What Was Big at the NRF Big Show


Michael Maginnis

The MJD team attended the NRF Big Show last week and came away both inspired and a bit overwhelmed. We were inspired by the digital innovation happening in retail, with big and small players alike pushing the boundaries of technology. It felt a bit more like CES than the NRF shows of the past with virtual and augmented reality, cognitive computing, RFID, chatbots and plenty of cutting edge software options being sold as the savior to all retailers.

We were overwhelmed by the sheer number of options retailers have to choose from. This brings up important questions: What exactly does the software do; would this technology provide value to my organization; and what would it actually take to implement any of these options? How does someone weed through everything to find something that works? Well, we’ve taken a stab at that. The following technologies and services cut through the noise for us as viable options for retailers to utilize in process of modernizing their operations.

IBM “Cognitive Food Advisor” – How many people worked on that name at IBM?

The bigger platform players like SAP, IBM, Microsoft, Intel, Toshiba came to NRF this year with the clear goal of being able to do everything asked of them by modern retailers. But it was hard to hear through the buzzwords to figure out what they really do best. They do a great job selling that they do everything from inventory and logistics, store management and commerce, as well as engaging digital experiences for both consumers and store associates. But it’s hard to be the best at everything, and it was difficult to identify the best in class at any single task.

IBM Watson was very impressive and exemplified the “we can do everything for you” approach. We walked away wondering how a retail store manager would understand the huge breadth of the technology they were selling under the “cognitive computing” umbrella of Watson. There is no doubt that a system like this offers tremendous value to a retailer, and can make the difference between success and failure, but it comes with a high price in time and cost to implement. For retailers looking to completely overhaul existing systems, this investment makes complete sense. If someone is looking to enhance existing systems, a better strategy is to tie together innovations that do certain things extremely well.

IBM’s “Booth of Everything”

For us, the real inspiration came from the smaller companies that are pushing the envelope of innovation. They are laser focused on changing the future of retail. Virtual reality seemed to have the biggest crowds. You could see the potential in the space as companies demoed virtual store concepts with virtual shelving, shopping, eye tracking to see what entices customers, and some cutting edge analytics.

Virtual and Augmented Reality were a big focus of the show.

Three companies stood out on the trade show floor in the VR space: Marxent LabsInVRsion, and In Context Solutions. All three had promising VR solutions tailored for retailers, with great potential for some creative applications and interface add-ons by agency partners like MJD.

Another technology that got a lot of attention from retailers was augmented reality, and yes, this included a few “magic mirror” options. These have grown up and are looking better since their early adoption days, most of which were poorly executed.

The magic mirrors seem to be targeted to specific industries, mainly beauty and fashion. This technology becomes powerful when it enables virtual trials of products such as clothing options or makeup. A good user interface applied to this hardware can reduce the difficulty of finding products that appeal to an individual, while opening up essentially unlimited options to them. We see this driving spontaneous purchases that will increase revenues. We left thinking that the user experience and interface hadn’t really been nailed yet, and this is going to be a key area of focus for MJD this year.

HP’s Magic/Mobile Experience at NRF 2017

Other interesting technologies that we feel could be worth exploring included the chatbot company Kore, RFID/NFC tools for consumer experiences by BlueBite, Augmented Reality Commerce company Augment and mobile commerce platform NewStore.

Overall the Big Show reinforced that there is no shortage of technologies and platforms at retailers disposal. The most thought provoking aspect of this is figuring out how it all connects and relates to one another in order to enhance the overall customer journey. What digital product or experience is most effective in engaging users in a meaningful way? Tackling those hard questions and building the resulting incredible products is what gets us excited at MJD. Thanks to NRF for putting on another successful Big Show and for all the inspiration it gave us.

MJD works with retailers and retail design firms to help decipher the legions of technology options available. For more MJD retail thought leadership please follow our retail innovation series: The Evolution of Retail.



Michael Maginnis

The MJD team attended the NRF Big Show last week and came away both inspired and a bit overwhelmed. We were inspired by the digital innovation happening in retail, with big and small players alike pushing the boundaries of technology. It felt a bit more like CES than the NRF shows of the past with virtual and augmented reality, cognitive computing, RFID, chatbots and plenty of cutting edge software options being sold as the savior to all retailers.

