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Macy’s fires back at Amazon with showroom-busting image search app

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September 16, 2014

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Macy’s Image Search app

Macy’s is the latest retailer to fire back at Amazon with its own image recognition mobile application designed to simplify searching for items on its ecommerce site by submitting a photo of an item from daily life.

By enabling app users to simply snap a photo of an item of interest with their smartphones and easily search for and purchase a similar item on Macys.com, the retailer is taking impulse buying to new heights. This fall, the retailer is introducing or expanding a host of omnichannel capabilities, including several that underscore mobile’s crucial role in helping the retailer attain its goals, such as crowdsourced same-day delivery, a broad expansion of iBeacon messaging and smart fitting rooms.

“Mobile technologies and adoption rates are developing rapidly, and we are piloting and testing all sorts of ideas every day,” said Jim Sluzewski, senior vice president of corporate communications and external affairs at Macy’s Inc., Cincinnati, OH. “Macy’s, Inc. is very much a test-and-learn culture.

“This includes engage customers via mobile as they shop, integrating the mobile experience with our stores and desktop, and fulfilling orders quickly and efficiently,” he said.

Image search
Retailers such as Macy’s and Target, which introduced an image-recognition shopping app in July, have recognized the central role that mobile devices are playing in how consumers are searching for and purchasing items of interest.

By introducing their own image search apps, retailers are also addressing how consumers are leveraging the Amazon app to search for items of interest in their stores and elsewhere.

Macy’s said the Image Search new app, which was created in its Idea Lab, will take customers who submit a photo to similar items on macys.com, where they can be purchased.

Screen Shot 2014-09-15 at 2.48.55 PMMacy’s Image Search app

Macy’s Image Search is currently available as its own app for the iPhone but the functionality will be incorporated into the primary Macy’s app.

“Macy’s is amongst a pack of first movers in technologies like iBeacons, Apple Pay, and mobile sales assistance / customer service tools, but Macy’s is simultaneously deploying more of these experiences than any other retailer,” said Jason Goldberg, vice president of commerce strategy at Razorfish.

“Macy’s in-house developed visual search technology is particularly unique,” he said.

“There are some technology firms with interesting visual search technologies, and of course Amazon has their FireFly technology in the Fire Phone, but Macy’s may be the first retailer to deploy an in-house visual search system.”

Omnichannel commerce
The Image Search app is just one example of how Macy’s is taking omnichannel commerce to new levels.

The omnichannel push reflects Macy’s ongoing commitment to operating at the forefront of innovation and to fostering a locally relevant shopping experience in every store.

These developments exemplify how Macy’s continue to focus on mobile in its research and development to bring stores, technology, Internet capability and smartphone or tablet access together to attract shoppers and serve the needs of customers. Many of the features are available across both Macy’s and Bloomindale’s stores.

Screen Shot 2014-09-15 at 2.51.10 PMMacy’s new digital catalog

Same-day delivery
Macy’s will begin piloting same-day delivery this fall in reflection of the growing demand for similar services first introduced by eBay, Amazon and Google.

The same-day delivery service will be powered by Deliv, which uses crowdsourcing and part-time drivers to deliver packages from retailers such as Williams-Sonoma.

The Deliv collaboration is being realized in cooperating with mall owners such as General Growth Properties, Macerich, Simon and Westfield Corporation.

The service will be available at both Macy’s and Bloomingdale’s for products purchased at both brands’ ecommerce sites and mobile-enabled Web sites.

Macy’s customers in eight marketers will be able to make purchases for same-day delivery, including Chicago, Houston, Los Angeles, New Jersey, San Francisco, San Jose, Seattle and Washington.

Bloomingdale’s will offer the service in four markets: Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco and San Jose.

Macy’s buy online, pickup in store operational foundation – which recently completed its rollout to all full-line Macy’s and Bloomingdale’s stores – serves as the basis for the new same-day delivery services. Buy online, pickup in-store was originally piloted in the fall of 2013.

Next generation POS
In a reflection of the growing role that mobile is playing in stores, Macy’s is also piloting a variety of selling technology innovations at stores in Georgia and New Jersey, including a new generation of POS devices, pickup centers, electronic kiosks and large, interactive displays.

Store associates in these locations will be equipped with a new generation of handheld devices and tablets for offering merchandise ideas, product information and to speed up transactions.

Connect@Macy’s Centers will serve as in-store destinations for online order pickup. Associates will be on hand to help customers with styling advice.

In pilot stores, customers can also make purchases on mobile devices after shopping Macy’s omnichannel assortment via electronic kiosk and large, interactive look book displays.

Macy’s will evaluate these new point-of-sale offerings with an eye toward rolling out to additional stores those that best meet customers’ needs.

Bountiful beacons
Beacons have been all the rage in mobile marketing in 2014 but Macy’s was one of the first to jump onboard with test run during last year’s holiday season with shopping app shopkick at flagship stores in New York and San Francisco.

Now, Macy’s is expanding the use of shopkick’s shopBeacon technology to all Macy’s stores nationwide. More than 4,000 shopBeacon devices, which are built on Apple’s iBeacon protocol, will be implemented in stores, making this the largest iBeacon retail deployment to date, according to Macy’s.

The program, which is expected to be live in early fall, will remind shopkick app users who have opted in to receive notification to open their app once inside a Macy’s.

Initially, customers will receive current Macy’s promotions. By early spring 2015, the retailer expects to tailor offers by department.

In five Bloomingdale’s stores, shoppers are now able to take advantage of wall-mounted tablets in fitting rooms to scan merchandise items to view other colors and sizes available, see production information as well as ratings, reviews and recommendations for complementary items. Customers can also tap a button to call for assistance.

Enhanced catalog
Macy’s is also introducing an enhanced digital edition that leverages the functionality of its tablet experience to enable shoppers to learn about top trends, get 360-degree views of products, see fashion tip videos and create new outfits. It is available at macys.com/digitaledition.

These advancement join other recent moves the retailer to leverage mobile technology more effectively.

Macy’s also recently announced support for Apple Pay, the new mobile payment system that will be available on new iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus devices next month. The retailer views Apple Pay as a way to further simplify the POS process.

Macy’s and Bloomingdale’s have introduced new mobile wallets, enabling shoppers on the brand’s Web sites to store and access offers and coupons virtually.

In November, the retailer’s mobile apps will add the wallet function.

Macy’s and Bloomingdale’s both have also launched revamped mobile shopping apps for iOS and Android with enhanced navigation,

“I think the big challenge for Macy’s is going to be to tightly couple all these initiatives into a single seamless customer experience,” Mr. Goldberg said.  “For example, the iBeacon experience requires users to be using the ShopKick mobile App, while the digital wallet will require the Macy’s App.

“The Macy’s digital wallet, and Apple Pay not initially be part of the same seamless experience,” he said. “Will the mobile app and the visual search feature be integrated with the smart fitting rooms?

“I suspect there is going to be a fair amount of work required to move from a collection of disparate initiatives, to a seamless integrated customer journey.”

Final Take
Chantal Tode is senior editor on Mobile Commerce Daily, New York

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