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Influencer Marketing Redefining the Fashion and Beauty Industry

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Social media users are increasingly reliant on and influenced by what they see online, particularly, when it comes to marketing done by fashion and beauty brands. Social media provides immense marketing opportunities to the fashion and beauty industry by allowing them to closely interact with customers and influence their buying decisions like never before. To tap such opportunities, about 78% of global fashion brands incorporated social influencers in their marketing strategy in 2017, according to a survey conducted by Launchmetrics. Influencers are slowly becoming an integral part of marketing campaigns for fashion and beauty brands – for high-end brands such as Becca Cosmetics and Yves Saint Laurent, as well as affordable brands such as Maybelline, for whom influencers have been pivotal in driving sales.

Why beauty and fashion brands are adopting influencer marketing?

In the past, to launch new collections or promote products, fashion/beauty brands invested heavily in celebrities and television models gracing magazine covers, billboard and television advertisements, among others. These efforts were effective but as technology progresses, fresh marketing tactics are born. While most of the traditional forms of advertising are still being used, brands have started to realize how laborious it is to employ traditional methods in promoting products, hence, majority of brands are going digital and starting to work with influencers.

How influential is influencer marketing?

Undoubtedly, influencer marketing is one of the fastest growing digital marketing tools, providing unparalleled access to real-time word-of-mouth targeting. For marketers, today’s social media influencers are yesterday’s celebrities and socialites, only with a more persuasive voice and greater power to reach audiences.

Beauty and fashion industry has understood the power of influencer marketing quite well. Cosmetics brands such as Smashbox have completely abandoned the use of traditional print media for advertising while luxury cosmetics companies such as Estee Lauder have significantly reduced spending on traditional media to focus on digital.

Fashion and cosmetics brands are using various types of influencer campaigns to promote products, foster brand awareness, and boost sales. For example, Maybelline (an American cosmetics company) in China used the influence of beauty bloggers and 50 celebrity influencers to do a 20-minute livestream video for a newly launched lipstick in 2016, which led to sales of 10,000 lipsticks in two hours.

On the other hand, Olay (an American skincare company) introduced a skincare campaign, Olay 28-day Challenge, which urged influencers to document their four-week experience of using company’s products while updating their followers simultaneously across various social media platforms. Influencers also gave away free samples and offered discounts to followers to encourage them to buy the products to join the skincare challenge. In 2018, the campaign was able to increase engagement rate by 20% and there was a significant increase in Google searches for the brand name.

There is no end to innovative social media campaigns that brands are launching. For example, in 2018, H&M (A Swedish clothing retail company) engaged in conversation with consumers on Instagram to come up with new designs for its brand Nyden, which is targeted at millennials. H&M worked with nine influencers, who used Instagram stories’ polling feature to understand followers’ preferences for certain designs, such as using zippers versus buttons, among others. Over a period of two weeks, the polls attracted more than 425,000 viewers and generated 35,000 votes.

For brands such as Fashion Nova (an American fast fashion retail company), with 14 million Instagram followers and ranked as the most Googled fashion brand of 2018, marketing through Instagram has been pivotal in its rapid ascent in the fashion industry. Fashion Nova is known for betting big on Instagram and use of celebrity influencers – as of December 2018, the company had worked with 3,000 influencers on Instagram. Using celebrity influencers, it claims to have generated sales up to US$ 50,000 per post and selling out a whole collection of clothing line within 82 minutes. With about 20 to 30 posts per day on Instagram, Fashion Nova knows how to keep its audience engaged and generate brand awareness.

What challenges are obstructing growth?

Influencer fatigue

Influencer marketing is not as impeccable as it sounds to be. With more and more businesses adopting influencer marketing, threat of influencer fatigue increases, which could result in disengaged audiences and reduced impact. According to a study conducted by Bazaarvoice in 2018, about 47% respondents claimed to be fatigued with repetitive influencer posts on Instagram.

Promotional content is already beginning to clutter consumer’s news feeds. With beauty and fashion influencers recommending every other product that enters the market, audiences will eventually lose trust in them, feel disengaged and overwhelmed. Consumers, after some time, are bound to get tired of having their buying behavior manipulated. Just like people started using ad-blockers when websites became loaded with advertisements, there’s a probability that they may also turn away from beauty/fashion influencers.

Absence of standard metrics/parameters to determine success of campaigns

There is uncertainty regarding what constitutes a successful influencer marketing campaign and how to calculate ROI on marketing spend. Beauty and fashion companies are unable to accurately calculate profitability of influencer campaigns. According to a study published by Celebrity Intelligence in 2018, 46% of respondents (from the beauty industry) faced challenge in evaluating ROI of an influencer collaboration.

Driving purchases is not always the key objective of influencer marketing, rather it focuses on softer goals like growing brand awareness or boosting engagement, which makes ROI far more complex to determine.

Influencer marketing does not guarantee results in terms of sales, brand reach, or number of clicks. No standard metrics have been set for the industry to measure success, instead brands end up speculating whether the campaign was successful or not. Some beauty and fashion companies monitor the comments or number of likes on the posts, while others determine views on videos or track campaign hashtags, all of which are not very effective methodologies.

Fraudulent practices

Much like other industries, beauty and fashion market has also fallen prey to influencer frauds. According a report published Points North Group in 2018, cosmetics/skincare companies suffered losses due to fraudulent engagement – 46% of Raw Sugar Living’s influencer marketing budget was squandered on fake followers, Clarins lost 45% of its budget on influencer frauds, while L’occitane blew 24% of its budget, among various others. Such deceitful practices have taken a toll on marketers, who invest in influencers to drive brand awareness and sales, but their campaigns fail to reach the actual target audience.

Another inauthentic social media activity plaguing the beauty and fashion industry is staging fake promotional posts by aspiring influencers. Companies want to see promotional abilities and references of past campaigns of influencers before hiring them to do paid sponsored posts. Hence, aspiring influencers, particularly from the beauty and fashion industry, have started to publish posts with brand hashtags and captioning it in a manner such that it seems to be a promotional or sponsored content. While this leads to free publicity for brands but most of them complain that this also results in inferior quality sponsored content posted without approval, which could harm brand’s reputation.

Influencer Marketing Redefining the Fashion and Beauty Industry by EOS Intelligence

EOS Perspective

If there is any market that qualifies to be an early adopter of influencer marketing, it is the beauty and fashion industry. It is an extremely dynamic industry and to stand out from competitors, brands need to constantly evolve, be creative, and promote products extensively – all of which is easily achieved through influencer marketing.

Equipped with social media savviness, influencers have the power to eloquently persuade consumers to make purchases. There is no limit to the creativity that they bring to the table – fashion/beauty influencers design compelling marketing campaigns for the brands by reviewing products, conducting polls and contests, offering huge giveaways, sharing their experiences of using products through videos or photographs, attending events organized by brands and promoting such events, among various other tactics.

Is influencer marketing here to stay?

There is no doubt that influencer marketing is becoming the mainstay of beauty and fashion industry, far from a passing fad. The personal nature of influencer campaigns is one of the reasons why it is proving to be effective for the beauty and fashion industry. According to a survey conducted by Celebrity Intelligence in 2018, 98% of beauty companies believed that influencer marketing is effective for the industry while 68% thought beauty segment has a natural affinity with influencers. Even though difficult to calculate, surveys have determined that influencer campaigns could also provide high ROIs – for every US$1 spent on influencer marketing, brands received average ROI of US$10.7 in 2017. Fashion and beauty brands have gauged the power of social media and know that with the right influencer endorsing to the right community/audience, it can translate into clicks, conversions, and actual sales.


