Target Adds Google Voice Assistant Shopping Nationwide

Target is the latest brick-and-mortar brand to sign on to accept requests made by owners of the Google Home through their voice-activated Google Assistant (aka “Okay, Google”) for delivery or pickup via its local online shopping marketplace Google Express.

In essence, the arrangement represents an expansion of Target’s existing use of Google Express.

Starting today, Target shoppers at most of its 1,800 stores in the United States can access items through Google Express and with the Google Assistant (except for Alaska and Hawaii). Target will offer two-day delivery, as well as free shipping for any orders over $35, Google says in a blog post.

Coming In 2018

Most of the capabilities of shopping through Google Express won’t be available until 2018. For example, after the new year, Target customers will also be able to use their Target loyalty membership through REDcard to get 5 percent off most Target purchases and free shipping when using Google Express. In addition, in 2018, Target shoppers will be able to link their Target.com and Google accounts, so the service will remember all their favorite items.

“We’re teaming up with Google to create innovative digital experiences using voice and other cutting-edge technologies to elevate Target’s strength in style areas such as home, apparel and beauty,” Target says. “Work is underway for Google and Target teams to bring this all to life.”

In August, Walmart unveiled plans to rollout a similar voice-activated shopping via Google Express and Google Home tools for its 4,700 U.S. stores and its fulfillment network “to create customer experiences that don’t currently exist within voice shopping anywhere else,” including choosing to pick up an order in store (often for a discount) or using voice shopping to purchase fresh groceries across the country.

These partnership on voice-activation comes roughly a year after Google Home debuted as a Connected Home product to augment Google Assistant.

“Shopping isn’t always as easy as it should be,” Sridhar Ramaswamy, SVP for Ads and Commerce, said in a blog post at the time of the Walmart deal’s announcement “When was the last time you needed to pick up something from the store but didn’t have the time to make the trip? Or you went to the store only to realize they didn’t have the brand you wanted? Wouldn’t it be nice if you could get what you want, however you want, from the stores where you already shop? We launched Google Express and shopping on the Google Assistant to do just that: make it faster and easier for you to shop your stores like Costco, Target and  Walmart.”

Okay, Google, Target shoppers are ready to talk.

Target’s Many Omnichannel Steps

For Target, the expanded Google partnership follows a series of steps designed to tackle one of the primary challenges facing its omnichannel strategy by rivals like Amazon. In August, for example, Target acquired transportation tech company Grand Junction to promise same-day delivery to customers to match one of key appeals of Amazon’s discount shopping subscription program, Prime.

It’s the latest salvo store brand has taken to meet consumers’ demands in the age of Amazon and e-commerce. Those demands include personalized recommendation and satisfying customers’ purchasing preferences, such as online shopping/in-store pickup.

But as Amazon has expanded its discounts and two-day shipping with its Prime membership option, and has just heralded its Instant Pickup option, retailers have turned to one advantage they still possess — at least for the moment — in relation to Amazon: proximity to their customers and known inventory, which makes it possible to offer the ultimate convenience of letting someone click “buy” and then having it brought to them within a few hours.

The Rise Of Connected Intelligence, The Knowledge Graph

In general, the adoption of voice-activation and on-demand delivery/pickup follows the wider capabilities stemming from the rise of Connected Intelligence and the Knowledge Graph, which have propelled personalized, one-to-one connections between brands and digital assistants such as Amazon’s Alexa, Apple’s Siri, Google Assistant, Microsoft’s Cortana, and Samsung’s Bixby as they enter the mainstream of consumer behavior.

While Amazon’s Alexa has assumed an early position as a leading voice-activated assistant, Google has stepped up its push into the space as its aligns its services to brick-and-mortar brands such as Panera Bread, which became one of the first national restaurant chains to begin offering voice-activated ordering and payment through Google Assistant.

The voice-activated ordering is currently available in Panera’s hometown of St. Louis and at its six locations in the Silicon Valley area. A full rollout of voice ordering is expected to come to all of Panera’s 2,000-plus U.S. locations by the end of the year, the company has said.

Other national brands that have formally aligned with Google’s voice-activated virtual assistant to accept spoken orders via the delivery marketplace Google Express, including Costco, Guitar Center, Kohl’s, L’Occitane, Payless, PetSmart, Road Runner Sports, Sur La Table, Ulta, Walgreens, and Amazon’s Whole Foods.

In the case of Target, the retailer has been aggressively — and at times, fitfully — revising its omnichannel strategy. For example, earlier this year, it decided to abandon its sub rosa e-commerce program called Goldfish, which was dubbed as the “store of the future.”