We were overwhelmed by the sheer number of options retailers have to choose from. This brings up important questions: What exactly does the software do; would this technology provide value to my organization; and what would it actually take to implement any of these options? How does someone weed through everything to find something that works? Well, we’ve taken a stab at that. The following technologies and services cut through the noise for us as viable options for retailers to utilize in process of modernizing their operations.



The Secret to a Great Digital Product


Jeremy Duimstra

There is a sometimes ignored, often skipped step in the digital product design process that can make or break what you’re building. It’s not great UX, design or engineering, as crucial as those things are. The little-hidden secret? Field Research.

It’s a little sobering when you think about how much time, money and energy is being wasted building features that the market doesn’t want or need. – Christian Bonilla, Mind the Product

The best way, really the only way, to find out what features people want is to get out into the world with them. Observe and talk to them where they live, where they work, where they go about their lives. Through understanding the lives, emotions, and needs of the human beings that will hopefully experience your digital product on a daily basis, you can make sure that what you’re building has the features that they will love. However, most organizations skip this crucial step and make products that are based on their own internal stakeholder’s gut feelings. The truth is that your goals might not align with what people really need. Figuring that out happens by researching your chosen audience out in the field.

Steve Jobs famously said, “people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.” Henry Ford stated that “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” These are the types of sentiments that often justify creating digital products in-house without any field research. However, Apple, and Ford both did, and do, tremendous research on their customers so that they can see the problems that people have and create appropriate solutions.

How do you do that? MJD has built the concept of field research into our process to create some of the world’s best digital products. Here’s how we do it:

We need to be able to understand what other people are experiencing. To do this, we need to walk around a bit in their shoes. The only way we can experience the world in the unique way that they do is to live in it with them for awhile. We need to open our hearts and minds to the problems they face, the joy they feel, the things that confuse or challenge them, the things that inspire them.

It’s important to observe them both scientifically, usually with quantitative data, as well as emotionally, with qualitative data. Understanding and empathizing with the emotional response to a situation is key to building engaging features in a digital product.

49% of product managers said that their foremost challenge is being able to conduct proper market research to validate whether the market truly needs what they’re building. When we look at only the responses from enterprise software PMs, this figure jumps up to 62%. – 2016 Mind the Product Survey

After establishing an empathetic frame of mind, we must get out into the lives of the people that will eventually use our digital product. We do this by observing them where they live, where they work, and where they hang out. We collect information on their habits, their likes, and dislikes, and we look at challenges they have that the product we are building will eventually solve. Some observation is from afar and requires no interaction. Some observation is structured and takes place during interviews and shadowing. This deep level of immersion gives us what we like to call “nuggets of gold” – moments of inspiration and insight that are invaluable to our final products.

There is an art and a science to this field work. We find it essential to have two to three people from different disciplines (UX, design, engineering) out in the field observing and collecting data. This gives us insight into problems from multiple lenses, which helps bring clarity later. By layering science onto the art of observation, we can garner confidence that we’re on the right path through statistically significant results from observations, interviews and data collection.

After observing users in the field, we have access to a lot of data. We will have taken photos, videos, recorded and written down interviews, made notes of everything we’re thinking and collected valuable numerical data to measure behavioral patterns. The last step is to analyze all of the information we have gathered and summarize into an actionable document. The “actionable” part is key here – as there is often more information than we know what to do with initially. For starters, it is essential that we put the information back into the context of your digital product. We must ask ourselves what ‘nuggets of gold’ were mined from our observations that can directly affect the product we are seeking to build. Once we have identified those nuggets, we can start to build something that will resonate with our audiences. This investment in field research is the secret step that positions us above the competition and gives our products meaning, utility, and innovation.

The MJD process is propelled by design thinking.

Design thinking is the mechanism through which innovation and creativity can be unleashed. Combining inspiration, ideation and implementation we create human-centered experiences that create major impact. This includes robust field research, the secret sauce to any great digital product.

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The Evolution of Retail, Pt. 4: Customer Expectations

The Evolution of Retail: Customer Expectations


Jeremy Duimstra

In the first few articles of our “Evolution of Retail” series, we looked at the importance of using strategy over tactics and shed some light on how to enhance the customer journey. Now that we’ve established those guidelines, we need to move on to figuring out what our customers expect from retailers. We will be looking at these wants and needs from a digital perspective, but will be highlighting the in-store design implications as they apply.