Find out more about drivers and challenges in influencer marketing adoption here


For fashion and beauty brands, influencer marketing has become a multi-million-dollar investment, with considerable portions of their budgets dedicated to influencers. For example, Estee Lauder (a US-based cosmetics company), in 2019, revealed that 75% of its marketing budget will be spent on digital marketing, particularly on influencers, while Shiseido (Japanese multinational personal care company) increased its influencer marketing budget by 50% in 2019. On the other hand, in February 2019, Benefit Cosmetics (a US-based cosmetics company) formed an in-house dedicated influencer agency in the UK to streamline influencer marketing operations and manage influencer relationships. In the future, it plans to expand the in-house influencer agency to other locations as well.

Undoubtedly, influencer marketing has dramatically changed the fashion and beauty industry, by allowing real people to narrate a brand story, demonstrate product, and provide honest and credible product reviews. In order to make it a sustainable marketing strategy, measures are being taken to overcome some of the existing challenges. In pursuit to engage with authentic influencers, beauty brands are adopting more sophisticated, data-led approach to selection process. According to Celebrity Intelligence survey, in 2018, about 67% of beauty brands identified social media analytics (including audience insights and engagement metrics) useful to choose authentic and suitable content creators.

Another ongoing challenge is to accurately determine success of campaigns, which some companies (including lifestyle and cosmetics brands such as Daniel Wellington, L’Oréal, and Olay) are tackling by providing influencers with a unique URL or a discount code, which followers can use and brands can easily track conversions. If the campaign does not entail discounts, various metrics can be used to evaluate ROI such as traffic driven, social reach, social media impressions, engagement rate, cost per impression, and cost per engagement, among others.

Nonetheless, opportunities that influencer marketing provides for the beauty and fashion industry outweigh all downsides. While brands have achieved success with sponsored posts and brand hashtags on social media, there is still a lot more for them to explore and innovate through influencer marketing.

by EOS Intelligence EOS Intelligence No Comments

Influencer Marketing: A Powerful Marketing Tool on the Rise

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Influencer marketing, until fairly recently a new marketing tool, is now on the frontier of becoming a mainstream marketing channel. The real, relatable, and reaction-stimulating content created by influencers, distinguishes this form of marketing from traditional marketing channels. Influencer marketing offers effective means for brands to communicate and engage with customers on social media, a fact that is driving its popularity. Laden with potential to drive sales and grow brand awareness, the influencer marketing market is likely to reach US$22.3 billion by 2024. However, certain challenges do exist in the market, and if not addressed, they can potentially hinder market growth.

Influencer marketing started shaping up around 2005 with mere video blogs on YouTube, but quickly grew in prominence as marketers took notice of its potential. Growing at a CAGR of 28% between 2019 and 2024, the industry is becoming a marketing mainstay for brands across various markets. This is driven by the fact that influencers generate a sense of proximity with their audiences, which helps in molding their shopping behavior under discrete suggestions and recommendations.

What is driving adoption of influencer marketing?

Consumers, especially millennials, are embracing a different approach to making purchasing decisions. Consumers are relying on Instagram models, Twitter personalities, and YouTube influencers to seek recommendations or to understand which brand or product is trending in the market. This has resulted in brands endorsing products through various social media channels using influencers.

Moreover, it is a proven fact that word-of-mouth marketing leads to twice as high sales as paid advertising, and influencer marketing is nothing but a form of word-of-mouth marketing. Studies also suggest that shoppers purchasing product through word-of-mouth have a 37% higher retention rate, another reason why brands want to reach their consumers through influencer marketing.

Additionally, the way that we consume media has changed. Social media boom is slowly driving consumers away from traditional forms of advertising and marketing. More than ever, social channels are becoming means to start a conversation with consumers and build direct relationships with them. With traditional advertising being sidelined by consumers (about 65% of people skip ads posted during or before online videos), influencer marketing has become an integral channel to connect with them.

How have influencers assisted companies to increase sales and grow brand awareness?

Engaging with influencers is proving to be an effective way of getting a sale, hence, brands are investing considerable budgets in influencer marketing. Brands are partnering with influencers to launch various types of innovative campaigns, with primary focus on increasing brand awareness (84%), reaching new audience (71%), and generating sales (64%), according to a survey conducted by Mediakix in 2019.

For example, YouFoodz, an Australian food chain, used Instagram to promote the launch of its 2017 winter menu. It collaborated with 81 influencers, who posted 162 Instagram stories and 176 pieces of content, which reached 1.5 million Instagram users. The campaign was a huge success, generating 70,000 direct engagements and over 500,000 impressions (number of times particular content is displayed, regardless of if it was clicked or not).

Relying on influencer marketing, Bigelow Tea (an America tea manufacturer) was able to showcase healthy aspects of drinking tea and promote its product to a large audience. Influencers incorporated Bigelow tea into their content in various ways. Culinary influencers developed different recipes to use tea in innovative ways, while craft bloggers turned packaging into DIY arts, for example, creating flower pots from the tea packaging. The campaign led to more than 44 million impressions and increased sales by 18.5%.

Further, M&M (a product of US-based confectionary and food company, Mar Incorporated) launched an innovative campaign in 2016 to let audience decide its new peanut flavor (a choice between Honey Nut, Chili Nut, and Coffee Nut) by running a mini-election. It partnered with a television personality and a team of influencers to encourage people to try the flavors and cast their votes. Finally, coffee nut flavor was selected, and the campaign generated 269 million impressions, 216 influencer posts, 14.4 million social engagements, and more than 1 million votes.

Is influencer marketing cost effective?

Influencer marketing has proven to be quite budget friendly, allowing large brands and small start-ups to launch compelling marketing campaigns. Traditional forms of advertising campaigns, through television commercials, magazines and newspaper ads, etc., require substantial investment.

On the other hand, influencer marketing is cost effective and simpler to execute. Companies with limited budget can engage with micro (comprising 1,000-5,000 followers) or nano (comprising less than 1,000 followers) influencers and still achieve remarkable results without spending a fortune.

In fact, according to a study conducted by Takumi, micro and nano influencers can generate high engagement rates – influencer with up to 1,000 followers could generate about 9.7% engagement rate, while influencers with 1,000-4,000 followers could provide 4.5% engagement rate. Micro and nano influencers tend to build strong trust and authenticity, and are relatable to their audience, which enhances their ability to engage an audience. According to a study conducted by Experticity, 82% of consumers have higher probability of listening to suggestions provided by micro influencers than those provided by influencers with large number of followers.

Moreover, surveys have determined that influencer marketing could yield a decent average ROI of US$ 5.20 for every dollar spent, which makes it an appealing option for marketers.

What challenges are hindering growth?

Lack of stringent regulations leading to poor compliance with guidelines

Current regulations and guidelines pertaining to influencer endorsements are not stringent or comprehensive, leading to malpractices. In the USA, the FTC (Federal Trade Commission) requires influencers to provide disclosure in case of sponsored content, however, no fines are applied for violations. As a result, most influencers do not adhere to the endorsement regulations, either due to lack of knowledge or in fear of losing followers. In 2018, out of 800 Instagram accounts from UK, USA, and Canada, only 25% fully complied with local regulations pertaining to sponsored content, according to a study released by Inkifi.

Such misleading conduct on influencer’s part could raise questions on their authenticity and lead to mistrust among their followers, who demand transparency. Moreover, large corporations such as Unilever (a consumer goods company) have strictly refused to work with influencers who indulge in fraudulent activities. Influencers are at risk of losing trust of their followers as well as of companies if they continue to indulge in misleading activities.

Fraudulent engagement

Typically, brands use the number of followers on an influencer’s account to estimate campaign results in terms of ROI, engagement rate, brand awareness, earned media value, among others. To seem more appropriate or popular, some influencers purchase their followers using bots – software designed to automatically like, comment, and share posts, increase views on videos, and inflate number of followers on accounts. Influencers have also started to fake their engagements by joining a community of real users to trade likes and comments. Despite these followers being real people, they are not likely to be interested in influencer’s content. Consequently, brands fail to meet the desired campaign result or reach the target audience.

