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Macy’s Prepping In-Store App Checkout, Enhanced Image Search, VR And AR For Furniture Promotions

It's all a part of Macy's "digital transformation," says Chief Product And Revenue Officer Jill Ramsey at day one of the MMA's Impact conference.

While the state of retail appears to be improving, major brands like Macy’s still find themselves in transition in terms of updating and syncing digital and in-store services.

In a keynote at day one of the Mobile Marketing Association’s Impact conference, Jill Ramsey, the former eBay exec who was named Macy’s Chief Product and Digital Revenue Officer in December, offered a preview of what “digital transformation” looks like as she and the retail icon’s new CEO Jeff Gennette chart their strategy for the department store brand.

Among the top priorities on the omnichannel retail front for Macy’s is the coming launch of self-checkout through the brand’s mobile app, along with adding more virtual reality and augmented reality features to make shopping for furniture a more interactive experience.

In addition, Ramsey told GeoMarketing that Macy’s would also be looking into expanding its use of voice activated assistants via Amazon’s Alexa and Google Assistant. That said, she’s looking toward a greater merging between voice and visual platforms — as with the Amazon Echo Show — to better enhance the retail shopping experience.

A big part of that promise of enhancement: sometime this year, Macy’s shoppers will be able to use the brand’s app for self-checkout, approximating the experience of Amazon Go and mirroring the one pioneered by Apple’s brick-and-mortar stores.

“One out of two Americans have shopped in a Macy’s in the last year, yet we know our front window is a mobile device and we can make it a smarter, more dynamic and more inspirational experience than retail by tailoring it to individual customers needs,” Ramsey said.

On Approaching Digital Transformation:

“The digital transformation of our website and our mobile app is a huge priority focus for our organization,” Ramsey said in response to a question from Sheryl Daija, the MMA’s chief strategy officer. “Consumers today don’t just adopt technology, they are absorbing it at a tremendous pace. The mobile and other digital initiatives we’re working on allow Macy’s to create a friction free engagement in-store and on the go.

“As we all know, the mobile phone is the key to unlocking a world of possibilities,” Ramsey added. “For us, the Macy’s website and app are the gateways to our brand and the inspiration, fashion, value, and great experience that await for our customers.”

Ramsey pointed to the groundwork laid by Macy’s executives over the past five years as “a big organizational change” that involved integrating its e-commerce business throughout the business.

“We have digital merchandisers that sit in with the core merchandising teams,” she said. “Our digital marketers report into marketing generally. In brick and mortar retail, every retailer is faced with a choice structurally: do you set up e-comm totally separate from the core retail store operation or do you run those integrated?

“There’s a lot of benefits to separation in the beginning. You get a lot of dedicated focus and growth. But having it much more integrated  gives you the leverage, the efficiencies. And it allows you to focus as a whole company, because it really is a whole company effort.”

Enhanced Image Search As A Digital Store Window

Macy’s is working to create a better mobile/in-store experience through a more intuitive, easier, and faster to navigate web and app design to better showcases the retailer’s fashion and editorial content, Ramsey said.

“Specifically on the mobile front, we think of the Macy’s app as a key we hand to our customers; a key that allows them to unlock a world of possibilities,” she said. “With this powerful tool in hand, she can engage with us on her terms — any way, any time, and anywhere she chooses. We keep adding exciting new features based on what she tells us. We know that increasingly her first engagement with us comes through mobile, and in order to meet her needs and evolving preferences, we make great strides in improving the overall user experience on the web and app.”

As an in-store “shopping assistant,” Ramsey pointed to a recent feature built into the app that focuses on creating a fast connection to Macy’s fashion via image search.

“Imagine this: our customer is out, she sees this floral suit and she’s gotta have it. It’s not for me, but maybe someone she knows. She could take a picture with her app. If she sees this in a store window, she can take a picture with the app. If she sees this in a Macy’s ad, she can take a picture with the app and it’ll go directly to the corresponding product on the site. Or if we don’t carry a product, if she just sees something out and about that she’s inspired by, we’ll pull back product that looks like that. You’ll see that it’s pulling back coordinating floral products as well.”

The goal of Macy’s enhanced image search via its app is to not only speed up shoppers’ ability to find what they want and purchase it, but to promote discovery of items from the brand’s extensive catalog of products.

Macy’s Jill Ramsey speaking at the MMA’s Impact conference.

A Personalized Experience Includes Self-Checkout

In a larger sense, the new image search is also intended to enhance “personalization,” Ramsey said.

