Reflections On Smart Mirrors In Retail With Episerver

We spoke to Joey Moore, Head of Evangelism for EMEA & APAC at Episerver, about the impact of AI-driven smart mirrors in changing rooms in retail clothing stores. Episerver is a technology company that focuses on creating great customer experiences for retailers. Joey spent more than a decade working with organizations around the globe to advance their digital maturity, with a specialization in platforms, personalization, and user experience.

 

David Zweifler, Gordon Magazine (“GM”): [00:02:09] A lot of big retailers are not training their staff because their business is too difficult to make investments in staff, and so that lowers the quality of the in-store experience. Is AI the answer to that? Is that going to be improving the in-store experience to the point that consumers are willing to transact there?

Joey Moore, Episerver (“JM”): [00:02:38] There are two ways of looking at that. One is that digital is making a lot of changes to the way the people shop but can also enhances your store system in terms of your staff. So we have a number of customers that are using us very actively for internal knowledge systems or information sharing.

And so if you got a hundreds or thousands of staff, you can actually support them very well with this kind of great digital experience, where they kind of coordinating shifts or product information, et cetera, over an app.

Equally where we see AI come into play is when someone comes into the store using behavioral algorithms, and so we’re tracking online user behavior and seeing what people are buying together, what products are being up-sold, and cross-sold, across different departments, and we actually have customers using a transfer  – they’ve created digital smartmirrors, so the customer can walk into the changing room and the product that they walk into there’s an RFID chip. Smart mirrors recognize what that product is, makes a call to our servers now AI and behavioral learning system, and just being able to return products to that smart mirror.

Recommendations Delivered by Smart Mirrors

So the smart mirrors deliver cross-sells the upsells as though there’s a store citizen helping you. Obviously it is using the wealth of thousands of potentially millions of different customer visits to actually make that system incredibly intelligent, and really makes sure it’s selecting the right products that individual.

GM: [00:04:14] So I mean what can it do and what can it do at this point?

JM: [00:04:19] One of the most abundant most interesting things about what it’s doing is it’s using close to real-time behavior to do that. So is the (smart mirrors) technology exists now so that user can take the product in, as I said, the RFID chip is picking up all within milliseconds and that information is being passed across the web in milliseconds as products to select and sent back.

[00:04:44] So it’s A really rich user experience. But of course what we actually see is we see the data that’s running behind that on it on the other side and we’ve been here we’ve spoken to the store staff and customers love it. So this isn’t a digital application for the station for the just because it needs to be a digital application is there because actually customers get a lot of value from it.

[00:05:03] They find engaging they they click on the select the recommendations are being sent back and we actually purchased and because it’s assisting their shopping journey.

Robots Upsell, Humans Check Stock

GM: [00:05:16] Theoretically. You don’t need to have a human in the mix there, right? Or is it are there things that you still have some, aside from stocking the shelves…

JM: [00:05:30] One of the interesting Parts with it is that you can actually the before the products are being sent back to the smart mirrors. They can run a store stock check on the items. On the items being recommended in certain only recommend that product if it is within the store, so it’s great so that you can actually press a button saying, okay, so it’s being recommended an item on the smart mirrors and you can say bring me this item and on the outside someone can actually see that the lights and people Quest and they can bring it to you within the in the changing room.

[00:06:06] Maybe years from now that that will all be automated with levers and pulleys and all sorts of things to actually deliver the item to the user. But essentially People still like that human contact as part of the shopping experience that we all kind of enjoy that. That kind of side of it as well.

Testing Before Investing

GM: [00:06:26] Are you seeing any other retailers who are using in-store technology or smart mirrors and store AI and really innovative ways?

JM: [00:06:36] Well, that is one of the things that lots of retailers are seeing that they certainly have aspirations to. There’s a lot of caution at the moment about doing things just for the sake of doing them. On the High Street, you know, you want to be making sure that where you’re putting your bets you’re very confident that they’re going to pay off, so there is a slight dichotomy there.

JM: But how do we innovate and be prepared to fail and test things whilst at the same time we want to be spending, and we want to be investing wisely? So what a lot of customers or people in the industry that I speak to their they’re really going and seeing who’s doing what that’s interesting and how to get their own knowledge up about what’s possible and what’s available as well.

“I think there’s a couple of big wins left that people haven’t quite cracked and one of them is on the operational side.”

