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Retailers using location analytics to improve customer experience

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Consumers are starting to engage with businesses in new ways, using the Internet to post questions or to track orders. Rising consumer expectations in relation to when they will get their goods is driving interest in location analytics.

Retail, as with other sectors, is going through a digital transformation process. This is partly driven by the availability of technology and partly by the sector attempting to adapt to the expectations of consumers. One way in which the sector is starting to measure, develop targets and to improve the experience of consumers is through the application of big data derived from location analytics. Such data is collected by digital technology.

With consumer expectations, a review of behaviors by Gary Sankary for Retail Drive notes that people are increasingly searching for, comparing, and purchasing merchandise online and at any time. This can range from tracking down the location of a department store for an in-stock item by checking a cell phones to having an item delivered.

The consequence of this means there has been a shift in the balance of power towards the consumer. To stay competitive, businesses must ensure they are doing everything possible to interpret and predict customer behavior. This includes the speed of delivery and there are signs that consumers are beginning to expect same day deliveries.

Reacting to this is not straightforward, since retailers require sophisticated digital technology to manage assets, optimize delivery routes and meet customer service expectations. This requires the use of real-time data analysis and interactive maps. From this things need to be controlled in terms of time and also spatially.

For this, intelligent spatial analytics platforms are appearing on the market. To be effective these systems need to optimize deliveries and to signal to customers about any delays. An example comes from Alteryx, which provides a self-service analytics platform that allows for analysis of geospatial data to allow for a variety of data sets to be connected and geocoded. The system also allows for demographic data to be inputted (this might be used on the basis that millennials have faster expectations about delivery times than, say, baby boomers). Another thing the software can do is to create trade areas based on drive time, and blend data by physical proximity.

A different approach comes from Esri, where location analytics are used to determine the best location for a store in relation to a target group of consumers. With this, the company states, sales revenues can be increased by “understanding precisely which customers want which products and services, and targeting marketing to specific customers more effectively.”

A third platform comes from Data Science Studio which utilizes spatial technology to construct visual maps, generated from datasets. Such maps contain engaging and interactive elements like such slide bars and color-coded filtering. In one example application, the U.S. IRS designed a heatmap to display student loan debtacross the U.S. This included an accurate regression model that was used to predict the proportion of student loan debt in a given ZIP code.

Being able to visualize business data against an accurate map is an important step in the digital transformation of retail. For those companies that elect to use such platforms, these types of location analytics help to reveal hidden patterns, relationships and trends; providing important business intelligence for the retail sector.

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Retail

Digital strategy is behind Walmart’s impressive Q4 earnings

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Walmart, which remains the world’s largest department store chain, has reported impressive fourth-quarter 2019 financial results (announced on Tuesday, February 19, 2019).

Key to the success has been Walmart’s digital transformation, which is noted by CEO Doug McMillon:

“Progress on initiatives to accelerate growth, along with a favorable economic environment, helped us deliver strong comp sales and gain market share. We’re excited about the work we’re doing to reach customers in a more digitally-connected way. Our commitment to the customer is clear.”

Several leading experts in the retail space have provided analysis as to how this digital strategy was put together and where Walmart will focus its efforts next.

Making a success of online services

A proportion of Walmart’s success can be put down to its strong online presence, notes Michael Lagoni, CEO and founder of Stackline: “Walmart has been successfully executing its online-forward strategy, laying down aggressive e-commerce growth targets and making some savvy geographic expansions and acquisitions across key verticals, like specialty apparel and grocery.”

This model is set to pay further dividends, Lagoni predicts: “As Walmart continues to expand its digital footprint and adds new advertising and merchandising toolkits for brands, we see huge opportunities for accelerated revenue growth on the e-commerce side of the business.”

Challenging Amazon

The figures reported by Walmart signal that the chain remains robust and able to stand up to disruptors that only maintain an online presence. This is noted by Harry Chemko, CEO and co-founder of Elastic Path: “Walmart is the only retail giant that has enough competitive strengths to challenge Amazon’s e-commerce lead – they have the physical locations, strength in grocery and scale. They’ve been investing very heavily in e-commerce, and their year-over-year growth shows that it’s paying off.”

While Walmart is behind Amazon in terms of online sales it has the potential to become an even bigger player if is seeks to monetize the massive amount of data the company has on hand.

Digital transformation success

Digital transformation has played a key part in Walmart’s success, according to Eli Finkelshteyn, CEO and co-founder of Constructor.io. He tells Digital Journal: “Walmart’s recently released Q4 2018 earnings report validates the company’s emphasis and investment in technological innovation.”