In 2019, fraudulent activities were estimated to cost brands US$1.3 billion, about 23% of allocated budget for influencer marketing. Fraudulent practices are inhibiting market growth, as brands are increasingly becoming cautious of investing in influencer marketing – as of January 2019, about 53% of brands stated that fraudulent impressions were obstacles to increasing digital advertisement budgets.

Influencer Marketing A Powerful Marketing Tool on the Rise by EOS Intelligence

EOS Perspective

Influencers are no longer an extra asset to marketing campaigns instead they have become a critical element of storytelling and building direct relationship between brands and customers. Influencers have positioned themselves as authentic gurus rather than simple advertisers, with 92% of consumers making purchasing decision based on influencers’ posts in 2018. Their relentless savviness to promote brands is what keeps audiences engaged and brands coming back for more.

Nonetheless, challenges do persist but the industry is continuously evolving and coming up with solutions. Measures are being taken against inauthentic engagements. Platforms such as Instagram have started to strictly regulate fraudulent activity and began to threaten offenders with fraud penalties, account suspension, and brand reputation damage. Companies have also become mindful and vigilant while engaging with influencers and started to thoroughly vet them to check for fake followers or use of bot to increase followers. On the legal side, a New York Attorney General has stated that selling fake followers on social media will be considered as an illegal activity in the state.

Further, in November 2019, FTC launched guidelines for sponsored content under ‘Disclosures 101 for Social Media Influencers’ that encompasses when and how influencers should disclose their engagement with brands, regardless of whether or not it includes payment. FTC has not made any major changes in the guidelines but the new guide is more user-friendly with abridged language, and photos and videos illustrating the correct way to endorse products on social media.


Find out how influencer marketing is reshaping fashion and beauty industry here


According to the guidelines, when partnering with brands, disclosure is mandatory when there’s a financial, employment, personal, or family relationship with a brand. Disclosure language should be simple and clear, and the disclosure should be hard to miss (for example, disclosures on Instagram are required to be placed at the beginning of the post’s description and before the ‘more’ button). FTC’s aim is to foster transparency in sponsored content by placing more liability on brands and influencers to explicitly reveal their relationship while recommending products.

Influencer marketing has well-established itself in the advertising industry and is moving towards becoming a mainstream marketing channel, and such measures taken by regulatory authorities, social media platforms such as Instagram, as well as the brands will further strengthen its position as a marketing channel. In future, not only will influencer marketing continue to grow in popularity, but is also likely to become a more purposeful and effective way to communicate and engage with audiences. Allured by endless opportunities, brands will continue to collaborate with influencers and the industry is poised to grow.

by EOS Intelligence EOS Intelligence No Comments

Social Commerce Reshaping How Brands Sell and Customers Buy

Today, social media is at the core of many brands’ marketing strategies. The growing value that customers (especially the younger demographic) place on social media content and the increasing use of social media to gain information about a product or brand have made social media an essential part of a customer’s purchase decision and experience. However, till recently, the use of social media was limited to being an advertising tool or referral channel for retailers, who used these channels to drive traffic to their e-commerce sites. This is expected to change in the future. With social media giants, such as Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest offering direct sales options, it is quite likely that these apps will move from being mere marketing tools to becoming the final destination for sales, creating a new retail category – social commerce.

It is no secret that visual content social media apps, such as Instagram and Pinterest, offer a more engaging shopping experience for customers, who now look at these apps as an integral part of their purchase experience. Visual content on social media is known to significantly improve discoverability for brands, deepen brand trust and value, and increase sales conversion.

Retailers, both large and small, have been using social media extensively as a part of their marketing campaigns and are investing huge dollars in the platforms. Retailers are increasingly offering quick access to their e-commerce websites via social media apps, through which they aim to drive traffic to their sites and in turn convert it into sales.

Visual content on social media is known to significantly improve discoverability for brands, deepen brand trust and value, and increase sales conversion. Retailers, both large and small, have been using social media extensively as a part of their marketing campaigns and are investing huge dollars in the platforms.

This has paid off well for retailers, with reports stating that in 2017, the top 500 retailers globally earned about US$6.5 billion through sales that were a direct result of social media presence/marketing. This has increased by about 24% when compared with sales resulting from social media for the same set of retailers in 2016. This clearly demonstrates social media’s increasing influence in a shopper’s purchasing decision.

While it has become critical for retailers to have presence on social media, it is expected that social media will play an even bigger role in the consumer shopping experience in the future. Several social media platforms have been experimenting with direct selling options, wherein users do not have to leave the social media platform to make a purchase. While platforms such as Facebook and Pinterest have been offering direct selling options for a few years now, Instagram has recently joined the bandwagon.

As per a study by Bazaarvoice in 2019, the number of users who wish to discover and purchase directly through social media platforms has risen by 38% in 2018 over the previous year. Due to this, several social media platforms are forging their way into the e-commerce space, creating a new category, known as social commerce.

Facebook

Facebook was one of the first social media pages to move to direct selling, having introduced in December 2015. Facebook has a huge active user base (about 1.6 billion daily users) who visit the platform to engage with friends as well as brands.

The main premise behind introducing direct selling by Facebook was to streamline the purchase journey by reducing the number of clicks/page redirects a user needs to do to purchase a product. It helps facilitate impulse buys, which sometimes are abandoned in cases where multiple page redirects are required. Moreover, it provides an overall integrated shopping experience for users, who can rate, review, and comment on the products that they have purchased. This in turn increases overall engagement for the retailer, which in response may facilitate better visibility and credibility for them.

The main premise behind introducing direct selling by Facebook was to streamline the purchase journey by reducing the number of clicks/page redirects a user needs to do to purchase a product. It helps facilitate impulse buys, which sometimes are abandoned in cases where multiple page redirects are required.

Facebook store (its direct selling feature) is free to set up for retailers, however, most retailers setup their Facebook store with e-commerce website builders such as Shopify, Ecwid, and BigCommerce for ease of checkout and payment options.

While Facebook has been undertaking direct selling for a couple of years now, the response has been slightly underwhelming. This is due to several shortcomings. Firstly, the ticket size of products sold on Facebook is on the lower end, primarily due to encompassing mostly impulse or low consideration products. The average order value of referrals by Facebook is US$55, suggesting that the value of products ordered directly through Facebook would not be much higher than that. Moreover, the interface for a Facebook store is standard for all retailers, with no room for customization at their end. This also limits their opportunity to upsell/cross-sell other products. Lastly, the rights for ads shown on a retailer’s Facebook store remains with Facebook. Thus it is very likely that a competitor is advertising its products on the retailer’s page.

Thus, while Facebook store may be ideal for small and medium businesses with limited presence and scale, it may not be used by large retailers who sell high-value products and wish to provide an engaging and enriching shopping experience to their customers.

To further strengthen its hold on the social commerce aspect, Facebook launched Facebook Marketplace in 2018, which provides a destination for users to discover, buy, and sell items. However, the Marketplace differs from the Facebook Store and is more similar to eBay and Craigslist, wherein users can list products and conduct transactions through the platform. While it started as a peer to peer shopping marketplace, it has expanded to include merchant selling. As of October 2018, about 800 million people globally used Marketplace monthly to browse, buy, and sell items. This presents a unique opportunity to retailers who can drive sales of products at a platform where customers are already shopping.