GM: [00:07:25] You know, I was just talking to the CEO of Alton Lane, which is a technology-driven custom tailor and they’re using this bodyscan technology in a very effective way. To be sure there were a lot of companies that adopted it earlier, and they were they were not using it effectively. So after they got this initial PR boost for this really cool in-store technology. They ended up dumping the tech. Are you seeing anybody who’s using the in-store AI or smart mirrors wrong ? Is there anybody who kind of just jumped in and didn’t really know what they were getting in to?

AI Opportunity On The Operational Side

JM: [00:08:06] I think there’s a couple of big wins left that people haven’t quite cracked and one of them is on the operational side. It’s the delivery — getting products to users quicker. And there’s lots of technology that it’s helping that the moments are doing that in a very smart way. Sizing and certainly in fashion and apparel that there’s been solutions have been on the market for many many years that the promised to answer this question for users.

[00:08:44] But we’ve all done it. We’ve all ordered things of the wrong size online. Then you kind of have to go t hrough that the faff of getting returning things…

GM: [00:08:50] Where I was going was, some US retailers kind of jumped in with both feet on body scanning and they were not they they were very excited about body scanning but they didn’t set up their back-end to accommodate the body scanning and they kind of figured it would all take care of itself. Just curious if you’re seeing any retailers…

JM: [00:09:15] The tech is lacking behind the aspiration still in that regard. I see that with certainly some of the AI applications around, you know, some try this item on and you get us a rather clumsy cutout of a jacket overlaid on your body look for a phone and things and I don’t think it’s quite there the technology yet. And, you know, they’ve been having a crack at it probably for the last five years I’ve been looking at that space and I’ve seen lots of retailers go down that and it very quietly retired six months later because no one uses it because it didn’t offer that value…

GM: [00:09:56] Beyond the initial PR boost…

JM: [00:09:59] Yeah. Yeah, that’s exciting and interesting. I think these things will get answered eventually, but if I was not quite there yet, right.

AI Assists Salespeople Behind The Scenes

GM: [00:10:09] You were talking before about how the human element with the smart mirrors is essentially like checking the stock, bringing in the clothes that are selected, maybe the salesperson saying, “Hey, that looks great on you,” or “Oh my gosh, I can’t let you buy that,” if they get crazy recommendations through the smart mirrors (laughter).

[00:10:39] The thing that seems interesting to me is the with the in-store technology (like smart mirrors), the way that it augments the customer experience, that the partnership with the human service provider seems to be incidental or accidental in the way that you described. Are you seeing any use of AI where it is augmenting the salesperson’s ability to add value in a face-to-face setting.

JM: [00:11:22] Yes, where we have so not only in a face-to-face but also in call centers where we have a user who has identified themselves on on the web or on an app where they make the store visit if they make themselves known then that store representative can access all of that web browsing behavior all the app browsing behavior.

[00:11:52] Obviously if the for the right permissions have been granted and that uses given those permissions, but then so they can see that those that make personal recommendations based on that users browsing behavior and buying behavior.

[00:12:06] So looking be able to look at their previous purchases before so that’s great in their kind of b2c environment is also useful in a B2B environment as well.

AI’s Nows Assists In Real Time, But Mostly B2B

GM: [00:12:16] Gordon is basically named after my grandfather who was a custom tailor, and beyond the product which was excellent he was known for… the joke was that you know, one of his old clients walked in while he was on his deathbed and asked him for his vital statistics and he propped himself up in bed and said “you have a 40 chest but make sure that you get the rounded shoulders….” You know, he knew everything about everybody and you know, we could tell you what your kids Vital Statistics were. That comes with 50 years of experience.

“Your website should be as good as your best sales representative.”

[00:12:59] I always wondered whether AI could be used in a way where you could take somebody who is new but say to them, hey, this (customer) is a person who’s bought from us five times. They’re interested in this they tend to go in there. You know and definitely in a call center. I think it’s just starting but I don’t know…

JM: [00:13:17] We have it — specifically that use-case in a B2B environment where they have where they scale up a lot around the holiday season. And where they are bringing new staff on board and maybe the staff aren’t familiar with the catalog and products they sell, etc., then using AI to quickly get them up to speed or put the right product for the right suggestions and the right product information in front of those users. So when they’re helping our customers then they don’t sound like it’s their first day or that first week or whatever then they’re already lifted up to a certain bar.

[00:13:52] But but I but I love that — that idea of what your website should be. I mean if your website should be as good as your best sales representative and that’s kind of representative, that’s what that’s what everyone’s aiming for isn’t it? So that everyone could be as good as your grandfather when I go on the web I get that kind of personalized experience and feel like it just knows me and makes it much easier for me room who is a law that friction.

