Thursday Dec 18, 2014

Evolution of Image Recognition

Remember the first time you tried Shazam on the iPhone? I was blown away. Even with ambient noise the thing was accurate.  Then I recall John Yopp, our head of research, say we should create a fashion Shazam that identifies clothing for people. When you see a cool tie at lunchtime, snap a picture and buy your own.  Wait a second, songs are one thing but fashion would be impossible.  Patterns, shadows, creases -- it would never work.

Then I came across GetFugu and Google Goggles, which both made good attempts are recognizing products.  Amazon's Flow was also very good, but it heavily leveraged optical character recognition to get hints about the product.  I suppose that fine when shopping in stores, but it wasn't the real world scenario I was looking for.  (Flow has undergone many upgrades over the years and now it can create a shopping list.)  Pounce was pretty good at marrying traditional advertising with digital, allowing the user to snap a picture of a product in a circular/flyer then see the product on the Website.

In a Customer Advisory Board meeting, one of my customers showed me a very cool app for recognizing sneakers.  NetShoes, a Brazilian e-commerce company, released an app that I found to be very accurate.  (I went around the conference snapping pictures of people's sneakers.  Luckily it was the last day so most were wearing comfortable shoes for the plane ride home.)  I later contacted the engineers and found there was a pretty exhaustive process for training the application to recognize the objects, but it could be used for almost anything given some degree of context.

Five years or so after my first experience with Shazam, I think we're getting closer.  Companies like Slyce are investing heavily in the technology necessary.  But we've still got a ways to go.  I downloaded and tried Neiman Marcus' implementation of Slyce and tested a few handbags.  Close but no cigar.


Thursday May 08, 2014

Retail Vendor Consolidation

The vendor ecosystem for the retail industry has been very active in the last 10 years, growing with new entrants and shrinking with acquisitions.  This certainly benefits retailers through both access to innovation and lower costs.  The graphic below summarizes some of those acquisitions by the major players in the industry.

One thing enabled by this consolidation is the ability for a retailer to use a single vendor for a complete transformation.  That's what retailers like JCPenney, Belk, and Neiman Marcus have done with Oracle Retail.  Oracle brings the separate products together to ease integration efforts, and provide more comprehensive views of the enterprise.

Nowadays best-of-breed is a tougher sell as most retailers understand the importance of Commerce Anywhere and want comprehensive, coordinated systems that serve the needs of their customers.  Building solutions one block at a time is time-consuming and inefficient, so leaning on vendors to deliver the core is usually preferred.

This cycle of new companies building great solutions then being acquired is healthy for the industry, and I expect it to continue.

Wednesday Mar 26, 2014

Neiman Marcus CEO Calls Merchandising System Revamp Transformative

Reporting today at Oracle Industry Connect in Boston, guest blogger Adam Blair captured insights from retailers.

Calling the implementation of a revamped common merchandising system “the single biggest capital project we’ve ever done at Neiman Marcus,” President and CEO Karen Katz discussed the luxury retailer’s need to keep this major technology transformation on track with Oracle President Mark Hurd at Oracle Industry Connect for Retail here.

Katz admitted that the 41-store retailer, known for its personalized customer service and carefully curated product assortments, faces some singular challenges – in part because it has been so successful. “Our merchants believe that the way we run our business is so unique that we need highly customized systems,” Katz told Hurd. “We want [Oracle’s] help in making sure we don’t do that. You’ve worked with hundreds of retailers on these types of transformations. We know we’ll make some mistakes but we don’t want to make the same ones as others have, so staying on a clear path and keeping us focused will be very important.”

Neiman Marcus is hardly technophobic; its $1 billion-plus in digital sales makes it the largest luxury e-commerce business in the world. Three years ago, the retailer equipped all 5,000 of its store associates with iPhones, with the mobile devices replacing the ubiquitous “black books” that contained detailed information on the retailer’s highly demanding customers and their shopping preferences. “We wanted our associates to keep their client books in the app, but we also wanted them to communicate with customers as they wanted, via text, e-mails or phone calls. Now they can send photos, collages or ideas about wardrobe items that the customers might need,” noted Katz.

In its quest to create “the same kind of memorable customer experience online as in our stores,” Katz noted that Neiman Marcus has created the position of senior vice president of omni-channel and also has relaunched its consumer mobile app, which connects shoppers with their preferred sales associates. In turn, the retailer’s commission-based associates have been incentivized to create more omni-channel customers. “There are entire categories of product that we’re never going to sell within our stores, such as home furnishings, sheets and towels,” said Katz. “Our associates can sell these through the website and get commissions on those sales.”

Katz noted that while she honors the brand’s storied history, technology is critical to staying relevant, especially given the power of today’s consumer: “Retailers need to accept that the customer is in the driver’s seat, and not just follow her but get out in front of her. That will be the future.”

Oracle today released more information about the initiative with Neiman Marcus

About


David Dorf, Sr Director Technology Strategy for Oracle Retail, shares news and ideas about the retail industry with a focus on innovation and emerging technologies.


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