One of three winners of the IBM Mobile Developers Challenge, Red Ant, is bringing Big Data to retail, in-store. CEO Dan Mortimer explained to us that the company, a digital agency from its founding in 1999, has now transformed itself to a retailing technology company. “Digital,” he states, “is now part of the underlying core business process, it is no longer just part of a marketing strategy.”
Its Watson-based app, Sell Smart, builds on the Red Ant’s RetailOS platform. The company describes the app as providing the sales employee, in-store availability on their mobile device, of: “a customer’s demographics, purchase history and wish list, as well as product information, local pricing, customer reviews and tech specs.”
Sell Smart is even designed to provide unique selling points for the individual customer. How far along is this extensive selling tool? Mortimer states that the RetailOS platform has been under development for two years, running in the cloud and also running on IBM’s Blue Mix. It is ready for rollout to clients, within the next few months.
As for Sell Smart, the core app has been built and the company will start a trial with a UK retailer shortly. As with so many of the mobile cloud apps, that mobilecloudera.com surveys, the issue of exact pricing model, with its many options is still being weighed.
Mortimer points out that the trove of data in Red Ant’s system is not only useful to the front line sales people, but also has value and application for other employees, whether in cost management, CRM, or store operations.
IBM’s Watson offers a major enhancement to the Red Ant system. “It brings Big Data to the shop floor. It can bring in unstructured data and make employees experts on all products,” Mortimer asserts. Watson is heuristic and, he feels, keeps improving the confidence level.
Overarching this product concept is Red Ant’s conviction that, “People go to a store because they want a one-to-one relationship, they want human interaction.” The system will learn from this actual interaction with customers. They see in-store engagement of customers as part of the overall process of omni channel marketing (including online, brick-and-mortar, television, radio, direct mail, catalog, kiosks, etc.) and the “joined up” experience
Today Red Ant is about a 40-person company, based in the UK. In addition to spreading out through Europe, they have opened an office in Hong Kong. Mortimer points out that the next version of Watson is going to be multi-lingual. They see an opportunity to help western brands expand in Asia. As for North America, Mortimer only indicates that it is on their “roadmap” and that they might address it through some sort of partnership.
The company is currently focused on major retail organizations as customers and is working not only with IBM but also with SAP. As for smaller retailers, they envision having a PaaS offering some time in the future.
Two challenging areas that we discussed with Mortimer were: how to identify the retail customer when they are in the store; and secondly, how much information can a typical salesperson absorb and effectively use right in front of the customer in the store.
As for identifying individuals, he calls this their “biggest challenge.” If the customer is engaged with the brand they may be identified by a beacon or other in-store communication system, e.g., WiFi, Bluetooth. If the customer doesn’t wish to be identified, then their information won’t be available. But, Mortimer notes a trend towards people being more likely to want to be engaged and involved, seeking better service. The company is currently building a customer experience team to analyze how the customer goes about making a purchase.
Regarding possible salesperson information overload, Mortimer recognizes this as a potential issue and states that Red Ant may limit the size of displays, based on what is likely to be digestible. They will work with individual retailers to gain an understanding of these possible limits. They are currently working with tablets as the assumed preferred in-store device, but also project using larger versions of smartphones as these proliferate. The app also offers a text-to-speech option, via an earpiece, and in the future the company contemplates that it will also accommodate wearables like Augmented Reality (AR) enabled glasses or smartwatches.
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