In the opening to a Retail’s BIG Show session on Kohl’s omnichannel initiatives, Recode Senior Editor for Commerce Jason Del Rey observed that the retail industry’s innovation labs regularly produce technologies that generate initial buzz and excitement but fail to yield sustainable, business-enhancing products. Of today’s innovations, he asked Ratnakar Lavu, who serves both as chief technology officer and chief information officer for Kohl’s, what has the potential to truly make a difference?
Lavu conceded that there are “lots of shiny objects,” then cited artificial intelligence and machine learning, specifically chatbots, as technologies with the potential to have real impact.
“When you mention chatbots,” Del Rey said, “I have to say that I’m skeptical about messaging in terms of commerce today.”
Lavu agreed. “Definitely in terms of commerce, it’s going to be much harder. It’s going to take some time.” He went on to explain that there are situations — he cited one external example and one internal one — in which chatbot technology as currently constituted can be extremely useful.
The external example is the very common case of a customer wanting to know where their order is. A chatbot backed by today’s big data tools and computational power, Lavu said, could find and provide the answer very quickly, transforming a frustrated customer into a happy one.
An internal problem directly relevant to Lavu’s responsibilities at Kohl’s is that of an employee who wants to change his or her password. Kohl’s uses Facebook Messenger to chat with customers and its own platform for internal communications.
Other topics that arose in the discussion were the need for technological solutions to help customers navigate the physical store, to help associates deal with the new role of the store as distribution center and to facilitate payment.
To help with payment, Kohl’s has introduced Kohl’s Pay as part of its app. This digital wallet solution is only being offered to holders of the Kohl’s card; Lavu sees it as an inducement for other Kohl’s shoppers to sign up for the card and the program, becoming more frequent and more loyal shoppers in the process.
This story was published in the February/March 2017 issue of STORES Magazine. See more highlights from Retail’s BIG Show 2017.