learning to increase the rate at which the ICE platform can learn consumer behaviors while maintaining strong predictive accuracy.
Streem activates a customer’s smart device camera to become a real-time sales associate or smart field technician. They offer drop-in AR content to help customers visualize solutions, from unboxing a new product to trouble-shooting an installation, while employing real-time contextual support.
I spoke with Lindsay Merkle, director of Business Development for Streem. The company has been involved in machine learning and computer vision software for about a decade. Steem was recently featured in an Apple AAPL Augmented Reality Business guide in conjunction with the launch of a software development kit (SDK) that uses its proprietary AR and AI-enabled platform. The kit will enable companies to develop their own tailored AR apps and remote collaboration tools, fully branded, and specifically adapted to their needs.
Streem is currently working with “Lowe’s LOW for Pos” in guiding product application in the field, as well as Best Buy’s BBY In-home Advisor services to become “eyes and ears in the field”. They are assisting in transforming the customer experience across multiple stages of the customer journey.
Pick ‘n’ Watch
Consumer empowerment, and making the store smarter, is something I have been writing about for over a decade. Now thanks to smart tech there can be a virtual sales assistant wherever required, to aid in the quick boot-up of product features and benefits. The companies plug and play technology utilizes small sensors that respond to subtle touch or movement of a product to activate a video screen. Additionally, the data from the interaction is collected, sliced, and diced to provide a myriad of analytics about interactions, conversions, activity, heat-maps etc.
In discussing the IOT technology with Erhan Ark, the founder and CEO, I learned that companies like Lowe’s, Ace hardware, and McKesson MCK are on-board. Ikea is using the Pick ‘n’ Watch technology at its unique non-stocking showroom concept and planning studio in New York’s Upper East Side, which I reported on in April of 2019.
Arguably one of the smallest, but by no means least significant of the companies that I engaged with was Voicefront’s CEO and co-founder Yoav Oz. He likes to refer to his start-up as the Shopify of voice commerce. This is his second venture and they have received $1.5 million in seed funding and are entering a second-round of private funding. Voicefront makes Alexa your best sales associate by giving her insight to your store’s complete offering.
The SaaS platform for e-commerce merchants provides the retailer with their own voice store with an AI powered sales assistant that sells their products using smart speaker devices such as Alexa and Google GOOG Assistant. They have a partnership with Amazon Pay AMZN which offers a seamless customer experience.
The overall take-away that I got in talking with the various virtual attendees was that the conference, while not replacing the more multifaceted, multimedia glam of Shoptalk was highly efficient and greatly beneficial. Some of the participants even went so far as to suggest that the format could become a valid and bona fide complement to the full show in years to come, as our “new abnormal” begins to take shape.
Source: Forbes – Business