“As she uses the mobile app in-store, we’re also customizing that experience to better serve her,” Ramsey said. “In-store Mode is the key connecting the customer with her local Macy’s.”

From general store information like floor directories, hours, features and services, to free wi-fi, the app is the customer’s tool to navigating the store successfully., she said.

The app’s barcode scanner, for example, can be used to check prices, read reviews, see additional colors and sizes that may be available, and even order on the spot and have the item shipped.

“We’re also working to provide her with relevant in-store savings and offers based on her location in the store,” Ramsey said. “So actually knowing what department she’s in, we’re tailoring personalized offers to her, helping to further personalize her shopping trip.”

By the end of April, Ramsey said this app will even have “a more powerful tool for information, inspiration, and shopping” as Macy’s begins rolling out new features like store event details, customized in-store product recommendations, and an improved design interface.

“Our most exciting enhancement yet, mobile self check out, is coming later this year: I’m really excited about mobile self-checkout,” Ramsey said. “It’s going to help alleviate a major pain-point in our stores. It’s a simple scan, pay, and go.”

“Mobile check out is a great example of our test and learn approach to innovation,” she added. “We’ve been testing and fine tuning mobile check out in a few stores, and we plan to roll it out to every Macy’s store by the end of the year.”

Ramsey has more than 20 years of experience in a variety of roles across e-commerce. Most recently, she was Vice President, GM of Vertical Businesses at eBay.

A Furniture Showroom At Home

Saying that Macy’s is always on the lookout for new technologies that are going to “empower” its customers, Ramsey said there is a “Macy’s way” when it comes to implementation that involves looking for real, practical solutions that bring together technology and the human touch.

She cited a successful pilot program leveraging virtual reality in Macy’s furniture showrooms which will now be rolled out to 60 additional locations.

The In-Store Virtual Reality Furniture Program allows customers to virtually design and experience the interior of a room for which they’re purchasing furnishings.

“Virtual reality starts with the room she is trying to furnish,” Ramsey said. “Using a tablet, she adds furniture from Macy’s assortment and lays it out virtually. Then she can refine her design until she finds what layout works best for her. Once she has completed her design, she can virtually test it out by stepping into the room; walking around the coffee table, and seeing how the couch looks against the window, and if the new dining table and chairs work in her room. Our customer experiences the fully furnished room.”

Combined AR/VR For Furniture

For Macy’s digital strategy, Ramsey said the company’s mantra for innovation is to “test, iterate, and scale.” But there is an acute problem when attempting to scale a virtual reality experience that requires a  lot of specific hardware.

Clearly, it’s not as easy and as scalable as having a similar technology embedded in the app, Ramsey said by way of comparison.

“So another exciting addition coming this year is the launch of a complementary augmented reality based furniture experience that will be in the Macy’s app. This will allow customers to virtually place Macy’s furniture products in their actual living spaces,” Ramsey said.

“We’re excited to give our mobile app users the same opportunity to test drive furniture products in their home; getting rid of the need to purchase, bring it home, try it, wait for it to be delivered, see how you like it. Then, in some cases, return. This is going to be a great thing for us for big, high ticket items, and very complicated shipping and delivery and returns process. We know this technology is greatly improving the furniture shopping experience for our customer.”

Finding Its Voice And A Screen To Match It

After her presentation, we asked Ramsey how Macy’s was responding to the “rise of voice activation.”

“We’re definitely experimenting in that space, and recently rolled out a feature, ‘Macy’s what should I wear today?’ on Alexa,” Ramsey said. “Alexa gives fashion tips back to you.”

Ramsey identified some challenges for brands looking to expand their marketing into voice activation. Since the top uses for Amazon Echo and Google Home are weather, music playing, and as a timer, these devices don’t naturally lend themselves to retail shopping.

“Obviously, the consumer adoption of the in-home voice activated devices is still going to have to continue to evolve,” Ramsey said. “They’re not quite interacting with it as much as they could be. As screens start to become more common on these devices, you’re gonna see the consumer use cases evolve and it will get a lot more interesting in terms of how we play in that.We know that that’s a critical way she’s going to be engaging with our brand.

“Voice, in general, is going to be something that we need to integrate throughout the experience, so that she can seamlessly interact with our brand at all touchpoints,” Ramsey said. “We’re only going to see the impact of voice continue throughout the customer journey.”

About The Author
David Kaplan David Kaplan @davidakaplan

A New York City-based journalist for over 20 years, David Kaplan is managing editor of GeoMarketing.com. A former editor and reporter at AdExchanger, paidContent, Adweek and MediaPost.