Before that, in August 2015, Target started a beacon program with Estimote to round out its in-store sales assistance. It’s unclear how vital the beacon program has been — or even whether Target has continued to use it —  since the company has not discussed those efforts publicly. Along the way, Target’s experiments with interactivity has included retail pop-ups and a showcase IoT-based connected home store in San Francisco.

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How Discount Grocer Lidl Can Build Store Traffic Following US Launch

After experiencing a favorable introduction for its first 20 U.S. grocery stores in , German discount chain Lidl has been trying to establish its footing as it continues its East Coast expansion.

According to analysis by proximity platform inMarket, the dip in foot-traffic Lidl has seen at some of its stores in North Carolina and Virginia is afflicting others in the discount grocery space as Walmart ramped up its challenge against Amazon’s Whole Foods and Target.

Finding Traction

Lidl, which runs over 10,000 stores across 28 countries, “launched with a bang” this past June 15th, inMarket’s report notes. The company’s U.S. stores drew a decent 2.6 percent Share of Visits (SOV, as inMarket abbreviates it) on its introduction to the U.S. market.

The U.S. launch by Lidl appeared to take customers from another discount retailer BI-LO, which saw a decrease in visits from May to June, inMarket says. North Carolina- based Harris Teeter, which is a subsidiary of supermarket chain Kroger, also lost SOV in June, suggesting that consumers went to compare shopping at Lidl. (We’ve reached out to Lidl’s PR department and will update accordingly.)

Lidl saw an initial burst of store visits in the US this summer, but traffic has since declined.

But rather than cannibalizing the direct competition, inMarket points to Walmart’s gravitational pull as representing the biggest problem smaller supermarkets are facing, as the retail giant attracts about 30 percent of grocery visits.

“Many of those visits [to Walmart] are likely to involve grocery purchases,” inMarket says. “It’s interesting to note that Walmart dropped from 30 percent SOV in May to 29 percent SOV in June — perhaps as its cost-conscious shoppers went to check out Lidl. Fellow mass merch chain Target remained at from May to June at 9.3 percent SOV in these markets.”

Conquesting Reconsidered

Despite Lidl’s sudden rise, and its direct rivals’ dip in visits around the time of its debut, BI-LO, Walmart and Harris Teeter have all recovered SOV as of September, inMarket notes.

“It’s still very early for the retailer, so there’s definitely potential to turn things around,” inMarket Communications VP Dave Heinzinger tells GeoMarketing. “From our perspective, we know that location-based digital ad programs can help offline retailers drive foot traffic into stores.”

One area for Lidl US to explore is managing the digital presence of its growing network of American locations. Ensuring that consumers have the right discovery tools associated with digital presence management — nearest addresses for online searches, store hours, contact details, and reviews — could quickly expand its initial customer gains.

Heinzinger is interested to see if Lidl could make an impact by targeting competitive shoppers via smart, location-based retargeting programs. (For the record, Lidl does not employ inMarket, which relied on location data from the 50 million consumers who use the company’s partner apps).

“For example, our data shows that BI-LO and Walmart had dips in SOV during Lidl’s launch in June, while Whole Foods did not,” Heinzinger adds. “A top-line recommendation might be to focus on their strongest audience — the cost-conscious shopper — by conquesting BI-LO and Walmart shoppers through online-to-offline retargeting. They might also skip wasting dollars/impressions on uninterested Whole Foods shoppers.”

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The Omnichannel Challenge: When It Comes To ‘Click-And-Collect,’ US Retail Lags

As Amazon continues to open fulfillment centers to get orders to customers even faster, the offer of shop online and in-store/curbside pickup by U.S. retailers is far behind their global peers.

Only 29 percent of  major U.S. retailers offer click-and-collect services — a significant gap from the 67 percent of their UK counterparts, citing an OrderDynamics study of more than 1,000 retail websites.

The retail brands with at least 10 brick-and-mortar stores in the U.S., the UK, Australia, Canada and the three Nordic countries of Sweden, Finland and Norway. US retailers represented about a third of the sample.

Even more troubling than the comparative lack shop online, pick-up in-store offerings, the retailers that do have that capability aren’t doing a lot to let customers know about it.

Just 38.5 percent highlight shop online/in-store pickup on their homepage, versus more than half to two-thirds of retailers in each of the six other countries in the study.

“This means that the American retail environment is still in the early phase of omnichannel adoption,” the report said. Despite the US being a world leader in marketing, it said, it is the worst at advertising in-store pickup offerings.

One of the issues retailers appear to have is the disconnect between online and brick-and-mortar sales. Too often, retailers’ departments remain “siloed” into two areas.