While Facebook may not be the one-point solution for retail sales, it is definitely not to be ignored, especially for small to medium businesses. As per Ecwid, one of the largest e-commerce platforms, merchants who sell through this platform drive 15% of their sales from Facebook (as of 2017). Moreover, with people becoming more open to shopping through social media apps (as per a 2016 survey by BigCommerce, one of the largest e-commerce platforms in the USA, about 30% consumers are willing to make purchases directly from social media pages) and an increase in mobile shoppers, direct selling through Facebook presents a great number of benefits to retailers.

However, in 2018, Facebook announced a big change to its News Feed algorithm, which will now prioritize content shared by one’s friends and family instead of content shared by businesses and media outlets. This may further impact direct sales on Facebook, since going forward, business-related posts will feature less on the News Feed.

Social Commerce Reshaping How Brands Sell and Customers Buy

Pinterest

In June 2015, Pinterest also entered the social commerce space by introducing ‘Buyable Pins’, which are Pins that allow customers to buy products without leaving Pinterest. Since Pinterest is widely used by close to 250 million users, who visit the platform to discover new products, designs, and ideas, an option to buy pinned products seems like a natural extension for the social media player.

Buyable Pins help retailers streamline the e-commerce experience and improve conversion rates. As per a research by Shopify (another leading e-commerce platform) in 2014, Pins with prices get 36% more engagement compared with those without. Moreover, according to a 2016 survey by BigCommerce along with research firm, Kelton Global, 26% of the GenXers and Millennials surveyed claimed that they are more likely to purchase a product directly from Pinterest if given an option.

While Pinterest does not take any commission from retailers for sales through their platform, it makes money through advertisements as retailers promote their ‘Buyable Pins’ to users. Moreover, Pinterest lets the retailers handle the order processing, which includes processing payments, shipping, and customer service. This further helps retailers obtain and retain the customer’s information, which can be used in the future for sending follow-up mails, sharing promotions, and making future sales to the customer (unlike on Amazon and eBay).

‘Buyable Pins’ are currently only available in the USA and to few selected merchants. They are also available to merchants who use a listed range of e-commerce platforms, which include (but are not limited to) Shopify, BigCommerce, and Salesforce Commerce Cloud. However, the platform has been expanding, and over time will include a greater number of merchants.

Post the introduction of ‘Buyable Pins’, Pinterest also introduced a shopping cart option which is integrated across the mobile and desktop platforms, and which helps users to purchase multiple ‘Buyable Pins’ at a time.

Several retailers, especially small and medium size enterprises, have achieved significant success with ‘Buyable Pins’. FlyAway BlueJay, an online retailer selling artisanal products such as beauty products and small jewelry, attained tremendous success by using ‘Buyable Pins’ during the holiday season in 2015. All of their ‘Buyable Pins’ sales came from new customers, with ‘Buyable Pins’ driving 20% of their overall sales in the last quarter of 2015. In the beginning of 2016, Pinterest drove about 28% of their overall website traffic. Thus, it helped the company reach new customers and reduce their customer acquisition rate. Another small-scale retailer, Modern Citizen (a San-Francisco based women’s fashion and home goods retailer), introduced Buyable Pins shortly after they were launched by Pinterest and witnessed a 73% increase in their sales from Pinterest by using ‘Buyable Pins’.

Direct selling on Pinterest appears to be a must consideration for small to medium businesses that are selling unique and new products. With women making up 85% of Pinterest’s user base, brands selling to female audiences are expected to achieve higher success rate when compared with male-centric products sellers.

Instagram

Owing to its visual and interactive content, Instagram is one of the most widely used social media apps for discovering new products and inspiring purchase decisions. As per statistics shared by Instagram in June 2018, it had 500 million daily users. Moreover, as per an Instagram user survey (November 2015), 60% of its users claim that they leverage Instagram as a product discovery platform and 75% of these users have taken an action based on the products they discovered via Instagram (such as visit the website, purchase the products, or tell a friend). This puts the platform in a strong position to leverage its role (in the purchase process) and further extend brands’ offerings to include direct shopping from Instagram’s app.

While Instagram had not entered the direct selling market up till very recently, in 2017, it launched ‘shoppable posts’ (in a testing phase), wherein brands tagged their products on their organic posts. When a user clicked on a tagged product, they could see the pricing and a streamlined path to purchase it.

‘Shoppable posts’ received significant success on Instagram and the company launched them across the platform in 2018. In addition, it also launched ‘shoppable stories’ (stories offering the same tagging features as shoppable posts) and ‘shoppable collection’ (which allowed users to bookmark ‘shoppable posts’ to in turn create a shopping folder for the user).

Several companies that were part of the testing phase of ‘shoppable posts’ achieved significant increase in sales and Instagram-driven traffic to their websites. During the beta testing phase, participating brand, Natori (a US-based upscale woman’s fashion brand) posted 61 ‘shoppable posts’ and achieved a 1,416% week-over-week increase in traffic from Instagram and a 100% week-over-week increase in revenue from Instagram. After the testing phase, BigCommerce merchants using shopping features on Instagram witnessed a 50% increase in their Instagram referral traffic to their website.

In March 2019, Instagram launched a testing phase for a checkout option on the platform to tap on the potential of direct selling. Under this feature, Instagram allows users to buy directly (without leaving the app). Instagram aims to monetize this by charging a small fee from the retailers who look to offer this service to their Instagram followers/customers. Instagram will process the payment and store payment information for future purchases, enabling a more streamlined and frictionless purchasing experience for the user.

Instagram will share a small fee from the retailers looking to sell directly on Instagram and in turn offer an option to the user to purchase and checkout through Instagram without leaving the app. Instagram will process the payment for the user and store payment information for all future purchases, enabling a more streamlined and frictionless purchasing experience for the user.

This is likely to facilitate impulse buys and convert abandoned shopping carts into actual sales, since customers will not need to fill in their details again and again (as is case of shopping directly at different retailers with shoppable posts and signing in/logging in separately for each retailer/purchase).

This is expected to provide the perfect blend of social media experience and frictionless e-commerce experience (such as Amazon). However, unlike Pinterest, where social media platform is only the facilitator and the transaction in terms of payment and service is completed by the retailer, Instagram will be handling the payments itself and only sharing the basic details necessary to fulfill the order with the retailer (i.e., contact information and shipping address). This is expected to be a slight downside of selling on Instagram vis-à-vis on one’s own website as the retailer will receive less data and may not be able to build a relation with the customer.

Instagram is currently running a testing phase of this feature with a few brands across the USA, including Adidas, Anastasia Beverly Hills, Balmain, Burberry, ColourPop, Dior, Huda Beauty, H&M, KKW Beauty, Kylie Cosmetics, MAC Cosmetics, Michael Kors, NARS, Nike, NYX Cosmetics, Oscar de la Renta, Outdoor Voices, Ouai Hair, Prada, Revolve, Uniqlo, Warby Parker, and Zara. Payments will be processed through PayPal and customers can pay through PayPal, Visa, MasterCard, American Express, and Discover. The retail merchants can also integrate their e-commerce tools and partners, such as Shopify and BigCommerce, with the checkout feature.

While it is currently in its testing phase, the company is bullish on the success of this new feature. Although checkout option is currently only available for organic posts, Instagram will look to roll it out for ad-based posts as well in the future. It is expected that Instagram is likely to make US$10 billion in shopping revenues by 2021.

Instagram has been one of the most successful social media platforms with regards to consumer purchase decisions and unlike other social media apps that are apt for small to medium businesses, it also has a huge market for high-end and upscale products.

Challenges ahead

While social commerce seems to have a major role to play in the retail landscape in the future, it still has a long way to go. Social media pages have already showcased their worth as product discovery platforms, but exhibiting their potential of converting discovery into sales is a different ball game altogether and may also require a different strategy. Users will need to be organically cajoled to complete sales on these platforms and social media platforms must constantly work towards improving their buy-button experience, otherwise success is not guaranteed for them.

