Theatro’s SVP of Marketing, Adam Silverman, gave a podcast interview about the future of retail with MarketScale Retail, a B2B digital content publication. You can listen to the podcast HERE or read a summary of the interview below.
Background on Adam Silverman, Theatro SVP of Marketing
First, a little background on Adam Silverman. Adam has extensive experience innovating and operating multichannel retail businesses. For nearly 20 years, he has held eCommerce and marketing leadership positions for top tier retailers such as Musician’s Friend, Target, and Wet Seal. During that time, he led significant digital transformation projects including selection and integration of enterprise commerce applications, created award winning digital shopping experiences including the first social commerce application, and developed effective brand strategies.
As Principal Analyst at Forrester, Adam drove research and thought leadership of in-store technologies and strategies and has been featured as a retail technology thought leader on NPR, The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, and Internet Retailer. The following interview summary is from his perspective as a retail thought-leader and technology innovator.
Today’s Retail Landscape- is it an apocalypse?
Customers have dramatically changed their shopping behavior. In the past you had to go to stores to get the items you wanted. But, today customers can purchase almost anything online and with same-day delivery. This has dramatically changed the retail landscape which is why you hear doom-gloom stories in the news of the retail apocalypse. But retailers are catching up.
While many have hung their hope on mobile phones or tablets to save retail, the reality is, that they’re not great tools for the retail associate. They’re awkward, you have to hold it, and be heads down. No customer likes approaching an associate who appears to be “busy” looking at a screen.
The solution is a voice mobile technology, namely Theatro. Theatro is a voice-controlled mobile platform for the hourly workforce. We bring the advantages of IoT, wearables, and new workforce-optimized mobile voice apps together in a SaaS offering to provide retailers with a new breed of mobile solutions for hourly employees. The Theatro intelligent assistant and mobile apps connect hourly employees to each other and to critical enterprise applications; with Theatro, employees stay focused on the customer, without having to look at a screen to access information.
At the core of our solution is an intelligent assistant just like Siri or Alexa but for the hourly workforce. You’ll use your voice to access the intelligent assistant and ask questions like “check inventory.” The assistant knows to query the inventory database on your behalf, get that information, and communicates it back into the associates ear.
Or say you want to have a 1:1 conversation with a co-worker, you’d just say “Hello Shawn” and the intelligent assistant knows you want to have a private conversation with Shawn. In the past, everyone heard every conversation held across 2-way radios or overhead paging which was a lot of noise-clutter in their ear all day long. The walkie talkie was invented for WWII and people are still using that antiquated technology. We’re going to skip a few generations of communication technology and use voice-over-Wi-Fi technology.
Theatro’s intelligent assistant determines what you’re trying to do: connect people-to-people or people-to-enterprise systems. Say you have a product question, but you’re new and don’t know who to ask, you can reach out to a group of experts like say “Hello Golf Experts” and ask your question without having to leave the customer standing in aisle in order to go find out.
Theatro’s Business Model
One of our other value propositions is that we operate on a SAAS model, we’re a software company; but we also make the hardware. And we give the hardware for free as a part of the subscription to every associate; so for the first time everyone and everything is connected. You just transform the way the store operates when you connect everyone.
So now, instead of giving the managers or just a few associates a smartphone, retailers can give every associate a communicator. Theatro’s communicator is a voice-controlled computer that you operate using a simple conversational interface. It has a button that you push to activate the intelligent assistant, but there’s no screen. So instead of using your finger as the interface, you’re using your voice.
The Interface: Screen vs. voice
We’re talking about conversational interfaces, which is apt because the traditional interface between human to human is in fact conversation. You don’t have to learn a whole new skill assuming you already know how to talk; voice is our most natural and intuitive tool. Training a typical associate on Theatro is 5 minutes. The other thing about voice is that you’re able to understand more information faster. Industry research shows that while humans speak at 250 words per minute— we listen and comprehend a lot faster at 500 words per minute.
Even though we offer many new capabilities, we offer a basic one which is improved communication. That comes out of the box. You’re able to do pretty advanced collaboration in the store which not only makes the associates lives easier but it also helps the customers too. It makes it faster and more efficient to get what they’re looking for.
As retail stores started to struggle with the growth of ecommerce, there was a big focus on really-cool wiz-bang experiences with lots of monitors and screens and interactive displays. It’s added some value… A great example would be the “magic” connected mirror that allows you to interact or request additional product or visualize how a different color looks on you. That’s been effective, but others haven’t been. Like electronic digital shelving which has been around for a long time but has yet to take off (mainly because of cost). We’re going to see new technologies in the future that will transform the store in terms of supply chain and operations.
Heading into the Future
In an IoT world, which is where we’re heading, if a sensor goes off, that sensor will trigger an alert. With Theatro that alert is handed off directly to the associates ear. Say the refrigerator door is left open and an automated alert goes off; using Theatro, the intelligent assistant can detect who is closest to that refrigerator door and notify them real-time so they can go close it.
There are too many stores in the U.S. and as a result, retailers have begun shrinking their stores in terms of size and format. As those stores get smaller, we’ll see AI play a role in how inventory is chosen for that store, so the right product is in the right store at the right time for you. You’ll see more stores, like Amazon Go, with no checkout or cashier. Functions that can be automated and replaced will be as long as they’re adding value to the shopper experience and making it frictionless.
It doesn’t mean associates are going away. Maybe there are fewer cashiers, but the role of the associate will change from task-oriented stocking shelves or checking out, to facilitating engagement with customers in-aisle. You’ll see a lot more personalization technology that will match-make an associate with a customers and technology that will give associates advanced guidance. In the case of Theatro whispering what the customer might like based on the customer’s walking path through the store or what they viewed online. It doesn’t have to be creepy either, these are services that customers will opt into because they’re getting better service and a better experience. The customer will decide if they’re in there to engage and to shop, to touch and feel the product, or if they’re just there to pick up their product and leave quickly. Retail will have to go from one end of the spectrum to the other based on what the customer needs in that moment quickly, because it’s not always the same.
Thank you for listening today (or reading). We encourage you to reach out to a Theatro account rep to see an in-person demonstration of Theatro. With a growing number of customers, there’s sure to be a store near you that we can pop into with you so you can really see the phenomenal difference that Theatro makes to in-store operations. www.theatro.com/contact-us