Yannis Fairfield, Senior Strategist at FITCH
Time is, and will continue to be, our most important currency.
And 2019 was the year we really embraced new service solutions ready to help us unlock more of our precious time.
We’re now preferring the speedy convenience provided by recommendation engines, bots, personal assistants and intelligent entities powered by Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning, above human service.
Some entities have taken human-like forms, like Siri, Alexa, Bixby or Google Assistant. Others have remained invisible; such as the Netflix or Spotify personalisation algorithms, or customised subscription services such as thredUP. All attempt to deliver against the same promise — to tailor to our individual needs and help us make intelligent decisions, faster.
Whether its students looking to improve their cooking skills by asking Alexa to check ingredients for the meal they’re prepping, or a family returning from holiday wanting to get the heating on remotely, smart speaker penetration is on target to hit 200 million by the end of this year and 50% of total search volume will be voice by next year. Hands free, immediate and always achieving — what’s not to like?
This is also the year Amazon became the world’s largest investor in R&D — spending $23bn — with Alphabet (Google) following closely behind. Both companies’ meteoric rise was in no small part down to their algorithms and models, extending and innovating their product ranges to suit. For example, in connecting customers up to as many biometric wearables as possible, they accurately collect more data, predict and sell better, as well as increasing attention and spend — presumably with the intention of eventually seeking the agency to buy everything on their behalf.
From a retail perspective, brands are employing a wide range of intelligence technologies to either enhance purchasing convenience, or to enrich the wider shopping experience.
Sephora’s Colour IQ is a skincare matching tool to help customers ensure they never buy the wrong shade of foundation. Uniqlo’s UMood booths track and respond to emotional reactions during the fitting process, to help customers understand and decide on what suits them best. Walmart’s shelf scanning robots run free in-store to make sure products are always stocked and in the right location.
Helping to locate the right product, providing a recommendation, or taking over admin activity are the solutions currently being used and offered to us by brands. But these are still only addressing ‘micro’ moments within the wider customer journey.
So what can we expect from brands as they push the boundaries even further in the future?
From micro to macro
Digital design is venturing further into the development of interdependent systems of things; aiming to go beyond being responsive and intuitive to customers’ ‘micro’ needs, and expanding into systems which manage and then inform various needs across the entire user journey — at a ‘macro’ level. Data-first brands like Strava and Fitbit are leading the way here.
The system works proactively in the background and continuously finds new opportunities across a customer’s journey and helps brands capitalise on them. Ideally this should work right across the four critical stages of the journey.
This could also be a huge opportunity for brands to use such systems as an operational tool that finally break the siloes between different business units, and therefore better deliver a truly holistic customer experience.
Designing the Future
Disruptive innovations being developed today can provide great insight into what our future holds.
One such example is Sidewalk Labs — an attempt by Google to re-imagine what our future cities will look like, the future of the citizen experience and the integration of an intelligence system across every single touchpoint. Putting aside privacy concerns for the moment, it’s a bold attempt to improve our daily life, while at the same time helping us collectively optimise resources.
If initiatives like this become successful, it seems inevitable that at some point brands could also come together, share knowledge, collaborate better, and review customer experience at a vast level between them.
Intelligent systems used by brands in varying forms and scales would need to start interacting with each other, share insights and most importantly: come together to create magic for the customer experience. What if your Google, Netflix, Spotify and smart car accounts could communicate? What would that mean for your overall experience, as a customer that is subscribed to multiple brands?
Some data driven start-ups have managed to get ahead of this trend. Stitch Fix founded itself on leveraging impressive data capabilities to become your personal stylist with the hope of customers handing over all agency to its algorithms. Walmart-funded start-up JetBlack went live recently in New York with a similar ambition; leapfrog the advertiser and merchant by relinquishing agency to a (semi) autonomous service.
Limitless creative possibilities and resource optimisation is a very exciting vision for our generation, and the ones to come.
As the monstrous R&D budgets of e-commerce businesses suggest, intelligence innovation is a huge opportunity but also a looming threat for already-established players. On the one hand, if an agile start-up were to somehow shave hours off Amazon’s delivery time or noticeably improve on Google’s algorithms (or inject themselves upstream), they could quickly knock tens of billions off the valuation of either company. On the other hand, there are still numerous fertile, legacy industries full of stalwart monopolies which could easily be dethroned by big or new tech companies.
Attempting to predict the future of intelligent systems and the implications that they will have in the customer experience is challenging as we are so early in this journey.
The best way to stay ahead of the curve is to be part of the change as it happens. Join us as we develop and innovate ways to design it.