For example, the study found that when it comes to free-shipping offers, the U.S. actually leads: 67 percent of US retailers offer free-shipping, compared to 55 percent in the Nordics region.

Walmart is even making free-shipping a big part of its e-commerce marketing effort.

Walmart SVP and CMO Tony Rogers speaking at at the ANA’s Masters of Marketing conference this week, discussed the retail giant’s forthcoming holiday advertising which highlights its free-shipping.

“Free shipping two-day for orders over $35,” said Rogers, Adweek reported, adding a dig at Amazon Prime’s subscription delivery program. “No membership fee because, you know, we just don’t think you should have to pay $99 a year for the privilege of free shipping.”

 

 

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Advertising Week Recap: Welcome To The Age Of Assistance — And Assistants

Advertising Week NY covered a great deal of ground last week, from Tencent’s expanded presence to the growth of Facebook Messenger as a marketing vehicle to the Weather Company’s heralding the Era of Cognition.

Retale Managing Director Nels Stromborg attended a number of events and meetings and here’s his takeaway.

Brands are taking action on transparency: Whether you’re a vendor, agency or seller, if you weren’t paying attention to the transparency debate, you are now. Brands are disappointed and upset; they’re running out of patience and taking action and it showed at the event. And to be honest, they have every right to be. The media supply chain has always been opaque. But in digital, it’s becoming more and more complicated, which has made the problem more pronounced. Spend has also exploded so advertisers want more accountability and a clearer view of ROI. The solution isn’t easy. Inventory sources need to address it by installing more third-party verification and opening up their data to partners. Agencies need to deliver on more transparent billing and measurement. While some progress is being made, there’s still a lot of work to be done.

 Alibaba versus Amazon: At Dmexco, Amazon was the belle of the ball. Their Amazon Services division had a big show. They used the event to tout their inventory, services and formats to advertisers (and retailers and CPG brands, in particular) – even if their current offerings are still very limited. I expect Amazon’s ad business to grow dramatically over the next year to support brand partners. But they were probably a bit jealous after seeing all of the attention Alibaba got at Advertising Week. GroupM announced a data partnership with them. Even Marc Pritchard spoke about their ability to disrupt the space. Their audience is almost entirely overseas, so their ad business doesn’t necessarily pose a threat to Amazon. But it’s fascinating to watch these massive e-commerce companies grow in influence among advertisers.

Google Americas’ President Allan Thygesen talks with Unilever USA CMO Keith Weed about Marketing in the Age of Assistants

The Age of Assistance: Get ready to see several hundred think pieces on “the age of assistance” over the next few weeks. Google’s Allan Thygesen used the phrase in a presentation with Unilever’s Keith Weed. It expertly captured a big technology shift in the market. It refers to the growing voice and chat bot movement in advertising. Consumers want more custom, personalized brand experiences. They like feeling like they’re the only one in the room – even if they’re online. For years, the best the industry could do was a well-targeted display ad. But bots have unlocked a more conversational and one-to-one campaign opportunity. That’s the potential brands see and love. They can deliver tailored, white glove service at scale through Facebook Messenger or your Amazon Echo. The AI needed to develop these tools has grown substantially better in the last three years, making it easier to meet the opportunity. The age of assistance is upon us and I think it’s here to stay.”

Leave content to the experts: The consensus on content during Advertising Week is that we are deep into a new golden age of “television.” This incredible programming is also increasingly being delivered free of advertising. What this dynamic does is make it almost irresistible for brands to stray from their core competency of product development and enter into the production business. During a panel hosted by FX, Joe Marchese, President of Fox’s Ad Products, relayed an interesting and recent exchange from a CPG. “They said, ‘We’re not in the paper towel business. We’re in the content business. We’re in the storytelling business.’ Which I look at and say, ‘Uh, I’m not sure you really want to do that, because you make paper towels!’ You hear (content) people talk about what it takes to break through, to make a story, make it timeless … [but] you need to sell paper towels tomorrow.” The point? Leave content to the experts – especially as the overall quality rises and the battle for attention becomes more competitive. Brands need to focus on what they do well.

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Amazon To Open Its First Fulfillment Center In New York To Expand Faster Delivery

Amazon is moving aggressively to expand its promise of near-immediate delivery and physical pick-up options for its online shoppers by rapidly opening up fulfillment centers in major cities.

“We are excited to bring our first fulfillment center to New York and work alongside the state’s incredible workforce,” said Sanjay Shah, Amazon’s vice president of Customer Fulfillment, in a statement. “The support of local leaders has been instrumental in our ability to come to New York, and we are grateful for the welcome we’ve received to bring thousands of new jobs with benefits starting on day one.”

