Machine learning and artificial intelligence as well as virtual reality, augmented reality and robotics are technologies redefining the industry. From product development and sizing to customer engagement and personalization, these technologies are being deployed across the fashion apparel, retail, beauty, luxury and accessories markets for a variety of purposes.
And this past year will likely be seen as a turning point as companies double-down on using these technologies to boost sales as well as profits. In many cases, the use of AI will augment processes such as fulfillment and inventory management — and perhaps even the design process itself.
Earlier this year, Amazon released “Amazon Macie,” which is its machine-learning security platform. But there are plans in place to refine it so it will have the functionality to serve as a fashion designer. Stephen Schmidt, chief information security officer of Amazon Web Services, said at the time of the release that by using machine learning to understand the content and user behavior at various organizations, “Amazon Macie can cut through huge volumes of data with better visibility and more accurate alerts, allowing customers to focus on securing their sensitive information instead of wasting time trying to find it.”
Amazon Macie will discover and classify as well as protect sensitive data within Amazon Web Services. The company said it automates “labor-intensive processes, using machine learning to better understand where an organization’s sensitive information is located and how it’s typically accessed, including user authentication, locations and times of access.”
Industry sources said once refined, the deep learning accomplished by the network will have the ability to analyze images of a particular style and then apply analysis to an existing item of data. This is similar to a process that IBM Watson produced exclusively for WWD during New York Fashion Week’s fall collections. IBM Watson used AI to discern the top colors of the season, mine pattern similarities between collections and draw correlations between seemingly unlikely fashion brands.
Subsequently, as AI becomes more refined, fashion designers will benefit from using this technology in order to inform collections that will resonate best with target audiences based on real data.
These technologies are also playing key roles in the convergence of digital and physical stores. Perfect Corp., for example, aims to bridge the gap between in-store and online beauty shopping with its augmented reality technology. Users of YouCam Makeup app can virtually try on makeup looks, purchase the digitally tested items, and receive personalized product recommendations, supported through Perfect Corp.’s artificial intelligence powered software.
Meanwhile, Einstein, which is Salesforce’s AI software platform, was recently updated to help shoppers better navigate a converging retail landscape. Einstein’s machine-learning upgrades are designed to align web site and mobile sites as well as social and in-store shopping experiences. For retailers, the upgrades aim to resolve many of the friction points related to order management and mobile site architecture.
The upgrades, as well as ongoing technology launches are being driven by the consumer. Jeff Barnett, who is chief executive officer of Salesforce Commerce Cloud, said the “connected consumer is rapidly disrupting retail, creating a new imperative for brands to deliver smarter, more personal shopping experiences everywhere.”
For its part, Adobe has also revealed updates to its artificial intelligence and machine-learning platform, Adobe Sensei. Again, the upgrades are driven by consumer demands for more personalized shopping experiences — regardless of the shopping platform (online or in a store).
Michael Klein, director of industry strategy for retail at Adobe, said as a “consumer progresses through the shopping journey from awareness and discovery to conversion, the experience is personalized and adapted based on her preferences, and real-time context.”
The AI technology leverages “Fluid Experiences,” which is an integration of Adobe Sensei personalization features, Klein noted. An Adobe spokesperson said as services such as Apple’s Siri and Amazon’s Alexa and Echo evolve and are adopted by consumers, tracking and collecting data for voice-activation assistants will also grow. And this is where the updates to Adobe’s Analytics Cloud will be most the relevant.
In regard to implementation of AI and other related technologies, a recent survey from Linc and Brand Garage that polled senior-level marketers and executives of top retailers and brands found that 87 percent of respondents are planning to improve consumer experiences with AI while noting that customer service is a main area in need of updating and improvement.
Most retailers and brands are using e-mail as their main customer service platform with phones being used for shopper support. But the poll found that 66 percent of executives are using web site live chat as customer service while 57 percent are leveraging Facebook pages and 32 percent are using Facebook Messenger for customer support.
The benefit of AI here would be to automate and have programmed responses that can tackle “uncomplicated requests” across platforms and sites, the researchers noted in their report.
AI and VR are also being used in the back-end, deeper into the supply chain. And fulfillment process are also leveraging these technologies. The deployment with these functions is speeding up the supply chain, which is needed as e-commerce continues to grow.
Last week, Exotec Solutions, a French AI robotics start-up, introduced Skypod Robots, which can help handle twice the number of warehouse fulfillment product picks per hour, the company said adding that the system is being used by French e-commerce vendor Cdiscount in its warehouse near Bordeaux. The company said the integration of the AI robots is increasing the site’s order processing speed by four times.
“With the system, Cdiscount is able to handle 400 picks per hour compared to the industry average of 200 picks per hour (with classical automation), and 100 picks per hour manually,” Exotec said.
The company claims that the Skypod system “is the first order preparation system in the world to use 3-D mobile robots” that is “capable of movement in three dimensions at a speed of 10 mph.” This allows the robots to transfer goods in the warehouse to human operators “who arrange the products to be packed and shipped to customers. Laser scanned navigation allows the robots to travel anywhere in the storage area carrying 60-plus pound bins.”
Romain Moulin, ceo of Exotec Solutions, said “e-commerce is changing the game in the logistics industry. To respond to today’s market requirements, companies are putting the emphasis on deployment speed and flexible deployment capability rather than heavy fixed infrastructure in order to best respond to rapid fluctuations in demand.”
From here, industry analysts expect investments and deployment of these technologies to continue. Edited, a retail analytics and technology company, recently released its predictions for the coming year in global retail — AI is expected to play a key role.
Katie Smith, Edited’s senior analyst, said amid the overshadowing of Amazon in the market, AI can deliver hyper-personalized product recommendations and shopping journeys to consumers. “The continued expansion of Amazon into groceries, apparel and other consumer goods mean AI will be essential for retailers’ survival,” Smith said. “In 2018, new AI applications including more chatbots, voice-activated devices, real-time analytics and systems to detect payment fraud will flood the industry.”
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