There is a great research study on customer expectations in retail that was conducted by PWC in 2016. We have used some of their findings as we’ve gathered our own conclusions around the digital implementations of the data.

Price

Today’s consumers have more pricing information at their fingertips than ever before. The ability to check competing prices online, on phones, and in the store establishes firm expectations for retailers to be able to price match, and beat, the costs that are found on these different platforms. A good way to mitigate the constant demands to match and lower prices is to offer a level of service that customers can’t get elsewhere. This can include supplying exclusive goods, extraordinary satisfaction guarantees, and friction-free return policies. If price matching is still the only option, it is important to balance these losses with products that generate enough profit to cover them.

Stock

Customers expect items to be well stocked in the store. Largely, modern inventory systems and streamlined logistics are able to control and fix stock issues when they arise. If you’re a retailer with legacy systems that don’t fix supply issues, you need to replace them because you’re at a serious competitive disadvantage. However, if you have modern systems, and outliers occur that cause stock to run out, customers’ frustrations can be calmed if they are offered the option of ordering out-of-stock items via their phone or other in-store digital methods. When these alternative options are coupled with the guarantee of fast shipping, the customer’s goodwill towards the retailer can be maintained and the problem of these outliers is greatly diminished.

Omni-Channel

We’ve covered the immense benefits of omni-channel in previous articles, but it is worth mentioning again in this context. Consistency between channels is the key to the customer journey. Single-Sign-On is paramount to this effort – customers do not want to have to keep track of different logins for different platforms within the same store (website, app, loyalty programs etc.). The single-sign-on model can be elevated in the in-store implementation. Technology allows for cross-pollination between customers online actions and their brick and mortar experiences. If physical stores are aware of the statuses of their customers’ online shopping carts, they have the ability to physically guide customers to their unpurchased items in the store using their phones. Tying these experiences together seamlessly defies customers base expectations while vastly increasing sales across multiple platforms.

Mobile Commerce

The online shopping tool of choice is rapidly transitioning from desktop to mobile devices. According to Business Insider, mobile commerce will reach $284 billion, or 45% of the total U.S. e-commerce market, by 2020. Savvy retailers are creating mobile optimized shopping experiences that are able to deliver on their brand’s promises. Customers expect the same high-quality service that they get on a website, or in the store, on their mobile devices. For the digital landscape, this means that things must load quickly, have an easy-to-use interface, and evoke an emotional bond to the brand.

Community

Customers are looking for social connections while they are shopping. From peer reviews to chatting with friends on the latest styles and trends, today’s shoppers are tapping into their friends and virtual communities for help in navigating product offerings.

PricewaterhouseCoopers (PWC) polled 22,618 digital buyers ages 18 and older. Respondents had shopped online at least once in the past year. Nearly half (45%) of digital buyers worldwide said that reading reviews, comments and feedback on social media influenced their digital shopping behavior. Some 44% of respondents also said that receiving promotional offerings also influenced their shopping behavior.

At MJD, we’re exploring innovative community technologies that can enhance these experiences. This can include things like building in-store digital experiences that connect to Facebook or a chat client to allow shoppers to get opinions from their friends and family before making purchases. These sorts of technologies are showing great promise.

Experiences not "things"

People, especially Millennials, want to buy experiences, not “things.” They want their money to be spent on a life well-lived, and digital has a big place in their lives. Digital experiences add new layers to the ways these millennials experience the retail world. Even the smallest of experiences can connect to customers on an emotional level to tell a powerful story.

Speed

Lastly, we want to touch on a very significant undercurrent of customer expectation in retail: speed. By and large, people want things NOW. Deloitte’s 2016 Holiday Survey says that customers in 2015 viewed “fast shipping” as anything within 3-4 days. In a single year, that figure dropped to within 2 days. This is how Amazon Prime is succeeding and, in turn, affecting all retailers. How do retailers compete? One suggestion is to use store design and logistics tools to turn community stores into miniature distribution centers. Combining this with courier services like Uber allows companies to compete, and beat, Amazon’s regional distribution center model.

Conclusion

Through our research, we’ve found that these are a few of the standout customer expectations in today’s retail marketplace. Some are more challenging than others, but using the right mix of digital innovation and store design to create ideal customer journeys is the way to compete in today’s retail marketplace.

MJD Retail Solutions