From Levi’s to Sephora – we’ve seen a number of retail brands launch AI-powered chatbots (for the purpose of offering styling tips and advice).
These chatbots are usually built within Facebook Messenger in order to target and communicate with shoppers through social media.
This can have its drawbacks, with nascent technology often delivering rather simplistic results. The fact that the experience is also separate from the brand itself (i.e. within a third party app) means that users may be less inclined to actually buy.
Japanese clothing retailer, Uniqlo, has recently launched a new AI-powered assistant – the difference here being that it is integrated into its own mobile app in Japan. What’s more, it is designed to be an all-round ‘digital concierge’, providing everything from product recommendations to voice-enabled customer service.
So, is Uniqlo IQ a step up in terms of what AI-powered bots can offer? Here’s more on the tool and what it offers shoppers.
All kinds of inspiration
Uniqlo IQ is mostly about style inspiration. Instead of shoppers aimlessly browsing through categories and product pages themselves, the app offers a variety of ways for users to search and discover new products.
It does this by presenting clothes through a number of different verticals. For example, by hourly product rankings, occasion type, or items featured in Japanese monthly magazines.
It also offers recommendations and styling advice based on personal preferences, as well as quirkier factors such as the day’s ‘lucky colour’ which is correlated to the user’s horoscope. The latter sounds like a particularly fun feature, and nicely balances out the app’s highly functional nature.
Overall though, the app is cleverly designed to make the shopping experience more personalised, tailoring recommendations to people and their individual needs. With one in three shoppers said to desire personalised products and services, this strategy doesn’t only enhance the user experience, but it can also help to convert browsers into buyers.
Google-powered voice integration
One feature which sets Uniqlo IQ apart is its voice capabilities, as it is integrated into Google Assistant’s Japanese app.
By saying “Uniqlo IQ” or “Uniqlo FAQ,” users can talk to a Google-powered voice assistant to find out the answers to customer queries, such as shipping times and stock availability.
According to Uniqlo, it is the first example of a brand working so closely with Google and using Google Assistant to create a brand-specific solution.
That being said, voice-powered services within retail is nothing new. We’ve previously seen the likes of Walmart and Target partner with Google on voice-powered services, with the technology allowing users to order and re-order products just by speaking.
However, Uniqlo IQ’s voice-powered assistant is unique in how it aims to fill a customer-service gap. The ability to ask queries rather than manually search for them is another quick-win for users, making voice an integral part of the over-arching brand experience (and customer service) rather than just a transactional one.
There is a question of whether users actually want this voice-powered feature. The Google Assistant integration also means that shoppers will need to know about the service and actively seek it out. Meanwhile, with Uniqlo being a rather niche brand – not exactly a place people go for every day essentials like Target or Walmart – there might not be enough customer need for it to be of real and long-lasting value.
Perhaps Uniqlo will see some uptake from users who already use voice technology on a daily basis. Comscore suggests that one in three voice technology users do so daily, but again, this depends on how much they value this type of service in the context of a retail brand such as Uniqlo.
It’s been estimated that 81% of shoppers conduct online research before they commit to a purchase, meaning that a large proportion of shoppers might not yet be in the mind-set to make a purchase. Meanwhile, a CRBE survey found that 70% of millennials prefer brick-and-mortar retail than shopping online.
This highlights the conundrum faced by multi-channel retailers, with the fractured nature of consumer behaviour making it even harder to know how to bridge the gap between online and offline retail.
While Uniqlo IQ allows users to purchase products within the app (and continually prompts them to do so), it also aims to turn digital window shoppers into offline buyers. It does this by providing directions to the nearest Uniqlo stores where products the user has been looking are in stock.
This is where Uniqlo IQ is particularly clever, as it caters to all kinds of shopper mindsets, and aims to hook in users regardless of purchase intent and preferred channel. By prompting browsers to head to a nearby store, Uniqlo instils the notion of choice, and helps to prevent ‘window shoppers’ from abandoning their journey entirely.
Personal customer service
A final point to note is how Uniqlo IQ aims to create a more personal connection with consumers. Founding partner, Rei Inamoto, said to Venture Beat: “There has been a lot of talk about AI in the last few years but most use cases have been toys, not tools. Available through chat, search and even voice activation, this iteration of Uniqlo IQ is the foundation of how Uniqlo will provide customer service on a personal level not just reactively but also proactively.”
This means that, whether users want help or inspiration, they can access it in a far more accessible (and actionable) way than ever before.
With increased investment in the use of AI within retail, Uniqlo IQ certainly marks a step up from the disappointing chatbots of old.
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Readers who want to find out more about the latest innovations in mobile and retail should visit the AI & Innovation stage at the Festival of Marketing 2018, October 10-11 in London.