The fulfillment center comes a few months after the opening of Amazon opened its first brick-and-mortar bookstore in New York City as a showcase for its online/offline ambitions.

Amazon On The Move

Amazon employees at the 855,000-square-foot Staten Island fulfillment center will work alongside robotics to pick, pack and ship customer items such as household essentials, books and toys.

With the creation of its latest fulfillment center, which is coming to Staten Island, NY, coupled with the closing of its $13.7 billion acquisition of Whole Foods, Amazon’s pressure on established brick-and-mortar businesses’ omnichannel strategies is apt to be felt even more acutely as the holiday season approaches.

Over the summer, Amazon has expanded its discounts and two-day shipping with its Prime membership option, and has just heralded its Instant Pickup option, retailers have turned to one advantage they still possess — at least for the moment — in relation to Amazon: proximity to their customers and known inventory, which makes it possible to offer the ultimate convenience of letting someone click “buy” and then having it brought to them within a few hours.

Meanwhile, Amazon’s instant-pickup has already begun in Los Angeles, Atlanta, Berkeley, CA., Columbus, Ohio, and College Park, Md. Initially, the items available with Instant Pickup include snacks, drinks and electronics, as well as some of Amazon’s most popular devices.

Amazon’s latest offering represents an expansion of the same-day pickup service at the 22 locations it began opening in 2015. These same locations will serve as Instant Pickup depots for Amazon Prime customers.

While available for free to Prime and Prime Student members, the program strikes at the heart of what has so far remained brick-and-mortar brands’ clear advantage over e-commerce: immediacy.

Omnichannel Pressure

New York represents one of its biggest tests.

Rivals like Target have been getting ready for the challenge. For example, Target’s purchase of San Francisco-based transportation tech company Grand Junction last month is designed to better position it against Amazon’s speedy delivery.

Grand Junction’s software platform is used by retailers, distributors, and “third-party logistics providers to manage local deliveries through a network of more than 700 carriers

Target and Grand Junction have currently been working on a same-day delivery pilot program for the Target store in New York’s Tribeca neighborhood. By 2018, Target plans to roll out same-day delivery to unspecified major cities, said Arthur Valdez, Target’s executive vice president, chief supply chain and logistics officer.

Target’s move follows similar tests by Walmart. In addition, same-day, app-based grocery delivery platform Instacart has lately been racking up partnerships with Costco, Key Food, CVS, and others.

The trend towards same-day delivery is becoming a wider retail imperative not reserved for discount shopping and food service.

Earlier this month, Office Depot announced  its same-day delivery program. The initiative kicks off on August 28 in Atlanta, Georgia and Los Angeles, California; and on September 6 in Ft. Lauderdale/Miami, Florida.

“With our new same-day delivery and our omnichannel approach, we are utilizing our retail stores as assets and part of our supply chain to give our customers the best possible experience,” said Office Depot CEO Gerry Smith.

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Nearly One-Third Of US Online Population Will Use Voice Assistants By 2019

While mobile-centric micro-moments has changed the way consumers search for and discover local businesses, the current revolution in voice-activation appears to be taking things in a different direction.

An eMarketer overview forecast of voice-enabled technology (subscription required), charts the rapid rise of Connected Intelligence-based digital assistants as making the transition from mobile to the living room.

At the moment, over 60.5 million people — 18.5 percent of the population — will use voice-activated assistants like Amazon’s Alexa, Apple’s Siri, Google Assistant, Microsoft’s Cortana, and Samsung’s Bixby, with one-third of US internet users speaking to voice assistants by 2019 (75.5 million people).

Finding Consumers’ Voice

In terms of the use cases, eMarketer cites a February study from HigherVisibility that says consumers primarily employ voice-activated assistants for “simple commands,” such as playing music (14.2 percent), setting alarms (12.6 percent), checking the weather (12.2 percent), looking up a contact (9.4 percent), and getting traffic info (7 percent).

Those numbers were further borne out by an NPR survey this summer that found most of the people surveyed used their smart speakers to play music (68 percent) or check the weather (58 percent), most of the uses offer additional points of connection for brands.

In looking at over two dozen use cases, just 13 percent of smart speaker owners use their smart speakers to find a local business.

Looking more closely at search, 20 percent Google search queries are made via voice, while 25 percent of Microsoft Bing users speak their search requests.

The Search Is On

Understanding how people are using voice-activation is the first step, said Mike Grehan, CMO of Acronym and CEO SEMPO in a panel discussion on the topic last month.