The types of digital initiatives have included a focus on engaging with the customer: “Walmart and its subsidiaries have been putting a lot of effort into making online grocery shopping an easier, faster and more comfortable experience for their customers, and it shows based on grocery growth last quarter.”

Developing good technology challenges assumptions that customers are only interested in lower prices, as Finkelshteyn explains: “Repeated studies have shown that customers are willing to pay and buy more when the online customer experience is improved. At the same time, fewer customers become frustrated and leave without buying anything. We can see both Walmart and its subsidiaries like Jet.com making great strides here.”

Based on the recent success, Finkelshteyn predicts further customer-focused digital transformation initiatives from Walmart: “Going forward, we expect to see Walmart and other retailers will continue to improve their online customer experience as more and more grocery sales move from brick and mortar to online. This is a nascent, but growing market, and one where retailers will either innovate or lose.”

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Amazon rival Rakuten buys mobile ordering and pickup startup Curbside

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Rival to Amazon and Japanese retail giant Rakuten has acquired Silicon Valley mobile ordering and pickup startup Curbside. Details of the all-cash deal were not disclosed, but the acquisition could be a boon for the Japanese e-commerce company.

Mobile solutions for brick and mortar businesses

Founded in 2013 by former Apple engineers Jaron Waldman and Denis Laprise, Curbside has a suite of features that deal with all aspects of mobile commerce for restaurants and brick and mortar retail stores. Their most popular feature, ARRIVE, tracks customer’s journeys to predict when they’ll be approaching and arriving to have the product ready in an instant.
In its suite, Curbside’s offers programs that build online storesfill online orders in-store and grow store traffic.

According to Tech Crunch, the terms of the “all-cash” deal were not released. Curbside has previously raised between USD$40 and $50 million from investors like CVS, Index Ventures, Sutter Hull Ventures, AME Cloud Ventures, Qualcomm Ventures and Chicago Ventures

According to the Silicon Valley Business Journal, Curbside was valued at more than USD$100 million in 2015 during its last venture round.

Part of the family

In the press release from Curbside, co-founder and CEO Jaron Waldman writes, “For our customers and partners the headline is that nothing will change. Curbside will operate independently as a Rakuten-owned company with our team, services, partners and product offerings all remaining intact.”

Yaz Iida, President of Rakuten USA, Inc said in a press release “Welcoming Curbside to the Rakuten family is all about the consumer, and we are excited to be able to empower consumers with even more ways to enjoy shopping.”

Mario Pinho, CFO of Rakuten, welcomed Curbside “to the Rakuten family” on LinkedIn.

Earlier this year, Rakuten announced that it’s building a customer loyalty program based on blockchain technology, and building its own cryptocurrency, Rakuten Coin.

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How brick and mortar grocers benefit from digital transformation

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Brick and mortar grocery retailers have the potential to adopt artificial intelligence to help with stocking their stores, pricing their products and being competitive with online retailers like Amazon.

Michael Feindt, the founder of AI firm Blue Yonder that specializes in helping retailers adopt AI to change how they carry out their core processes, wrote an article in Silicon Republic about how grocery chains can use AI to operate smarter.

With online grocers rapidly adopting AI, Feindt writes that it’s important for brick and mortar retailers to “move beyond their legacy infrastructure and adopt the technologies of digital transformation.” These technologies include AI and machine learning.

To stay competitive in a market that’s increasingly focused on consumer satisfaction, Feindt writes that adopting AI can help grocery chains stock their stores more efficiently in an effort to reduce waste and ensure customers get what they want, as well as price their products according to real-time data on deals and promotions offered by other stores.

Feindt writes that stock and pricing in brick and mortar stores — two traditionally human-led domains — need to start using the data they have, and use AI to help process that data.

Paul Clarke, the CTO at Ocado (the company behind the grocery robots shown earlier) told The Telegraph that AI is “critical” to the industry, and where it’s heading.

“From our point of view artificial intelligence is the one to rule them all when it comes to the set of disruptive technologies that power our business and we already make extensive use of machine learning across our platform,” said Clarke. “But really we just think we’re getting started.”

It’s also easier than ever before for grocery chains to go beyond self-service checkouts and start using AI to optimize business, below is an infographic detailing 65 tech startups that use artificial intelligence, virtual reality… etc to usher grocery store operations into the future. This list is packed, but it’s not exhaustive.

From using AI to combat food contamination to giving allergy-sufferers peace of mind when shopping to programming shopping carts to follow consumers around the store, there are endless ways that AI can enhance grocery operations and produce tangible results.

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