I make no secret that I love to shop. I like buying things rather than the actual process of shopping. Before I get out the door, I know which stores I will go to and have a clear idea of what I need or want to buy. While my outing might still take a couple of hours, it is a targeted and organized operation, despite what my husband and kid might say.
As I take pleasure in buying not shopping, I do a fair amount online. Amazon is my friend, but so is a long list of websites that carry my favorite brands, accept Apple Pay or Paypal and offer free shipping.
When big sales days come around, like Black Friday, I prioritize online shopping, but I will go to some physical stores mostly for clothes and accessories. This year I found going to the local mall an excruciating process, more so than it usually is, and mostly because I saw all the different ways tech could have made it better but didn’t.
AI and Big Data
Let’s start with how stupid the shopping process still in. Both online and in-store there is little or no intelligence used by retailers to make your experience less painful and more rewarding for you and them.
This lack of intelligence starts from home where you are inundated by ads leading up to the big day that more often than not poorly reflect your buying habits. This is particularly ironic this year when both tech and politics have spent several months discussing privacy and how much information internet giants should have access to. Well, right now they, as well as most of the retailers I shop from, have access to a lot of information, but the targeted advertising I receive is still pretty dumb. The foot crumbs I leave as I go from site to site follow me with very generic suggestions but one has to wonder why those sites I trust, and I shop from more often do not have a profile for me.
Let’s take Amazon as an example of an online retailer as I shop with them consistently and I purchase a vast range of items for myself, my family, pets, and home. Amazon has the list of all my orders as well as everything I browsed and how many times I looked at an article without clicking “buy.” Why don’t I get an email with suggestions from the deal of the day that match my buying patterns? For instance, why don’t I get prompted for an item I looked at but did not buy? Chances are I did not do so based on price, so an offer might get me to finally purchase. Or again, why don’t I get offers on products upgrades? Say I bought a Ring doorbell two years ago and the latest model is now on sale. Why not send me offers for complementary products like what I might want to add to my smart home after buying several Echo products, a doorbell, and some bulbs?
Much of the same could be said for those brands I shop from on a regular basis and even more so those where I am part of a reward program. If I have a reward card in my digital wallet that pops up to tell me I am close to a specific store why doesn’t that retailer push it a step forward and send me relevant offers on what is available in store? Why aren’t traditional apparel retailer offering an in-store version of stitch-fix where based on your previous purchases and your body type they put together a number of outfits that on a specific date and time will be ready for you in a store changing room. You would walk in straight to the changing room you were notified on your phone as you entered the store, you try everything on, tap the RIFD tag of what you want to keep before you put it in a bag and walk out while your credit card is automatically charged. I give you that such a system might not be viable on a heavy traffic day, but hard to believe it would not work any other day.
I understand that much of the sales occurring on Black Friday end up being for items you had not planned to buy, but intelligent shopping does not mean that impulse shopping must die. It would actually mean you end up being more exposed to items you are likely to respond positively to resulting in more revenue for the retailer but also a much higher satisfaction on your part. At the end of the day, there isn’t much that is more satisfying than a successful shopping spree.
Black Friday is such a big shopping day that stores have been opening earlier and earlier with some stores now starting their sales on Thanksgiving Day. I have gotten up earlier in the past mostly to avoid the crowds, but this year was not one of those times, and I had to make three attempts to reach the mall. That’s right only on Sunday I was able to get to the parking structure of the Westfield Mall in Santa Clara and park my car!! The first two times it was impossible to even get to the parking structure due to the high volume of cars.
So this begs the question: where were Lyft and Uber? In the land that invented ride-share and scooters, it seems to me that talking about the death of cars ownership was immensely premature. I understand of course that scooters might not be the safest choice when you are holding shopping bags, but why are people not relying on Uber and Lyft to avoid the pain of parking? I would guess that a lot has to do with how many of these malls treat rideshare services as second-class transportation providers and relegate them to drop off and pick up from locations that are less than ideal for both passengers and drivers. In my case a Lyft driver would either get stuck in the same traffic I was trapped in for over an hour or would have to drop me off miles away from the entrance.
Why are malls not keeping pace with what their customers want and offer preferential lanes and temporary parking spots for rideshare companies? Airports have adapted to this and while some airports still make you walk miles to get to a ride-share pickup location things are changing fairly quickly. Malls should learn from it especially in the US where parking is free. I can see other countries like the UK, where most shopping centers charge a fair bit to park, resisting such change as it would result in a loss of revenue.
What ruined my Black Friday could have been solved by technology today, not in some distant future. As I have often said though, technology might be ready, but business models and humans are not. Data and AI have the power to make my shopping much more tailored to my needs and ultimately more effective. This coupled with a pain-free rideshare trip to and from my favorite stores could have delivered a “shopping like a star”experience. But if the big parking structure that is being built next to the mall is a good indication of how quickly things will change I am sad to say it will be a while before retail catches up with what technology can already enable.