In looking at how digital assistants are impacting search, Grehan pointed a study that found 60 percent of voice queries are from people seeking a service, not search,

“When you look at the patterns that you go through, voice is about recommending and suggesting, and then you have discovery, and then you have all those keywords that are not being used to find something on the web,” Grehan said, at the panel event, The Drum Search Awards USA, which was hosted at GeoMarketing parent Yext’s offices in NYC.

A report from Forrester this past spring warned that it was high time for CMOs to face the facts that digital advertising has not worked when it comes to engaging consumers and that the emerging role of voice-activated digital assistants and the connected intelligence that powers the devices by Amazon, Apple, Google, and Microsoft will lead to only further breakdown of traditional marketing models.

Ad executives have largely dismissed that warning.

“Is this the end of advertising? I don’t think so,” Fernando Machado, Head of Brand Marketing at Burger King, told us last month at an industry event. “New technology has always opened doors for advertising. This represented a creative way to get the message out, a new way to reach our target audience, to reach our fans. That’s how we see technology: a chance to develop bigger idea that can be deployed across different channels.”

Last April, an ad campaign promoting Burger King’s Whopper set off Google Home devicesby asking its personal digital assistant what the quick serve restaurant chain’s signature product was.

Within hours, Google “blocked” devices from recognizing the question.

In the spot (a 15-second YouTube version is here), a Burger King cashier addresses the audience saying that there’s too many “delicious ingredients” in the Whopper to list in a short commercial. So, instead, the cashier leans in to the camera and says, “But I’ve got an idea: Okay, Google, what is the Whopper Burger?”

Even though Google prevented its devices from responding to the prompt, the ad got more than 10 billion impressions around the globe, with the U.S. leading the charge, Machado said.

Anselmo Ramos, founder and chief creative officer of Miami’s DAVID The Agency, said that the spot was indicative of Burger King’s irreverent, try-anything spirit and how voice-activation will simply represent another channel — in other words, a new beginning for advertising, not the end.

“When you look at radio, everybody understands how to write a spot that hits all the emotional spots,” Ramos said. “With Google Home, no one knows. It’s no territory. So we need to guess and learn. Luckily, we have a great client in Burger King that is willing to embrace new ideas, new technology.”

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Nearly Half Of Online Consumers Are Interested In Using Connected Home Devices

Awareness and interest of voice-activated digital assistants has been rising rapidly in the past year and the shifts among the main devices are reflecting that surge.

With Samsung’s Bixby being rolled out and Apple’s Siri-powered Homepod scheduled to be released at the end of the year, Microsoft and Amazon struck an agreement this week to integrate their respective Connected Intelligence agents, Cortana and Alexa.

Source: Magid Advisors

While 49 percent of U.S. consumers use their voice assistants on a weekly basis, compared with 31 percent of global respondents, according to a JWT, Mindshare, Innovation Group study, penetration of voice-activated devices is still relatively low. But the interest in such technology has clearly entered the mainstream.

As such, almost half of 2,400 consumers surveyed online by Magid Advisors expressed interest owning such a device. Among the topline findings of its report:

  • 25 percent of people who have a connected-home device use voice-activated digital assistants to shop for retail items on the internet
  • Siri (not Alexa) dominates both awareness and usage of voice-controlled digital assistant systems
  • 42 percent of people who have used a voice-controlled digital assistant said that reason is because they like to have their hands free to do other things
Source: Magid Advisors

Mike Vorhaus, president of Magid Advisors, offered a few insights into the company’s findings.

GeoMarketing: How do you see the state of virtual, connected assistants like Siri, Alexa, Cortana, Bixby, and Okay Google in terms of consumer and brand adoption/activity/use cases?

Mike Vorhaus: Siri is obviously way out front due to its distribution across Apple devices. Products like Alexa, Cortana, Google Home, etc., are all close to each other in awareness and usage to date by consumers.  This is definitely a close horse race at this point.

How do you think it will change over the next year, as Bixby is being rolled out and Apple’s Siri-powered bid for the Connected Home, Homepod, is due to be released in December?

I anticipate that the Siri/Apple device will be very appealing to consumers.  Nonetheless, the devices/software from Amazon, Google, etc., are all strong competitors.

Noting the appeal of voice-activation’s hands’ free capabilities, do you expect that speaking to a device, versus typing on it, will change consumer behavior in specific ways?

Yes, consumers will likely be less exact and will be able to repeat more information than they might otherwise when typing. That should make for better searches and better understanding of what the consumer is saying.

Does the rise of voice-activated interactions call into question the role of websites, in terms of the way they’re constructed from an SEO standpoint, to the kinds of visual-centric (as opposed to audio-oriented) information they provide?    

