The most wow new tech initiatives February 2019

In a world of endless tech announcements, let us be your guide when it comes to the stuff that might make the biggest difference to the retailing of tomorrow. We’ve scoured the world to pick up on the best new tech ideas, so you don’t have to. Read on to see what’s been wowing us this month:



Mastercard launches 3D virtual store experience


What is it?

Mastercard is one of the latest companies to try and bring the experience of shopping offline to online. Created together with Next Retail Concepts, this new approach does away with the usual product pages of a website and instead lets customers browse a 3D simulation of the real-life store. The tech integrates with the existing ecommerce set-up to complete transactions seamlessly.


Why you need to know

There’s certainly a conversation to be had about whether anyone really needs, or wants, a virtual version of a space they could visit in real-life. At the same time this approach does acknowledge some of the more annoying or off-putting aspects of online shopping.

This includes scrolling through page after page of results to find what you want or to be inspired. We all know what they say about Google – if you’re not on the first page of results you’re nowhere. Online shopping can be a lot like this. Products that are buried at the bottom of listings or aren’t properly categorised may be overlooked.

Being able to browse them in the more curated way that you can in-store may help enable discovery and to make the online shopping experience more of a leisure one. This tech may not be the next phase of online shopping, but it might help us get there.


The complimentary AI avatar that helps sell more


What is it?

Millie is an AI-powered avatar created by start-up TwentyBN that is designed to make you buy more by complimenting you. The system can identify when a customer approaches and encourages them to try on or pick up a product. If they do so then Millie will use compliments and flattery to try and get them to try on other options, and, eventually, to buy.


Why you need to know

This is one of those early phase projects that is more about the potential than the current execution. Millie still has some way to go to become a slick interaction, but the idea of using compliments to sell more isn’t exactly a new one. Using a digital avatar to deliver it is more so.

At the end of the day we all want to feel good about what we buy, especially when it comes to the clothes we wear. While we may often rope family and friends into shopping trips to get their input, sometimes we find ourselves shopping alone. On these occasions tech like Millie could give us the positive compliment boost that we need to buy that product that we’re on the fence about.

The trick here is going to be making Millie’s compliments seem genuine and somewhat personalised. If they’re always the same for everyone then any personal connection is going to be lost. You need to feel like you’re interacting with Millie as a person, not a piece of software.


facebook retail


Video shopping via Facebook Live


What is it?

Facebook has been testing the ability for customers to shop Facebook Live videos. Customers can watch product demonstrations in a Facebook Live video and if they want to buy what they see they take a screenshot. They then send that image to the seller via Facebook Messenger, which is also used to take payment. The feature has so far been piloted in Thailand.


Why you need to know

One of the big sticking points with buying something online is that you don’t know exactly what you’re getting until it turns up in the post. Retailers have been tackling this in a number of ways from better photography, mini videos of products being worn, more detailed product descriptions…

Being able to live demo and sell products isn’t a new idea. There’s a strong history of live shopping on TV and other brands are combining video and online shopping in a number of ways. It makes a lot of sense, not only in terms of increasing confidence in what you’re buying and showing you how it could be used, but also in being able to answer questions in real-time.

When it comes to Facebook the benefit is its large built-in potential audience. You’re not trying to get someone’s eyes on your own site but going to where they are already. At the moment the need to take a screenshot to buy is a bit clunky, but if this was to be rolled out more widely you can expect the process to get more slick with time.



amazon retail tech


Amazon’s blockchain push


What is it?

Amazon has made its move into blockchain with the launch of Amazon Quantum Ledger Database (QLDB). This ledger database tracks any data changes, so that you have a verified history of what has been changed – a history that can’t be altered or deleted. It has also announced the AWS Managed Blockchain which helps users set up their own blockchain network easily. This information can then be used with the QLDB.


Why you need to know

There was a time when Amazon said it wasn’t going to get into blockchain with AWS. Clearly though the company has seen an opportunity to respond to demand in the market. One of the most off-putting things about ideas like blockchain can be the time, money and expertise needed to implement them. Being able to easily go to Amazon in order to benefit from them will be an attractive prospect for many.

Of course, the developments will also only seek to strengthen AWS grip. Given that its retail operations are not the profitable parts of its business, Amazon wants to capture and retain as much business as possible with its cloud services. Blockchain is another way of doing this.


Disney retail patent

Image credit: Disney


Disney patents new in-store experiences


What is it?

Disney has filed two new in-store tech patents for an Interactive Retail Venue and a Retail Venue Providing Automated Customer Assistance. The first looks to use sensors, lighting, sound and digital displays to trigger different content and actions within the store. The second is focused around providing automated assistance to customers, such as queries about whether a product or experience is available in that store.


Why you need to know

Disney is always an interesting case due to the multiple strands of its business, including its stores and retail parks. While experience is now a buzzword, it’s something that Disney has long been exploring in different facets. The fact that both of these new patents revolve around the physical store suggests that the company may be looking to make its retail experiences more like those of its parks and events.

Both patents look to bring more interactive elements into the store, as well as to create a more immersive experience. The main reason to keep an eye on them though is that if Disney manages to effectively marry digital and physical then there is the potential for it to sell the tech to other brands.



YooxMirror AI style

Image credit: Yoox


Yoox’s virtual avatar


What is it?

Yoox has launched a new feature in its app called YooxMirror. Designed to help customers discover products, the feature uses a somewhat-customisable avatar called Daisy to showcase different outfits themes. Users can then swipe to change clothes and accessories. Interestingly the brand has also let Daisy take over its Instagram account.


Why you need to know

This development brings gamification to the process of discovering outfits. Rather than browsing through product pages YooxMirror is a fun way of seeing what’s on offer and how different products can go together. Once they’ve created an outfit they like they can share it on social media, save it to a wishlist or buy the products featured.

At the moment it’s not necessarily the most convincing digital rendition of clothing ever, but this could well change. It’s also likely that YOOX will add the ability for customers to upload their own image to use as an avatar in the future to give them a better idea of what the clothes would look like on.

Yoox is also using this as a learning exercise. It has put considerable AI expertise into the outfit recommendations already, but it is sure to be taking note of how customers interact with the YooxMirror as well.

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