Twitter introduced a direct selling option in 2014 but retracted it by 2017 due to poor reception. Facebook’s initiative has also been met with moderate success with regards to direct selling, which lead the platform to change the direct selling features and strategies over the years to engage both retailers and customers.

Moreover, retailers who focus on selling on Instagram and other social media apps run the risk of alienating followers/users with constant promotions of their retail and shoppable posts, instead of their current subtle engagement posts that are working and preferred by users.

EOS Perspective

Social commerce is often being pegged as the future of online sales. While this may be true, there is a long road ahead for this to happen. Currently, the social media giants are applying different strategies to enter the space of direct selling, however, for most of them the focus is not on revenues from commerce but from ads. Therefore, till the time direct sales do not become a key revenue stream for social media apps, their focus on the apps will also remain limited.

That being said, the emergence of social commerce cannot be ignored by retailers, both large and small. Customers have taken to social media apps and use them extensively to learn about new products. Retailers are in a unique position to leverage this space and work towards reaching a new customer base, converting impulse sales that are otherwise being missed.

However, the social commerce experience needs a lot of shaping. Today, customers greatly rely on user-created content on social media (which includes content by influencers as well as other users’ reviews and product ratings) for their purchase decisions. Social media features must include direct selling not just from a retail’s social media page but also from influencers’ and bloggers’ pages. Till the time direct selling on social media apps is not a fully integrated solution, it will not reap results for users, retailers, nor for the social media platforms.

In the end, it is safe to say that social commerce is currently in a very nascent stage of development but nonetheless, it is here to stay. With the consumer’s attention span constantly reducing and people spending great amount of time on social media, social commerce undoubtedly offers great potential.

by EOS Intelligence EOS Intelligence No Comments

Tunisia’s Bruised Tourism Industry Starts to Recover

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The tourism sector of Tunisia has been in turmoil over the past few years. The terrorist attacks on Sousse beach and Bardo National Museum in Tunis in 2015 crippled the industry, which had been witnessing a healthy growth before these events. As the Tunisian government and tourism industry players have been implementing strategies to revive the industry, some progress has been witnessed. However, the damage to the country’s image was grave and it is yet to be seen if the measures being taken will put the industry back on the growth trajectory.

Grave repercussions to the sector

Post Tunisia’s political revolution in 2011, the government started promoting tourism both domestically and internationally, and by 2014, the tourism sector contributed 15.4% to the country’s GDP. However, the terrorist attacks in 2015 in Sousse and Tunis killed nearly 60 foreign tourists (including 30 UK nationals) and significantly tarnished the image of Tunisia as a safe tourist destination.

The concerns over safety, reinforced by travel bans and no-travel recommendations issued by some EU countries, resulted in a drastic fall in the number of overseas tourists arriving in Tunisia. A travel ban issued by the UK authorities was particularly damaging to the local tourism sector, as UK had been the key demand-generating market for Tunisia. Between 2014 and 2017, the number of incoming travelers from the UK declined by 93% to 28,000 and many renowned UK travel companies, including Thomas Cook and TUI, discontinued their services in Tunisia.

The tourism sector had always been crucial for Tunisia’s economy and was one of the country’s key employment sectors, employing over 200,000 people before the attacks. The sudden decline in country’s tourism industry impacted cash inflow, business operations of several tourism industry players, and further destabilized the already faltering economy of the country.

The Recuperating Tourism Sector of Tunisia

Government reaction and first results

After two years of struggle, the Tunisian tourism market started showing first modest signs of recovery in 2017, following measures undertaken by the government to boost tourist footfall in the country. The Ministry of Tourism’s initial steps to help the industry survive included covering of social security contributions for tourism entities such as hotels, resorts, restaurants, etc., by the government, with the intention to help the providers maintain their employees and stay afloat. While this helped reduce the impact, the country still saw a massive loss of jobs in travel and tourism in 2015.

Simultaneously, the government tried to address the most pressing issue directly responsible for the decreased demand for Tunisian tourism services – traveler safety. To make tourists feel safe, the government tightened security around touristic sites, particularly in Sousse and Tunis. Additional surveillance equipment was placed at airports, hotels, and resorts to enhance security, while sector staff and various security forces received training on detecting suspicious behaviors and on counter-terrorism. Over the following years, Tunisia also received help from western countries in raising its security standards and procedures.

While these initiatives were needed and welcome, preventing attacks of this sort in a country located in close proximity to conflict zones, requires massive funding and complete, deep overhaul of its security and counter-terrorism system at all levels. Regardless of whether the steps already taken are sufficient or not to truly ensure safety, they certainly offered greater sense of protection to tourists, a fact promptly and extensively communicated to target customers across British and other European media.

The government of Tunisia has also taken measures to balance out the losses by trying to diversify its demand markets. To attract tourist from outside Europe, visa requirements for countries including China, India, Iran, and Jordan were eased with the introduction of visa on arrival. This strategy helped Tunisia attract Chinese tourists, whose footfall increased 56% y-o-y in January-May 2018 period.

To fuel business travel arrivals, the MoT started granting one-year multi-entry visa to businessmen and investors of these countries as well. Further, the MoT also removed entry visa requirements for countries including Angola, Burkina Faso, Botswana, Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Cyprus.

In parallel, the industry realized the need to broaden the sector’s offering. One such initiative was to expand the premium and luxury tourism segment targeting (quite interestingly) particularly British affluent travelers (indicating a continuous bet placed on British customers). In 2017, Four Seasons Hotel Tunis was opened, a major step in putting the country on the luxury tourism map, followed by a few more luxury resorts openings. In several locations premium activities have been developed, including marine spas and golf courses.

Europe’s cautious return to holidays in Tunisia

The measures appeared to have worked, and in 2017, the industry witnessed growth of the number tourists by 23.2% y-o-y to reach 7 million. While the government actions were to some extent successful, it was the lifting of travel ban to Tunisia by EU countries including Belgium, the Netherlands, Poland, and the UK that was the main factor leading to growth.

Recovery was further supported by the return of travel companies such as Thomas Cook and TUI, which resumed operations in Tunisia. Moreover, an air service agreement was signed in late 2017 between the EU and Tunisia to increase the number of direct flights between European countries and Tunisia, which soon led to the return of European airlines including Air Malta and Brussels Airlines on these routes.

All these developments have helped to revive tourism sector and regain European visitors to a certain extent. The number of tourists, particularly, from France and Germany, increased by 45% and 42%, respectively, y-o-y for the period of January-May 2018. This growth in tourist footfall was a great sigh of relief for local industry players, whose businesses have suffered tremendously post attacks.

UK tourist, the most valuable visitor, reluctant to come back

Despite Tunisia’s attempts to diversify its demand markets, the country sees UK as the most important source of tourists for its tourism sector. According to the Tunisian Hotel Association, the market will not fully recover until the British visitors are back in numbers from before the attacks, which will also send a strong message to the world that Tunisia is safe for travel again.

Before the attacks, tourists from the UK formed the bulk of most valuable visitors to Tunisia with high spending capacity, the strongest inclination to spend on high-end accommodation and local cuisines, staying for longer duration in the country, and shopping extensively for locally-made products.

Rebuilding Tunisia’s image in the eyes of British tourists is therefore seen as of great importance. While some British tourists started to return to Tunisia (following tightened safety measures and an extensive publicity thereof) many UK travelers continue to remain wary, and in spite the lift of the travel ban, British arrivals have not reached pre-2015 levels. This reluctance is difficult to break, as UK tourists still do not fully trust that their safety will be ensured, a fear further underpinned by tensions in Tunisia’s neighboring Muslim countries (e.g. Libya).