Yes, just like mobile devices have replaced a lot of desktop/laptop devices, I anticipate the voice-activated devices will similarly reduce use of the desktop/laptop devices.

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Who Should Walmart And Amazon Acquire Next?

As Walmart and Amazon rush to build up their respective online/offline commerce strategies, it’s safe to say that key acquisitions will play a part in efforts to keep pace, if not out-pace, the other as “the ultimate retailer” in consumers’ minds.

For example,  within the last three months, Amazon made its $13.7 billion bid to acquire Whole Foods, while Walmart bought e-commerce platforms Jet and Bonobos, speculation swirled around these two retail behemoths each striving to become the ultimate shopping destination—both on and offline.

Foursquare has come up with a list of some obvious acquisition targets that would fit Walmart’s and Amazon’s intersecting and unique needs in their drive towards retail hegemony.

But by basing its selected brand targets based on its foot-traffic data covering 2.5 million Americans, Foursquare CEO Jeff Glueck makes the case for where the best complements exist for each company in a blog post.

“Amazon and Walmart would both be wise to consider Nordstrom and Warby Parker,” says Glueck. “Amazon should consider Lowe’s; Walmart should look to Ulta Beauty.”

Among the analysis of each brand’s needs according to Foursquare:

  • Amazon prefers brands that foster an even deeper relationship with its current shopping base, and investing in challenger brands that are smaller and more upscale than in-market competitors
  • Walmart is playing catch-up in e-commerce, and so is looking to broaden its consumer reach and digital footprint, and develop delivery efficiencies.
  • Both companies are interested in attacking verticals that have proved resistant to e-commerce penetration.
  • Both companies want to refine and experiment with a “showrooming” strategy. They are also both interested in the same consumer: high-net-worth GenX and Millennials.
Source: Foursquare

Target Number 1: Nordstrom

If Amazon and Walmart aren’t fighting over Nordstrom by now, perhaps they should, Glueck says.

Amazon, in particular, needs to connect with the “right shoppers” in the physical world. And considering Amazon’s instant-pickup is initially limited to the 22 locations it began opening in 2015, it needs to expand its placement to actual stores beyond its Whole Foods connection.

“Amazon’s latest acquisition, Whole Foods, and Nordstrom have an overlapping customer set: Foursquare’s data shows that Nordstrom shoppers are almost 2X more likely to shop at Whole Foods than the average consumer,” Glueck says. “So an Amazon-owned Nordstrom chain would deepen Amazon’s relationships with its expanding core base.”

For Walmart, acquisitions are intended to bring in new customers. Nordstrom and its discount subsidiary Nordstrom Rack would likely broaden Walmart’s base to more upper middle income shoppers.

“[Nordstrom] consumers aren’t frequent Walmart-goers,” Glueck says, citing Foursquare’s foot traffic data showing they are about 55 percent less likely to go to Walmart than the average American.

“What Nordstrom does have is a bona-fide track record as well as a healthy concentration of Millennials and females, a nice addition for Walmart to balance out the the purchase of Bonobos, which has a wider male reach,” he says. “Walmart has to pursue familiar verticals that have deep online footholds. And Nordstrom has seen tremendous success versus comparable retailers in developing its e-commerce presence.”

As for Nordstrom Rack, it tends to rank number two in store visits and sales after the discount category leader T.J. Maxx.

“We found that Nordstrom Rack has actually lost more than 2 percent of its visit share to competitive discount retailers in the last two years. Amazon’s ability to slash prices further could lift the competitor brand, and give Amazon a strong foothold into the brick-and-mortar discount market. Imagine if everyday was Amazon Prime day at Nordstrom Rack…”

Source: Foursquare

All Eyes On Warby Parker

Showrooming — the act of comparing prices and products on e-commerce site at the same time one is browsing in a physical store — is the scourge of all brick-and-mortar retailers. And that’s largely thanks to Amazon’s all-encompassing inventory.

Since Warby Parker started its eyeglass sales as an e-commerce platform, it has used its online-only origins to help develop a strategy to combat showrooming at its 46 boutiques. Plus, Warby Parker is currently planning to open 25 more shops, a clear indication that its clicks-to-bricks program is working.

An Amazon purchase could further enhance Warby Parker’s distribution, while reducing its shipping costs.

Plus, consider Warby Parker’s strength with Millennials — over half its shoppers (55 percent) are in that age demographic, which over-indexes at luxury brands including Bloomingdales, Williams Sonoma and Lululemon according to Foursquare data.