Stores In A World Of (Smart) Mirrors

GM: [00:14:19] You’re coming at it from the technology side of things and there is a lot of exciting things going on there.

“Shopping is still a social activity and, in many parts of the world, a primary social activity.”

[00:14:25] I don’t know if it’s too too far into science fiction, but when you look at things like smart mirrors or body scanners, I mean, theoretically, you can have that in your house. Right? I mean and you could be having it would the way things work currently it would maybe be too tedious and iterative a process when it came to trying on clothes.

[00:14:52] But certainly if you have bought before you might be able to leverage those text types of technology in your house. I don’t know if you see that as too far into the future or too impossible a scenario. If you don’t, what what are stores for? Are they necessary?

JM: [00:15:19] Yeah… there’s very much a social thing, you know. People still do like meeting friends and going shopping together and getting their opinion on things.

[00:15:29] It is still a social activity and lots of parts of the world is, you know, sort of a primary social activity in terms of what it means in the home. There is a lot of talk around voice and you know, whether people are going to be ordering things over their voice-enabled devices and I think (there will), in the very near future. There’s some of the more simple aspects, of course any adding stuff to a shopping list, et cetera. …They’ll still be some kind of UI barriers to jump over in terms of even narrow ordering a pair of jeans over voice, you know, maybe got the size and the fit and the color. And who you’re going to buy them from and all those kind of things.

[00:16:17] So so there’s some of the challenges around that, but you know when we’re talking about the future are we talking 5, 50, or 300 years, you know, there’s some stuff that we haven’t even thought of yet. So it’s just about saying what what can we expect in the next five to twenty years? …It’s going to be hugely transformative.

GM: [00:16:36] Well, it’s really interesting because it seems like there’s this there’s a lot of technology that’s working towards seamless ordering, seamless purchasing, and convenience and like, you know when I buy jeans I know exactly what I want, and I want fast, and I do not want to go into a retail establishment to buy them.

[00:16:56] Often times I frustratingly have to buy these what I consider commodity items because they’ve changed the model, right? I have a pair of great Nike running shoes that I they decided to change the model. It was perfect and they’ve wrecked them, so, now, I have to go shoe shopping and I’ve got to try on shoes.

[00:17:18] But on the other hand, you also mentioned the fun element and the social element and it’s it seems… am I wrong but it seems like a lot of the technology hasn’t addressed the “fun” element other than the initial novelty of like, “oh, smart mirrors are talking to me,” you know?

Fun In-Store

JM: [00:17:37] Hmm. I think that there’s this kind of experiential side. You got to offer more to users when you got that that store space. I think my prediction is there’s going to be a lot fewer stores in the future, but they’re going to be a lot more fun and engaging to be in the in the few that you have left.

“We all walk around with these supercomputers in our pockets. How that interacts with the store environment. I think will be kind of one of those battlefields of the future.”

[00:17:57] And then, you know, the the number of stalls has dropped massively since the turn of the century and is up, you know has been declining has been other ways to shop and sort of a consolidation, you know, where the High Street there’s always a butcher a baker and a grocer now there’s you know often Supermarket.

[00:18:12] So the number of stores has been has been dropping over the last 100 years or so and this is an evolution of that, essentially. It’s just that there’s new ways for people to shop. And so that’s that’s kind of a reflection of what we see today.

GM: [00:18:26] Does technology like smart mirrors have any role in creating that engagement and fun environment in-store or is like, you know, is it going to be like old-school tactics, like “Hey, we serve drinks at our clothing store after six o’clock…? ” And, then, the technology is really about creating more seamless transactions, and more convenience.

JM: [00:18:48] Oh, absolutely. I think there will be things that are fun, and they’ll be using AR and AI. I still think there’s an absolute place for that in creating interesting, engaging customer experiences — there will still be celebrity drop-ins and the like, but a lot more personalized through AI.

[00:19:08] …but, certainly, technology will have a place to play and is fun. We all walk around with these supercomputers in our pockets. How that interacts with the store environment. I think will be kind of one of those battlefields of the future interesting.

GM: [00:19:29] Thank you very much. I really appreciate you taking the time to talk with us today.

JM: [00:19:33] Thank you.

 

David Zweifler

David is the founder of Gordon Magazine. David's experience spans investment banking, journalism, marketing and technology.

David Zweifler