The Best From The US In May

The Changing Face of Retail: Macy’s Buys Experiential Retailer ‘Story’

Artificial Incrimination

Questions were raised this month following news that Amazon would sell its ‘Rekognition’ software — which powers the checkout-free Go store(s) — for use in law enforcement cameras. By routinely mapping people’s reaction patterns, say, from irritation to anger, body cameras could alert officers to warning signs, suggesting an intervention before the person reaches that state (should AI trump human will?). If this seems dystopian, look no further than China (where AI funding now outstrips the US), where this school monitors children’s attentiveness based on their facial expressions! They are not alone, Alphabet — and Apple — are looking to supply the military with drones. Association with ‘Project Maven’ has seen a dozen employees quit and a further 4,000 demand that participation be ceased. This article forewarns “as a tech company’s propensity to do good grows [and there are great examples], so too does its ability to do terrible things”. That is possibly why this video of Google Assistant booking a hair appointment was greeted with a tinge of fear, rather than fanfare.

The Future of Retail?

A s companies look to fight the schadenfreude-fuelled ‘Retail Apocalypse’ they are focusing on different areas of the consumer journey. Walmart is arming associates with handheld checkouts. They have also revealed Jetblack, a concierge-style service for “time-strapped urban parents” who can send a text message to receive product recommendations. In addition, the Lord & Taylor eshop-in-shop is live on walmart.com. Similarly, Stadium Goods have launched a curated store on FarFetch. Vending machines are seeing a reawakening — CompuCom is one case — to simplify the shopping experience for lower value, subscription items and prevent theft. Conversely, this article predicts that “Stores [will be] set up as playgrounds of hashtag”, which sees the future of physical retail as showrooms: which is possibly why Macy’s have bought Story, the experiential retailer that changes ‘theme’ every four to eight weeks. Tapestry, owner of Coach and Kate Spade, is backing personalisation, a decision that has driven sales and helped foster a 120 million-strong database with detailed consumer preferences, allowing them to refine inventory management. Finally, this piece claims that companies like Allbirds and Everlane are trying to copy big tech by creating clothes that can scale, rather than focusing on cutting-edge design, and likening their stores to Apple’s.

Small But Important

  • Starbucks shut all 8,000 US stores at noon on May 29th for company-wide racial bias training. This followed a high-profile incident in April when a manager called the police having mistakenly profiled two customers.
  • The Thompson Reuters Foundation collaborated with YouTube star Jacques Slade, riffing-on ‘unboxing’ videos to highlight modern slavery within fashion.
  • McDonald’s will use recyclable or renewable materials for all straws by 2025. H&M, Zara, and others will remove mohair after reports of cruelty.
  • Walmart will pay for its workers to get business or supply-chain management degrees, covering the cost of tuition and books.
  • As suggested last month, Amazon is banning serial returners from the site!
  • Movie-goers can buy tickets from Fandango via Google Assistant. This is a smart vCommerce, with clear UX from ‘Google, what films are on?’, through to purchase.
  • In what feels like a desperate move, Blue Apron are selling kits in Costco — with 30% off.
  • Revolve is gunning for the UK, matching free returns seen across competitors like ASOS. Next-up is an in-country HQ.
  • Best Buy will roll-out in-home health regimes and services to older customers who buy hard products. (They also have a new logo.)
  • Snap announced a lens that reacts to sound — this could be huge for music and sporting venues looking to augment events.
  • Sephora have merged their digital, in-store, and customer services teams — removing internal silos will help staff to think from a customer’s point of view. They are also offering make-up tutorials for trans people. (Nice touch.) Target is the latest brand to provide virtual beauty try-on.
  • J. Crew has big plans, including a personalisation engine; wider product range; loyalty scheme; and full relaunch in September. It will be interesting to see where they go: companies tend to chase the millennial dollar, yet that could cannibalise Madewell’s income and steer towards huge competition. A clearer 30–45 play would be more intriguing.
  • Men’s Warehouse store associates now chat with customers browsing the website during slow in-store hours. Brilliantly, they have allowed the consumer to rate the sales person, to ensure they are not overly pushy! Similarly, Macy’s have created an influencer network comprised of employees: ‘The Style Crew’ share promotions and product drops, along with their personalities.
  • In an attempt to tackle social media usage and mental well-being, Instagram have added a ‘Time spent’ metric onto the app.
  • Gap was forced to apologise after they released a t-shirt with a map of China that only included the mainland. The White House — no less — claimed that China was imposing “political correctness on American companies and their citizens”.
  • And finally, KFC celebrated the royal wedding with a ‘Harry and Meghan’ bucket, adorned with commemorative crest. The move was inspired by the Prince’s decision to pop the question over a roast chicken. Finger lickin’ PR!

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