Some issues remain unresolved

The inability to bring back the UK tourists at levels from before 2015 is still a major problem to the local industry. Although the government undertook several initiatives to improve tourist safety, these steps are likely to be insufficient to prevent such events in the future.

Amidst Tunisia’s frail economic conditions, the availability of sufficient funds to truly and permanently ramp-up security is limited. Moreover, Tunisia must be able to ensure ongoing counter-terrorism abilities as a preventive measure, a task requiring a systematic approach and continuous financing, without dependence on western governments. Considering Tunisia is surrounded by areas prone to continuously produce this sort of danger, ensuring the right intelligence and financing is likely to be a challenge.

Tunisian tourism sector is fighting several battles at the same time, and the blow it received in an aftermath of the attacks had broad repercussions. Various structural issues, which had been present before 2015, still persist. This includes a relatively large share of poor quality accommodation and hotel services, which are not up to par with international standards and expectations of a western tourist, therefore are detrimental to market growth. The 2015 events put several hotel operators under heavy debt and in fight for survival, which pushed upgradation of hotel facilities much lower on their priority list.

There is also a shortage of well-trained hotel and other tourist services staff, which makes it difficult for the Tunisian tourism industry to compete with countries such as Turkey, especially if the substandard service level is paired with outdated and poorer hotel amenities and services. Tunisia does have training centers, however the aftermath of 2015 attacks put the entire sector along with ancillary industries in a standstill, therefore several training center have not been functioning at full capacity. Recovery will take time and it will be a while till a sufficient number of well-trained hotel staff will become available.

EOS Perspective

With tourism playing a pivotal role in Tunisia’s economy, the country found itself in a very difficult position as a result of the attacks. The revival of tourist footfall since the summer of 2017 is definitely encouraging, however the industry is still not out of the woods and needs to continue to work along with the government to ensure the return of the tourists, by addressing the key issues – safety and quality of services.

This should also be a good moment for Tunisia to realize the risks of reviving the industry with the same over-dependence on limited variety of demand markets as before (i.e. UK), and intensify its efforts to diversify target markets across Europe and beyond.

Apart from introducing and maintaining fundamental changes to the safety of the traveler and to what the industry offers, the country needs to revamp the way it markets itself so that it can improve its image and boost tourism. In the past, public authorities and industry players have not paid much attention to promoting the country’s tourism market on social media, relying largely on tour operators and agencies. However, promoting a positive image of the country along with advertising tourist facilities through online channels might help Tunisia reach broader customer segments across markets, e.g. by influencer endorsements (quite a successful approach for Abu Dhabi and Turkey, to name just a few, in the past).

It is also important for Tunisia to look beyond traditional mass-market, organized tourism and explore other avenues of revenue. More focus could be put on promoting cultural tourism as well as access to Sahara Desert – key attraction for people visiting south of Tunisia. Local investors have already started working to develop offers with local cuisines and immersive desert experiences, along with authentic-themed hotels and restaurants.

Tunisia has also made the right (although modest) steps to address the issue of substandard hotel amenities and unclear standard of accommodation that can be expected by tourists. Changes are being made to classification of hotels, as the current star rating system is outdated and based on size and capacity rather than quality of services. Efforts are being made to re-classify hotels in line with international standards. Such reforms are crucial for the industry to ensure higher level of customer satisfaction.

Rebuilding damaged image is always a long and difficult process and Tunisian authorities must do whatever possible to prevent similar attacks in the future. If the public authorities along with the industry players continue to make efforts to pull the country’s tourism market out of the pit, the optimistic expectations about tourist arrivals reaching 12 million by 2028, with a CAGR of 4.6% over 2018-2028, are likely to become reality, bringing back much needed employment and revenue to the economy.

by EOS Intelligence EOS Intelligence No Comments

Infographic: Social Media-fueled Restaurants: How Instagram Has Impacted the Restaurant Industry

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Instagram has infiltrated the restaurant business, pushing it to be more photogenic, colorful, and trendy. With several Instagrammers and restaurants posting pictures of beautifully crafted meals every day, food has become an integral part of social networking. Restaurants have picked up on this trend and are focusing on becoming more ‘Insta-friendly’ or ‘Instagrammable’ by modifying their décor, lighting, and food presentation. From rainbow colored unicorn food and drinks to galaxy donuts, all are crafted keeping Instagram in mind. Physical spaces are being designed to bait Instagrammers, with expectation to inspire them to take maximum photographs and share them on social media.

With social media playing a crucial role in decision-making for diners, whether it is choice of food or restaurant, Instagram has become an indispensable tool for digital marketing for restaurants helping them to drive business and increase awareness.

Social media restaurants

Social media restaurants


  • Location of restaurants (refer to the infographic):
    • Bellota – A Spanish cuisine bistro in San Francisco, USA
    • Media Noche – A casual dining restaurant in San Francisco, USA
    • Peal’s Finest Tea – A tea café in Los Angeles, USA
    • Seamore’s – A casual seafood restaurant chain across New York, USA
    • Comodo – A casual dining restaurant in New York, USA
    • Pez Playa – A beach-front bar and casual dining restaurant in Mallorca, Spain
    • Dirty Bones – A casual dining restaurant chain across London, UK
    • Sonic – A drive-in fast-food restaurant chain across the USA
    • Zizzi – Italian casual dining restaurant chain in the UK and Ireland
    • Chili’s – American casual dining international restaurant chain
    • Starbucks – American/international coffeehouse chain
by EOS Intelligence EOS Intelligence No Comments

Fitness Apps Thrive in Spite of Issues, But for How Long?

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Global fitness app market was worth US$930 million in 2016, expected to grow at a CAGR of 23.6% during 2016-2021 to reach US$2.7 billion. This growth can be attributed to drivers such as steady increase in smartphone adoption, affordable costs of mobile apps, as well as growing health awareness among consumers, including smartphone users. Regardless of how steady growth the market is registering, its expansion may hit a roadblock due to low product differentiation in a fiercely competitive market and unclear privacy policies that may cause wariness among consumers.

Fitness apps are becoming a new way to stay fit for smartphone and tablet users. During 2014-2016, fitness apps users have greatly increased in number, which led to fitness apps usage increase of over 330% in that period. A major driver of this growth is the fact that many fitness apps are highly engaging, according to a 2016 research conducted by Apptentive, a mobile customer experience and engagement software measuring the percentage of customers who retained an app for a certain period of time. In the health and fitness category, an average of 75% of users retained an app for at least 28 days, positioning the category as one of the top performers among news, finance, music, and shopping apps.

The high engagement of fitness apps is partially due to these apps providing users with a constantly-updated overview of their performance details and general wellness, which offers continuous motivation. This certainly benefits fitness apps growth and expansion in the market by not only attracting new users but also keeping existing users as loyal customers (at least to a certain extent).

Another driver for the fitness apps market growth is the cost-effectiveness of these apps, especially in comparison with typical gym membership fees. While a local gym in a city such as New York may charge around US$130 a month (plus a sign-up fee in some cases), fitness apps offer basic training routines, tracking location, and a calorie counter free of charge. Most fitness and health apps also offer an upgraded version with extra features, such as personal trainer, at prices ranging between US$2.99 a month and US$49.99 for an annual subscription.

These drivers bring about a favorable market environment for fitness apps to thrive, further underpinned by an estimated 2.1 billion smartphone users globally in 2016, a strong internet penetration – 87.4% in the USA, 73.1% in Europe, 54.3% in Latin America, and 52.3% in Asia, and a growing health awareness among an increasing number of people.

