Although large retailers tend to have the bigger budgets necessary to address challenges such as leveraging AI, personalization and channel integration, midmarket retailers and small businesses alike are finding their own ways to forge success in these areas. Look no further for examples than Oracle NetSuite SuiteWorld, held April 23-26, 2018 in Las Vegas: 81% of companies represented at the event had less than 1,000 employees, with many seeking effective ways to refine their paths to growth.
Evan Goldberg, EVP of Development at Oracle NetSuite delivered a keynote at the event titled It’s Grow Time, discussing how midmarket clients can take these leaps. In his remarks, Goldberg unveiled the NetSuite AI- and machine learning-based Intelligent Cloud Suite. NetSuite applies this intelligence to ERP platforms in three different ways:
- Intelligent insights: Predictions based on non-obvious correlations found in the data, such as which customers are most likely to pay invoices late or which projects are most likely to go over budget;
- Intelligent automation: Learning a task that users do repeatedly and doing it for them while presenting only the exceptions, such as prioritizing sales orders to fulfill; and
- Intelligent interaction: Suggesting content to add to a user’s dashboard, pre-selecting the most likely responses in forms and personalizing search.
AI-Driven “Searchandizing” Improves Site Search Experience
Goldberg emphasized that the suite would benefit retailers in “searchandizing,” an e-Commerce capability leveraging AI to curate search results for maximal impact. While conventional search uses keyword matching with some manual configurations on the back end, the suite includes features such as “smart synonyms” based on thousands of previous shopping patterns. For example, shoppers interested in buying a jacket are also often interested in coats.
“We can score products based on profitability,” said Goldberg. “All these signals can be put together to weight search results, displaying results the shopper is most likely to buy and that are best for [the retailer. But the story doesn’t stop there, because that’s where we start. Everything this shopper does becomes a signal back into the system. Maybe the user skips the first result. That’s a signal. A shopper then views the second jacket but doesn’t buy it, that’s a second but positive signal. The system uses this feedback loop to learn and improve for the next search by the next shopper.”
The Digital-Physical Blend Remains Paramount For Growth
The hottest topic within retail over the past year has undoubtedly been the industry’s transformation. While much ado has been made about the “retail apocalypse” of 2017, Brandon Jenkins, Retail VP of SuiteVerticals, noted that transformation has been occurring in most industries since the turn of the century, and that it was only a matter of time before retailers had to go through a change of their own. In fact, Jenkins pointed out that since 2000, 52% of the Fortune 500 companies have been replaced on the list.
Jenkins hosted a panel of three retail executives seeking to modernize their customer engagement strategies, integrate digital and physical channels and scale their own brands. The panel included:
- Devin Becker, Vice President, Becker Safety and Supply;
- Kevin Harwood, VP of Technology, Outdoor Voices; and
- Tony Drockton, CEO and Chief Cheerleader, Hammitt.
Harwood noted that Outdoor Voices, an Austin, Texas-based activewear brand, launched an augmented reality app experience, OV Trail Shop, to debut a new exclusive running collection that includes a running skort, shorts and tank top.
To activate the collection’s AR experience once in the app, users follow a map to one of 55 Trail Shop locations in the U.S. Products virtually appear in a platform similar to Pokémon Go. Consumers can then walk towards the items and put them in their virtual shopping bag.
“We wanted to come up with a way to use technology to encourage people to get out and be active,” Harwood said during the panel. “We created these geolocations that we can essentially stand up a digital pop-up store anywhere in the country and encourage people to go to that location — we did that in recreational spots such as a trail or soccer field — just somewhere where the shopper can be active and get exclusive access to a product for 24 hours.”
While Outdoor Voices initially started as an online-only retailer, the company has expanded into seven brick-and-mortar stores.
In contrast, Becker Safety and Supply actually started as a Colorado-based warehouse with a particular focus on wholesale/B2B sales. But as customers began to anticipate improved services and alternative payment options, the company expanded to an e-Commerce site. The retailer selected NetSuite SuiteCommerce to unify its disparate accounting and inventory management systems, which were making it difficult for the company to understand the journeys of its individual shoppers and buyers.
“We had one system that said one thing and another system that said another,” Becker said. “The customer would come into a store and we often wouldn’t know exactly what they were doing. We didn’t know their sales, we wouldn’t know what they bought beforehand or if they had any distresses.”
With a unified strategy across channels, Becker noted that his company bolstered the visibility of both its B2B and B2C consumers.
To help businesses like these scale, Goldberg noted in his keynote that NetSuite would move its cloud infrastructure to the Oracle Cloud Infrastructure (OCI), further reducing overhead. No longer a public company since its Oracle acquisition, NetSuite seeks to continue to pour resources back into its core capabilities to further drive growth for midmarket retail clients.