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American Apparel blends AI, IoT with beacon-enabled digital displays

BOSTON – An executive from American Apparel at eTail East 2016 detailed how the brand is using an artificial intelligence and Internet of Things solution in which real-world displays interact with shoppers’ phones to start a purchase-enabled thread with a chatbot.

During the session, The Future Of Retail and the Convergence of Customer Centricity, IoT and Omnichannel, the executive also explained that American Apparel wanted to expand its mobile footprint but without having to immediately make an application, so it partnered with Postmates to introduce a delivery service that saw significant early adoption. The retailer’s digital displays are leveraging beacon technology and chatbots to make it easier on customers to instantly purchase and find information about products featured in display ads in an attempt to expand its mobile reach.

“I am a firm believe that native apps are being disrupted right now and they are being disruptive by chatbots,” said Thoryn Stephens, chief digital officer at American Apparel. “We were actually already on that path before Zuckerberg and Facebook really made that push.

“So the concept here as an example is that you are walking down the street and we are using a bus stop ad, you can basically tap your phone using NFC or using beacons and it pulls up an experience,” he said.

“Within that experience, you can get information through a chatbot.”

IoT and AI innovation
Mobile users walking in the streets of certain markets will be able to instantly connect with American Apparel in regards to a specific product seen in a digital advertisement. For instance, if a consumer is interested in a hoodie that is showcased in one of the beacon-equipped ads, he or she can open Kik or Snapchat and ask American Apparel’s chatbot questions regarding the product, such as size or availability.

The chatbot will check its connected inventory platform to see which nearby stores carry it and users can purchase the product within the chat.

Mobile footprint
The executive explained that upon first joining American Apparel, the retailer was interested in making a mobile app. But with so many mobile users concentrating their use on only a few apps, leaving others essentially ‘collecting dust,’ it was smarter to expand its digital footprint without such a high investment.

So the brand took to Postmates to create a unique and convenient purchasing experience that still drives innovation without the significant risk. The experience allows users to search for nearby stores and products that are currently available, finalize purchases and have them delivered within an hour.

The program went viral and saw significant adoption in the first phases of rollout.

“My major focus at American Apparel was to make sure we had the most rock solid responsive experience on the planet,” Mr. Stephens said. “However, in terms of omni, we wanted to partner and grow the mobile footprint, so one example was with the company called Postmates.”