If you’re interested in the future of retail technology and innovation, Kohl’s 2018 Geek Day event was the place to be. Geek Day is an annual Kohl’s-sponsored showcase for internal employees and select strategic vendors focused on new retail technology. This year’s expo showcased a myriad of future-thinking vendors supporting Kohl’s “Tech in 2020” initiatives, from big data to machine learning to real-time personalization.
CB4 was accompanied by other ground-breaking start-ups including ZineOne, PassageAI, and Coursera, as well as some big-name firms, like Google, Accenture, and Deloitte, all focusing on the retail technology of the future.
Kohl’s is famous for their focus on new and emerging technology to make the shopping experience in any of their 1,155 locations unique and seamless. They’re dedicated to innovation, and proof of that lies in both their impressive Innovation Center in Milwaukee, Wisconsin and their Digital Center in Milpitas, California. The latter was where Geek Day 2018 was held, and where we witnessed firsthand the level of innovation they aspire to.
So what types of retail technology do big-brand stores like Kohl’s think will bring them into the future? In this article, we’ll provide a short summary of some of the companies we saw at Geek Day and what it all means for the future of brick and mortar retail.
This year, the larger firms presented on the “hottest trends in retail technology” – focusing on artificial intelligence, virtual reality, automation, and the Cloud. Of these companies, one of the most interesting was Google, who showed off the results of their two-year collaboration with Levi Strauss, a smart jacket they called the Commuter Trucker Jacket. Customized and controlled by an app, the jacket is specifically tailored with the urban cyclist in mind, allowing the wearer to control their music and receive a phone call while providing light haptic feedback for notifications.
After these presentations, the expo moved to “Startup Session” given by Zine-One, Passage AI, and CB4.
Zine-One bills itself as a “customer engagement hub for real-time personalization.” It’s a software that enables enterprise companies to take real-time action using an AI-driven decision layer. Zine-One helps brands connect cross-session, cross-channel user activity to increase conversion and consumer loyalty. In retail, Zine-One has seen a 14% increase in loyalty redemptions with real-time personalized reminders.
Passage AI provides deep learning technology and bot building tools so that brands can create and deploy a conversational interface for their business. They presented on bot creation and their methodology for creating seamless communication for their customers. Ratnakar Lavu, Kohl’s CIO & CTO, said, “We’re always looking toward technological innovation to deliver the best, most effortless shopping experience from our customers, and Passage AI helps us achieve this via a natural, instantly responsive experience.”
As for CB4, our co-founder, Professor Irad Ben-Gal, presented our machine-learning software, which uses existing POS data to uncover hidden consumer purchasing patterns at the store and SKU level. These purchasing patterns allow us to detect in-store operational issues that affect the sales of items with high local demand. Using our app, store managers are able to find and correct the highest-value issues in the store, increasing same store growth between 0.8-3%.
The presentations across both the start up and legacy companies showed that innovation and retail technology can provide industry leaders like Kohl’s with the capability to face the current challenges in brick & mortar stores.
In a time plagued by omnipresent headlines proclaiming the “decline of traditional retail,” the companies that presented at Geek Day are giving retailers the tools to further optimize their customer experience and bottom line. From automatically uncovering in-store operational issues to detecting live customer opportunities, these companies are making it easier and more manageable for corporate offices to evolve into the future.
Many retail technologies are solely focused on keeping brick and mortar stores alive in the retail space, while the true disrupters are focused on changing them to better suit the current retail environment. Retailers don’t have to look far to understand that this means a greater emphasis on the customer and a true understanding of why they choose brick and mortar in the first place: experience, convenience, and service.
If there’s one major takeaway from Kohl’s Geek Day 2018, it’s that major brands are looking to retail technology, including AI and machine learning, as a way to stay competitive and give the customers what they really want: a better overall shopping experience.