Moreover, Warby Parker has similar shopper profiles and significant customer overlap with Whole Foods, as Foursquare data shows that 80 percent of Warby Parker customers also shop at Whole Foods.

Walmart certainly desires those Millennials and by acquiring Warby Parker, it would continue to trajectory its been on with the purchases of Bonobos and Jet.com — two very different offerings from Walmart’s typical shoppers.

“Though we’d expect Walmart to keep Warby as a stand-alone brand, if Walmart ever needed an infusion of new shoppers and/or Millennials into its stores, one way to do so—and quickly—would be to add Warby Parker services and eyeglasses into Walmart’s existing vision centers,” Glueck says. “In addition to being more than half Millennial, Warby Parker customers are 80 percent less likely to visit a Walmart versus the average American—so they’d be fresh eyes on Walmart’s existing inventory.”

 

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Age Of Connected Intelligence: Will People Pay For Fin’s Voice-Activated Assistant?

While artificial intelligence-based, voice-activated digital assistants are rapidly becoming mainstream, it’s safe to say that the respective comprehension of Amazon’s Alexa, Apple’s Siri, Google Assistant, Microsoft’s Cortana, and Samsung’s Bixby are still in the learning stages.

For the past two years, tech startup Fin has been working on an operating system that will power an interactive, machine learning-based assistant of the same name that promises to “dramatically outperform” the current leading Connected Intelligence-based virtual assistants as well as “full-time help.”

Putting A Price On Virtual Assistance

Last month, Fin, which was started by Sam Lessin, formerly of Facebook file-sharing acquisition Drop.io, and Venmo co-founder Andrew Kortina, began sending out emails touting its combination of human intelligence and AI, noting that it “remembers all of your personal context and interacts over app, email, web, sms, and phone 24×7.”

One big difference: to access Fin, you have to be a paid subscriber.

The current offer being presented to Fin users starts with the first 2 hours of service each month for $120 per month, with any additional time for $1.00 per minute. (Fuller pricing details can viewed here.)

Is Fin Viable?

While Fin’s Lessin declined to comment for this article, saying he and the company are “pretty heads down at the moment,” we reached out to two thought leaders to get their initial impressions about what sort of impact — if any — the proposition of a subscription-based, highly personalized virtual assistant might have.

“Color me skeptical for the moment,” says Local SEO Guide’s Andrew Shotland. “If it’s 10x better than GoogleNow, Siri, Alexa, there’s something there, but this seems like a very high hurdle. It’s tough enough to get the experience to work for free services. In order to get someone to pay for a digital assistant service is accuracy and utility would likely need to be very high.

“I could see some B2B use cases where there are very specific common queries,” Shotland adds, “but that starts to sound like an Alexa recipe so why not do it through that system? “Then again, perhaps Fin has figured out how to overcome some very specific challenges with these systems. And if that’s the case, it will probably get scooped up by a bigger player much like how Samsung scooped up Viv and turned it into Bixby.”

Duane Forrester, VP of Industry Insights at Yext (full disclosure: Yext is GeoMarketing’s parent company. More details on that relationship here) is a bit less skeptical than Shotland, but also senses some significant limitations to Fin’s practicality as a business.

“I love the idea,” Forrester says. “Though the execution had better knock my socks off for that kind of monthly fee. I mean, that’s close to what house cleaners cost, and that’s a value I see — and believe in. For this service to warrant those kinds of costs, it needs to stand not just head and shoulder above our current free offerings, but a whole body above.”

A Superior Assistant

In terms of the specific implications for local businesses, the rise of voice-activated assistants have coincided with the increased importance of location management in SEO strategy — namely, that making sure that business location information is correct across platforms is key to ranking in Google’s “three-pack” of top mapped results, as is using optimal keywords.

Addressing the particulars of voice search is important in the same vein, especially considering that 76 percent of “near me” searches result in a business visit within a day. In fact, last week, we reported that search volume for local places continues to grow — but explicitly stated “near me” requests are on the decline, since consumers now simply expect results that reflect their proximity.

For example, one of the features uses of Fin showcased on its site includes queries like “Please remember Cotogna as a place I can get dinner after 10pm,” or “”Hey Fin, can you identify the plant in this photo, find me a local nursery that sells them. If it is less than $300 buy it for me and have it sent to my house.”

In other words, Fin is betting that people will naturally expect their devices to help them make plans based on where they are and what’s on their calendar.

“It does make me wonder what research they have on consumer behavior that leads them to think current consumers (and more importantly, those coming up behind them) are willing to pay that much for a service we all essentially get for free today,” Forrester adds.

