Just when you thought that penetration of technology in our lives was getting better of us, here comes smart-clothing line that will keep a track of your movements. May be its time to face the elephant in the room for once, shall we?
At a time when things like Facebook’s Cambridge Analytica Data Scandal are becoming rampant, the looming question is: How much are we willing to jeopardise our lives and let technology get under our skin? And what happens after we have divulged way too much of our lives to a third party? Who keeps a tab on how would they use the data?
Tommy Jeans Xplore, Tommy Hilfiger’s latest range comes with a built-in Bluetooth smart-chip technology which can be connected to an iOS app, through which, the wearer of the garment gets connected to a Hilfiger community to compete in challenges.
Elaborating Tommy’s line, Liron Slonimsky, Chief Executive Officer and Founder of Awear Solutions was quoted as saying, “Never before has a brand been able to understand how the consumer truly uses the product after it leaves the store. Tommy Hilfiger’s innovative history has shown that they understand what consumer engagement truly is and we knew they would be the perfect partner to launch Awear Solutions to the market.”
Heading in direction of an alternate reality infused with IoT and AI might be one thing (for which, the train has already left the station). But, how far is too far for a couple of reward points, which can be exchanged for gift cards, concert tickets etc.? Now, in Tommy’s case, a person can anytime turn-off the tag, which also implies that he/she would then stand out of the reward point system. It might come across as a marketing campaign, as Tommy also wants to create a ‘micro community of Loyal Brand Ambassadors’; however, a closer look arouses many doubts, risk factors, and hints at impending invasion of privacy. And it is not just Tommy, there are an array of brands that incorporate IoT in their working to ascertain data.
As Sophie Hackford, famous Futurist, Technologist, and Anthropologist recently said, “The future is not a race against the machine, but a race with them”. At a recently held conference organized by Conde Nast, Sophie urged the attendees, most of who were Heads and CEOs of leading brands, to be on-board the digital wave and not make the mistake of taking it slow because, “The world is becoming a computer.” However, she went on to add that who this computer shares the information with, is something that is an unnerving question, something which has left the world puzzled for now.
Talking about privacy issue, Amith Singhee, STSM and Manager, Retail and Operations IBM Research India, quipped that while cognitive fashion makes shopping experience a breeze for customers, it should be seen that the trust is not breeched. IBM recently launched a cognitive line with designer duo Falguni and Shane Peacock. He elaborates, “When the seller and the shopper are together in a store, the expressions and movements of the shopper are important indicators of interest and preference. The shopper expects a good seller to be mindful of these indicators to provide personalized experience to him or her. However, while cognitive couture tries to provide the same engagement level without the limitations of being at the same place at the same time, this must be done keeping the shopper’s privacy in mind. The shopper should be empowered to determine whether their data is used for providing the personalization services or not. Ensuring transparency and control in the system for the shopper will help establish trust between the shopper and the seller, and it will not be an invasion into human privacy.”
We also spoke to Falguni and Shane to know their take. The designer duo however feels cognitive couture has a long way to go in India. They add, “Cognitive couture is futuristic, currently it is too futuristic for the Indian mindset, but internationally it will go a long way.” And, what do they feel about invasion of privacy? “It’s how you look at it. If that’s the case (invasion of privacy), even Facebook and Instagram are invasive, this is just a way of shopping now-a-days,” they comment.
Online Vs Offline
Since AI is eradicating the need for buyer and salesperson to be under the same roof, does that imply it is an end of era for brick and mortar stores? As per a research conducted by Analytics firm Coresight Research, as many as 6700 physical stores saw a shut down in 2017. However, Indian physical retail is not in for the replication of US model, at least for the next fifteen years, because India still has a huge chunk of population that relies completely on neighbourhood stores they can walk into and big malls they can drive by to shop to their heart’s content.
There might not be any threat to physical stores from online stores (as of now), AI however is helping smoothen out processes even in brick and mortar stores. A lot of brands are resorting to AI enabled check-in and check-out points in stores to keep track of when a new or a regular customer walks in and what are his/her choices based on past impressions and patterns to improve in-store experience. Aspirational Indian menswear brand Raymond for one, has a customer loyalty program that smartly incorporates AI. Speaking about the same, Mohit Dhanjal, Director (Retail), Raymond says, “2 years ago, we completely revamped loyalty programs. We have an online network where about 5 million consumers have signed up from Raymond stores flanked across the country. We capture their emails, phone numbers, birthdate etc., which then get linked to their social media accounts. This gives us an idea of what their choices are, where they like to shop, how they spend their time etc. AI then creates virtual profiles of people and classifies them into categories, depending upon the backgrounds and commonalities they might have. So, next time when we come up with a new product, this data would really come-in handy to understand the psyche of the consumers and how much they would be willing to spend on that particular product.”
With so much being done to make lives simpler with AI enabled programs and cognitive lines by fashion houses, this has brought about a change in consumer behaviour as well.
Amith enlightens, “While consumer wishes remain the same – to find the best product at the best price – the expectations and behaviour are changing in some areas. We already see customers expecting much more variety and global trends from retailers. They are heavily leveraging technology in the form of social media influences, mobile and online shopping, and digital payments, which are all pretty recent trends. Going forward, we will see tech further empowering customers.”
He further elaborates, “There is a growing segment of customers who expect an in-store experience enabled by tech like AI and augmented reality wherever they are – at home, on a flight, or anywhere else. They will move easily to the retailer that offers them the better convenience, choices, and personalization. We will see new customer segments emerge in different product categories. For example, young male buyers who traditionally have found it hard to buy jewellery or dresses for the women in their lives, will now find the drill rather eased out because AI will provide them personalized styling and gifting recommendations.” Reiterating the fact, Falguni and Shane vouch, “It is changing, initially the consumer felt the need to touch the garment, now-a-days people even do jewellery shopping online.”
With so much tech seepage in the nook and crannies of our lives, it is more of a convenience and a problem of too many until the bubble bursts. As Russia’s President Putin famously said, “Whoever controls AI will control the world.” For now, it is upto brands to not misuse or divulge to a third party, the information being offered to them by their loyal and sometimes naïve customers in lieu of some promotional benefits.