Will Macy’s On Call Satisfy In Store Shoppers?

Macy’s announced the pilot of Macy’s On Call, a mobile web tool that allows customers to interact with an AI-powered platform via their mobile devices. Macy’s On Call taps IBM Watson, via intelligent engagement platform Satisfi, to deliver a first-of-its-kind solution that will enhance the customer in-store shopping experience at 10 test locations nationwide.

According to Macy’s, the Macy’s On Call The mobile companion is accessed via a mobile browser, and allows customers to input natural language questions regarding each participating store’s unique product assortment, services and facilities and receive a customized response to the inquiry.

There are a number of ways that customers may request information. For example, a customer could type, “Where are the women’s shoes?” or type a combination of brand and product inquiry such as “I.N.C dress,” and they will receive the relevant response and location of that product in the store.

On paper, this sounds like it would be a terrific new customer experience. It the year was 2010.

About a month ago, I blogged about five things soon-to-be-crowned Macy’s CEO Jeff Gennette needs to consider to move the embattled Macy’s brand forward. That includes hiring more store-level employees, and creating better customer experiences. Macy’s On Call seems to go against those two steps.

Here’s why:

  • Macy’s already has a pretty darn good app. Why should a Macy’s shopper have to leave the app and open a mobile browser to type in questions such as “where are the shoes” when he or she can stay in the app, search for a product, and then use a map feature to find out exactly where in the store he or she can find that exact product? This is something that is very successful for big box merchants such as Home Depot, Lowe’s, Staples, Walmart and Target.
  • As Scott Spata, the vice president of supply chain for Home Depot, pointed out during a session last week at the D3: Dynamic Distribution Disruption Retail 2016 conference, consumers are starting their in-store journey at home. In Home Depot’s case, 50% of its customers start online and then go to a store. Whether they are using a personal computer or a mobile device, customers go online to research, look for directions to store, etc. before they make the shopping trip.
  • And if you’re going to be shopping in a Macy’s store, why not ask a Macy’s store associate for help? Macy’s stores are horribly understaffed, and Macy’s has some ridiculously high expectations for its overwhelmed store associates. Yes, employees are your number-one business expense, but if you have too few on the sales floor, it can lead to many customer service nightmares. In its first-quarter earnings press release, CEO Terry Lundgren said the company is investing in front-line service such as more full-time store associates. Replacing them with robots, so to speak, is not going to bring that same personal 1-to-1 shopping experience Macy’s customers get in Herald Square.

    Tim Parry is Multichannel Merchant’s Managing Editor, and the lead programmer for Growing Global.

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