Within the wider context of the Connected Intelligence space of Internet of Things devices and AI, voice-activated connected device usage is skyrocketing. So the timing for an even more aspirational, luxury product like Fin appears right. But as GeoMarketing‘s Lauryn Chamberlain recently noted, voice is just one modality in the world of Connected Intelligence, with image recognition and search beginning to play a vital role as well with the introduction of Amazon’s Echo Show.

“Everything about how voice-activated assistants [talk to users or to each other] is going to be centered around: It’s got to be user-friendly, and it’s got to be an experience that can truly benefit the user,” Ben Brown, Google Home & Wifi product lead, said at the June 2017 Connections conference. “It can’t just be because an internet service provider feels the opportunity to aggregate. That doesn’t necessarily offer value unless it actually is something that someone really wants to have.”

The way Brown sees the evolution of virtual assistants is that it will follow the path we’ve seen with mobile phones and with mobile operating systems before: People may want to interact with multiple different devices [from different providers] in their lives. At the same time, people tend to build an affinity towards certain devices over time.

In that case, a platform like Fin could benefit from the growth of a Google Home, Amazon Echo, Apple Homepod, Microsoft Cortana, or Samsung Bixby, as they seek to augment one AI assistant with others.

“If I had to make a call on this, I’d say it’s a cool idea, the superior assistant, but this doesn’t feel like the path forward,” Forrester concludes. “Even a company like Samsung, with huge resources applied to the problem of building a good digital assistant has struggled with their launch of Bixby in English-language markets. Unless I’m missing something obvious and untapped, I’m not seeing what problem is being solved to such a degree as to merit the cost. And I’m hung up on the cost! In a world where people won’t pay $20 for an app — once! — how does a recurring $120/month, random-use item survive?”

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Amazon Adds ‘Instant Pickup’ Points To Brick-And-Mortars

Amazon is rolling out instant pickup points on five college campuses where shoppers can collect their items immediately after ordering, Reuters reported Tuesday — a move aimed at shortening delivery wait times as well as expanding the company’s brick-and-mortar ambitions following the launch of pop-up stores and its major acquisition of grocery emporium Whole Foods.

Here’s how it works: Shoppers on the Amazon mobile app can select from several hundred pre-available items at each “kiosk” location. Then, Amazon employees in a back room load the ordered items into lockers within two minutes, and customers receive bar codes on their mobile devices in order to access them.

The initial limited rollout reportedly sees Amazon making a physical push for fast-selling items that shoppers might not ordinarily order online — like drinks or snacks — as well as a few more substantial products, like phone chargers. So, is Amazon aiming to compete with vending machines?

The Retailer Response

While the rollout might at first appear to simply put Amazon in competition with Coke machines, the long view of the impact is quite different. This isn’t about soft drinks: As Forrester analyst Ananda Chakravarty put it, “this might work for some electronic gadgets that are not commonly available at vending machines, [but] two minutes is too long to wait for a soda can.”

Instead, this indicates that Amazon has the drive — and likely, the means — to begin putting instant pickup into practice for a much wider range of products. Might real-time pickup of shoes or books be next, further threatening brick-and-mortars?

Perhaps. But the silver lining for physical retailers is that their stores already function as instant pickup points; it’s simply about integrating the technology aspect so that customers can find or purchase their products on demand.

As we wrote earlier this year, brick-and-mortar businesses are actually the backbone of delivery enterprises like Postmates, which uses the city and the city’s retailers essentially as its warehouses. These types of partnerships could be one of the keys to competing with the likes of Amazon: The physical store locations act as stockrooms, and companies like Postmates provide the immediate or near-immediate local delivery — acting as a competitor to Amazon Prime.

“In a sense, yes, what we’re allowing these retailers to do is to emulate what Amazon is doing with Prime Now,” said Holger Luedorf, former SVP of business at Postmates. “They can do the same thing because they have a great variety of goods, and the only thing they are missing is the logistics piece. And that can be solved [through] partnerships.”

Additionally, retailers like Kohl’s have seen success through embracing buy online, pick-up in-store programs to address the “instant” aspect. After all, brick-and-mortars don’t need take their time rolling out instant pickup “kiosks”; they have the stores.

For its part, Target has taken a direct step to tackle one of the primary holes in its omnichannel strategy by acquiring transportation tech company Grand Junction to promise same-day delivery to customers — a clear step to address Amazon’s moves as retail undergoes a rapid transformation.

Amazon’s next steps are unknown. But the brick-and-mortar future will almost certainly continue to rely on on-demand partnerships — both with Amazon and with other competitors — and “instant pickup” is an option that existing retailers need to embrace now.

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