What may seem as a challenge is the fact that many fitness apps do not manage to stand out in the vast pool of apps, resulting in lack of product differentiation in the market. Most fitness apps offer very similar features – workout routines adjusted to the user’s level of fitness, sharing workout results online, etc., with focus on increasing user’s engagement with the app. Although this last point seems to have been achieved as fitness app users seem to be generally loyal to one app, a low product differentiation means low switching barriers for the users over long term, while limited innovation in introduction of new features can potentially hinder fitness app market growth.

Another challenge for fitness app developers is to improve the apps’ privacy policies. Fitness apps collect a gamut of sensitive, personal information about the users and require the geo-location feature to be enabled during workouts, meaning user’s location can be pinpointed at any time while using the app. Fitness apps mostly fail to clearly specify how this information will be handled. According to a report published by the Future of Privacy Forum (FPF), USA-based think tank and advocacy group, 30% out of the top paid and free health and fitness apps found in the App Store and Google Play in 2016 lagged behind in providing basic transparency about the app’s privacy terms. In other words, there is a probability that personal user information logged on the apps could be misused, weakening consumer’s trust, which could translate into users choosing not to use fitness apps to exercise, as their awareness of privacy issues increases.

Such lack of transparency from fitness app providers may cause users to grow wary of using the apps to track their workouts and to introduce personal information regarding their health. This can turn out to be a considerable problem for the app companies, as the key advantage and the selling point of their products is personalized data analysis, training plans, performance charts, etc., for which it is essential that the user allows the app to gather their personal health and workout input data. Without this, the use of these apps is virtually pointless.

EOS Perspective

Fitness apps have proven to be highly engaging causing consumers to rapidly adopt the ’anytime, anywhere’ way of exercising and to continue using these apps through extended periods of time. While convincing potential users to start using any fitness app does not seem to be a problem and customer acquisition does not pose a major challenge in general for the industry as a whole, it appears that low product differentiation is the key obstacle for individual developers to get their products to stand out in the jumble of similar apps, and this lack of differentiation might be the factor to hamper fitness app market growth.

Some app providers seem to be noticing this, however they are trying to tackle this issue by doing everything but truly differentiating their products, and instead attempt to outdo their competitors by trying to shout loud about their own apps. As many apps lack differentiation and tend to melt into one vast pool of similar apps, fitness app developers are trying to make their products be more heard and visible using social medial to gain a competitive advantage.

One such case is the Sweat app, belonging to the Australian international fitness figure Kayla Itsines, who has been using social media extensively – mainly Instagram and Facebook – as a means of promotion for her app. By implementing a well-designed and aggressive social media marketing strategy, the Sweat app spread around 195 countries engaging 11 million users in 2017 alone. In that same year, the app registered US$100 million in revenue. The use of social media (hashtags, motivational photos, short videos, reposting before and after pictures of app users who had made remarkable progress) granted major visibility in the market and an increase in new subscriptions, without the need for actual innovation and truly unique selling proposition.

A lot of fitness apps offer user workouts based on generic information introduced by the user (e.g. weight, height, age) and data measured by GPS, accelerometer, or gyroscope, however lack the ability to register the body’s real-time performance, which has an impact on the accuracy of the gathered data and recommendations. This gap offers a good opportunity to differentiate and the app developers should try to align their applications with current trends such as the increasing popularity of wearable devices and smart garment.

Fitness apps companies might want to continue to seek to collaborate with garment industry players to develop smart garment – a piece of clothing such as a sport bra with conductive threads woven into the fabrics to work wirelessly with a smartphone. Smart threads in the fabric are capable of reading user’s biometrics, for instance heart rate, body temperature, and dehydration, among others that otherwise a smartphone would be incapable of registering on its own. By integrating the smart garment with a fitness app, the latter can use the real-time data collected on the body’s actual performance to accurately monitor workout sessions, giving a range of possibilities to use this data to differentiate the service offered by the app. As a result, the end product could stand out in the vast pool of apps while facilitating the user to efficiently reach their personal goals. It is a path for app developers to consider, as the growth of standard, smartphone-based apps is surely going to be limited.

by EOS Intelligence EOS Intelligence No Comments

Artificial Intelligence Finds its Way into Your Favorite Fast Food Chain

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The idea of robots replacing humans has always seemed like talks of the future, however, it is not as distant as it seems, especially when it comes to the fast food industry. The fast food market, which is characterized by cut-throat competition and high share of low-skilled jobs, has recently been swept by a technology wave. Leading players, such as Domino’s, Starbucks, or KFC, are investing heavily in artificial intelligence (AI) to increase efficiencies and differentiate themselves in this overly crowded industry – some are integrating it with their back-end operations while others with the consumer interface. However, with investments in technology increasingly becoming an industry trend, the question remains if AI will provide the competitive edge to these players or are consumers yet not quite ready to lose the human touch.

Artificial intelligence has been the buzz word for some time and the fast food industry is also catching on the wave. With some market leaders claiming to be as much a technology company (owing to huge technology budgets) as a food business, these players are incorporating AI in several verticals to improve operational efficiencies and elevate consumer experience.

The wave of AI adoption is particularly prominent in the US market, where labor costs are increasing significantly, hence AI is being seen as a tool to reduce costs in the long run. Just recently, in the beginning of 2017, minimum wages have been increased in 19 states and will reach US$13.50/hour in Washington state and even US$15/hour in California by 2022 (the minimum wages in 2017 stood at US$11 and US$10.50 for Washington state and California, respectively).

Apart from the need to control costs, the interest in AI is driven by the fact that it provides food business with great advantage – the use of AI helps companies gather valuable data about customer choices, flavor trends, etc., and use this information effectively.

Leading players, such as Domino’s, Starbucks, KFC, and CaliBurger, have already started using AI is different verticals of their businesses to not only reduce costs but also to remain one step ahead of the changing consumer expectations.

Domino’s

Domino’s can be easily slated as one of the most aggressive fast food players when it comes to adoption of technology. The company has embraced AI in several aspects of its operations aiming to smoothen both the ordering and the delivery sides of the business.

In early 2017, Domino’s launched an AI-based technology called the DRU (Domino’s Robotics Unit) Assist, which enables consumers to order a pizza on the app using their voice. The in-app AI assist, which was built in partnership with natural language company, Nuance, converses with customers in a human-like manner and discusses orders, menus, ingredients, store locations, and operating hours.

Along similar lines, the company has also launched its Facebook messenger bot, wherein customers can converse with the bot on the messenger app to learn about menu options, discount offers, and also order food. In addition, Domino’s is in the process of launching its ‘Domino’s Anywhere’ feature, through which customers can drop an exact location pin using GPS (as in case of Uber) when ordering pizza thereby facilitating delivery at various locations, such as parks, and other public places without providing an exact address.

Simultaneously, the company is also using AI to automate the delivery process. In November 2016, in New Zealand, Domino’s partnered with Flirtey, a drone company, to undertake the first commercial delivery of food by a flying drone. While this technology is largely futuristic for mass adaptation, the company is focusing on land-based autonomous delivery vehicles to deliver pizza to customers’ doorsteps. This technology went to trial in June 2016 in Australia and in 2017 in Germany, while the company plans to roll it out in the Netherlands for customers within the one-mile radius by the end of 2017. The technology, which is provided by Starship Technologies (a European start-up), has GPS tracking, computer vision and object detection capabilities, and can travel within a three mile radius, carrying up to 10kg weight for a cost as low as US$1.32 (£1).

McDonald’s

McDonald’s is one of the recent players to blend fast food with technology. The company stated that its investments in technology are to be one of its key strategies in 2017, calling it the ‘Experience of the Future’ strategy. As per its plans, McDonald’s aims to replace cashiers with self-ordering kiosks in 2,500 of its restaurants by the end of 2017 and in another 3,000 restaurants by the end of 2018. The cost of each kiosk is estimated at about US$50,000-60,000.

