How to Better Excite Customers via Machine Learning, VR, and More

Machine learning, virtual reality (VR), and pop-up stores are increasingly crucial to industries such as retail, as they help organizations deliver an easier — and more exciting — customer experience.

“We have invested heavily in machine learning … to automate the ease of the shopping experience,” Walmart Executive Vice President and CTO Jeremy King said onstage at NRF 2019. Imagine how long it takes a busy parent to manually add 100 grocery items to a virtual shopping cart, for example; now contrast that with automation that intuits what each shopper needs, whittling the process to mere seconds. “Building that kind of experience is really important.”

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Delivering the digital customer experience (CX) — from small and midsize enterprises to an expansive website such as Walmart’s, with tens of millions of products — requires integrating data from all channels, including online and in store.

Getting the Most Out of Your Tech and Data

“I need to tie [brick-and-mortar] shopping experience into the online experience,” Walmart’s King said at NRF 2019.
“It’s not just the carousels that say, ‘People who bought this also bought that’ … We have good data; 140 million people walk into a Walmart every week,” King said. “I need to tie that shopping experience into the online experience so when you come in, I know you buy makeup, you buy this type of milk, you buy this type of toys.”

The goal is to help shoppers easily navigate Walmart’s extensive inventory, finding what they want and need, according to King. But the key isn’t a flashy new algorithm.

“The benefit is the data that we have inside Walmart… [and] our competitive advantage is that we have these incredible merchants who are experts in everything they do, and they can help reinforce the data that we have,” King said. “And you can imagine, at Walmart’s scale, that’s a massive amount of data.”

Beyond reinforcement learning, branding analysts can also use machine learning natural language recognition to conduct sentiment analysis in real time, at the very moment customers are engaging on social media about specific products.

Offering Dynamic Interactions and Optimizing Data

“With this virtual reality smart mirror, you pick up this product — there are sensors in the lipstick tube — I can try it on [and] see if it looks good on me,” SAP Solution Engineer Abby Barry said, demonstrating the technology on the NRF 2019 show floor (see the video above). “If not, I can pick another one up and really have that dynamic interaction with the product without trying it on and getting it all gross.”

“We can use [sentiment analysis] information for a new branding campaign, or maybe a revamp of that product,” SAP’s Abby Barry said at NRF 2019.
And each customer who picks up a lipstick tube generates data, which offers insights into consumer interest in the product, such as how long shoppers hold or examine the product. Analysts can match that against online sentiment.

“In this example, this Plume Pink color, not a lot of people like it when the do buy it, but they’re really looking at it a lot… Maybe the packaging is really pretty, but it might be too expensive,” Barry said. “We can use that information for a new branding campaign, or maybe a revamp of that product.”

These and other types of focus on customer experience can be crucial to success in retail.

Engaging and Exciting Your Customers

“If you’re going to succeed in a physical space, you want to be experiential,” Recode Co-Founder and Editor-at-Large Kara Swisher said onstage at NRF. “You want a great customer service; you want to have things that people don’t have.”

You can use data to discover how your customers want to shop. Delivering that will help you better engage your customers, as Swisher noted after a shopping trip with her children.

“My kids literally do not shop in stores, except that they maybe go to a particular store on Fairfax Avenue in Los Angeles… Young kids were lined up around the block to go into these experiential pop-up stores,” Swisher said. “It was the first time I’d seen them excited in a retail experience.”


Follow Derek on Twitter: @DKlobucher