IBM is expanding its retail initiatives with a new MobileFirst for iOS Sales Assist app, one of a number of emerging technologies the company views as a potential disruptor.
The offering is being premiered within Boots stores, the U.K.’s largest health and beauty retailer, and aims to streamline the shopping process by providing employees with the ability to show product information, ratings, reviews and inventory on iPads. The effort follows other recent IBM forays into retail and fashion, including its collaboration with Marchesa on a “smart dress” powered by Watson’s API for the Met Gala in May.
Sales Assist will be available on 3,700 Apple devices throughout Boots stores in the U.K., using analytics to help employees make personal recommendations and locate additional items. The initiative mirrors efforts of fashion retailers like Uniqlo, which is in the process of launching its first digital flagship store in Japan and is seeking to provide similar offerings.
“It will help even our smallest stores feel like a flagship shop, with access to the entire Boots range at their fingertips,” Robin Phillips, director of omnichannel and development at Boots UK, said in a statement.
While in theory an app like Sales Assist will be advantageous to retailers and their employees, Jason Goldberg, svp of commerce and content at Razorfish, said there is potential for logistical challenges and oversights. He noted that employees may not have an easy way to hold the tablets or charge them between shifts. It may also propagate overzealous trips to back storage rooms, toddling atop ladders to locate remaining products.
Despite any initial implementation growing pains, Goldberg said Sales App can help meet the expectations of consumers that desire an increasing amount of information while in stores.
“Digital is disrupting the way we shop and we have a lot more expectations,” Goldberg said. “Ratings and reviews are the first thing we want to know before we buy. 91 percent of purchases happen in store, but there’s no product information beyond the three bullet points on the box.”
Danny Bagge, retail industry lead for IBM U.K., said he anticipates the next major wave of disruption in fashion will be advances in cognitive merchandising, which provides customized, tailored search offerings to consumers looking for a particular garment. For example, when looking up a dress for an event, cognitive technology can show search results based on size and preference, rather than prioritizing filters like locations or accessibility.
Efforts like Sales Assist, he said, are focused on increasing the quality of customer service and operates best in establishments in which maintaining quality interaction with consumers is a core staple of the business.
“If you’re going into buy a can of baked beans and leave again, you don’t need Sales Assist. It’s different if you’re looking for a consultative experience with fashion and beauty trends,” Bagge said.
He also anticipates that emerging payment methods like Apple Pay that allow for one-click payments both in store and on e-commerce will reign supreme and ultimately shake up the industry. For IBM, developing a more integrated shopping experience is a major focus moving forward.
“We’ve done e-commerce, we’ve done mobile, but these are all siloed channels,” said Bagge. “How do we get them all to collide beautifully in a seamless experience in the store? That’s the next level of the omnichannel journey in the U.K.”