In addition to this, the company plans to roll out mobile ordering across 14,000 US locations by the end of 2017. Mobile ordering will not only ease the ordering process but also help the company gain access to valuable customer data, which in turn can be used to recommend additional dishes and personalized deals. McDonald’s has already launched mobile ordering in Japan and received a positive response with customers using the app ordering about 35% more than usual.

Since 2015, the company has also been rolling out digital menu displays across its stores in the USA as well as globally. They use AI to highlight weather-appropriate options. This feature has resulted in increased sales by 3-3.5% in Canada.

Starbucks

Starbucks has also developed an artificial intelligence program to improve customer ordering experience. The program, which is known as the Digital Flywheel program, links itself with the accounts of Starbuck Reward members and makes order suggestions based on order history, weather conditions, time of day, weekend/workday, and other such factors. In addition, it brings additional convenience to the ordering process for the Reward program members, who can order directly from push notifications or text message and collect their ready order from a nearby Starbucks.

Moreover, embracing the voice computing trend, the company has launched an AI-based ordering system on its app that allows customers to order and pay for their orders using voice. The company has also launched a ‘Starbucks Reorder Skill’ for users of the Amazon Alexa app, wherein users who have linked their Starbucks account to their Amazon Alexa account can re-order their usual drink (at one of the last 10 visited Starbucks stores) by simply saying “Alexa, order my Starbucks”. However, this service is currently limited to the order of the users’ usual designated drink instead of ordering anything off the menu.

Starbucks has made significant investments in technology on a continuous basis, having invested close to US$275-300 million in its partners and digital initiatives globally in 2016, an increase from an investment of US$145 million in 2015.

KFC

While most quick service restaurants players are using technology to elevate their app-based ordering experience, KFC in China is taking a different route to join the AI bandwagon. In April 2016, KFC (in collaboration with Baidu, China’s leading search engine) launched a robot-run restaurant in Shanghai called Original+. The restaurant is run by a robot named Dumi, which takes customer orders and is smart enough to handle order changes and substitutes. While the robot can understand the three main dialects of Mandarin spoken in China, it cannot distinguish other dialects and accents. The payment at the outlet is made through smartphones via mobile payment systems.

The collaboration opened another AI-enhanced café in Beijing in December 2016, wherein customers take pictures of themselves with a machine, which then recognizes the users face, sex, age, and mood, along with analyzing the time of the day to recommend suitable meal options and completes the ordering process. Moreover, upon revisit, the machine recognizes the user and shows order history as well as dining preferences to quicken the order process. However, unlike the Shanghai restaurant, this restaurant also offers the traditional ordering process. While these may seem futuristic, the company has expressed its plans to open more smart restaurants in the country.

CaliBurger

Apart from market leaders, smaller players, such as CaliBurger, are also investing heavily in technology in both the front and back end of their operations. The California-based burger chain has brought AI into their kitchens through the use of AI-enabled robot, called Flippy, which is capable of cooking/flipping burgers and placing them on the bun. The robot, which was launched in March 2017 in the chain’s Pasadena, California outlet is created by Miso Robotics, a pioneer in the robotics for restaurant business. The concept is currently in test run and if successful, it is expected to be rolled out in early 2018 with expansion plans to more than 50 outlets worldwide by 2019.

EOS Perspective

It remains no secret that most leading and few niche smaller players are turning to AI to elevate their service levels in this competitive industry. Companies which have traditionally not taken the digital route up till now are also joining the technology bandwagon. Pizza Hut, which has always been one step behind Domino’s with regards to technology deployment, has invested US$12 million in technology in Q2 2017 towards improving its digital and delivery services. The chain plans to invest US$180 million in a technology overhaul by the end of 2018.

It can be expected that at this stage of technology development most of the automation will be successfully implemented in the customer-facing side of the business, and will comprise technologies such as bots and voice recognition that can be integrated into apps and other ordering mediums. This not only helps consumers by easing the ordering process but also helps companies gather valuable data about customer preferences and ordering trends, which in turn can be used for providing complementing recommendations and thereby increasing sales. While AI-enhanced ordering and payment may be the path of the future, it will be far-fetched to say that it will eliminate the need for humans in this side of the industry altogether. With increased sales due to AI-based ordering, the need for humans will remain, however, their role may evolve from ordering to management.

The adoption of AI or automation at the food preparation and delivery end, on the other hand, still seems a little futuristic. While several players, such as Domino’s and CaliBurger, have started investing and launching this technology, the wide application of it seems distant. This is especially true in the food preparation tasks, due to an increasing trend towards customization of orders and the growing use of complex ingredients to cater to niche audiences that require dairy-free, vegan, gluten-free, or other such options. Till the time robots that can handle such complexities are developed, these jobs will largely be conducted by humans with maybe automating the easier aspects of the process (such as flipping the burgers). Moreover, with the fast changing consumers’ needs it will be hard for robotics companies to preempt the trends and develop robots that can match the required skill sets both now and in the future.

That being said, the use of AI by the restaurant industry is definitely on the rise and while we may not know the extent to which it will take over the current operations, we can definitely be sure that this is increasingly becoming the point of focus as well as innovation in this highly competitive space.

by EOS Intelligence EOS Intelligence No Comments

Thailand: Endeavoring to Become Asia’s Next Luxury Shopping Stop

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As purchasing power growth is slowing down in mature markets such as the USA and Europe, international brands and luxury retailers are seeking expansion opportunities in dynamic and rapidly developing Asian countries. Thailand is fast becoming a destination of choice for several luxury brands owing to robust demand, developed urban infrastructure, and low cost of establishing a business. Increasing number of tourists indulging in massive luxury spending as well as mushrooming high-end shopping centers are slowly coalescing to establish Thailand as a premier luxury shopping hub in South East Asia.

Luxury goods sales in Thailand are likely to reach US$ 2.2 billion by 2019 owing to improved economic conditions, retail expansion, and plethora of international brands entering the country. This growth has also spurred as Thailand offers several other benefits to luxury brands and retailers such as low rent and investment cost, and strong government support. Retail infrastructure is also witnessing a rapid growth, with expansion of several shopping malls and outlets.

Thailand - Asia’s Next Luxury Shopping Stop-1

Despite the bright growth prospects and encouraging retail development, there are several factors that are inhibiting this growth. For instance, the high luxury goods tax is a major hindrance to retail sales. Other factors such as counterfeit products, fragmented market, and political instability in the country are also adversely affecting sales.

Thailand - Asia’s Next Luxury Shopping Stop-2

EOS Perspective

Thailand faces a strong competition from other commercial centers such as Hong Kong, China, and Singapore, yet it is slowly emerging as a premier market for luxury products due to its unique ability to offer goods at more competitive prices owing to relatively lower overheads. Additionally, China and Hong Kong are the two most penetrated markets by high street brands in Asia, and are approaching saturation. Several luxury brands are halting further expansion in the two countries amid sluggish sales. Consequently, this has opened doors for Thailand which is slowly becoming a target market for retailers to expand operations.

Nevertheless, luxury retailers in Thailand face a major setback due to the 30% luxury goods tax, which discourages even affluent shoppers. Limited domestic purchasing capabilities further hinder sales, however relatively low housing costs leave a considerable disposable income in hand, which marginally helps to spur luxury spending.

Based on our analysis, certain strategies can be adopted to succeed in the Thai market – widening distribution channel by opting for online retailing, choosing the right target audience, designing an effective marketing strategy, and tapping the M-commerce boom in Thailand.

 

Thailand - Asia’s Next Luxury Shopping Stop-3

 

While Thailand still remains behind many of its peer countries in terms of luxury retail development, it is likely to become one of the leading Asian markets in medium to long term, increasingly hosting several prominent international luxury brands and registering tremendous retail sales growth.

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