NYRIW Preview: How An Ecommerce Startup Helps Brands Enable Simple And Personalized Online Shopping
Before partaking in a panel on Retail Tech Strategies for 2019, VP of ecommerce app Caravel, Adriana Krasniansky, speaks about using technology like AI and machine learning to help brands build better e-shopping experiences, enabling streamlined and enjoyable customer journeys
Customers are overwhelmed by digital marketing and retail tactics. From targeted ads, to chatbots, to product recommendations, customers begin to tune out, says Adriana Krasniansky, VP of Marketing and Insights at ecommerce startup Caravel. As consumers flock to easier shopping interfaces, digital retailers who simplify the shopping experience are best positioned to build trust and encourage customers to return.
Accordingly, Caravel's app, currently in beta, strives to uncomplicate ecommerce for brands, building intuitive and helpful shopping experiences that keep customer satisfaction as their focus. Ahead of speaking at the panel Retail Tech Strategies for 2019, part of New York Retail Innovation Week, Adriana shares with PSFK how Caravel works to simplify how people shop online, using AI to help brands enable personalized and simplified shopping experiences.
Could you describe what you think are the most important ecommerce trends taking place right now, and which ones retailers should pay most attention to?
We’re at a very interesting fork in the road for digital retail. On one path, we have marketplaces for ‘staple’ purchases where brand presence is not a primary factor. Certain teams at Amazon, Walmart/Jet and many CPG retailers are focusing here—think bundling, easy repeat purchases and eventually predictive ordering.
On the other path, we have discretionary goods where brand equity and customer experience are key points of differentiation. These retailers need to educate their customer, provide them with an experience, and ultimately build an emotional rapport. Companies on this path have leaned into physical (pop-ups, experience centers) as the prime channel to educate, experience, and build emotional connection. Yet, retailers are still figuring out how this level of high-touch service translates to digital.
On both retail paths, customers have come to expect good experiences that make their lives easier, and brands are being called to use data in a way that directly adds value to the shopping experience. Customers want to openly communicate information, preferences, and needs and receive relevant responses that, over time, evolve into a high-value relationship.
You founded Caravel, an ecommerce startup that aims to simplify online shopping. What motivated or inspired you to start the company? Were there particular gaps or unmet consumer needs that you wanted to fill?
The team behind Caravel is comprised of retail, design and AI experts based in Portland, Oregon and New York City. Together, they have a decade of experience working together to craft state-of-the-art retail and ecommerce solutions for major brands including Nike, Samsung and Intuit. First, we noted that every day, customers are overwhelmed by digital marketing and retail tactics—from targeted ads, to chatbots, to product recommendations, customers become overwhelmed and tune out. This means that no matter how smart an add-on solution (like a chatbot) can be, customers aren’t in the right headspace to see past the noise. Brands need to do something radically different.
That radical strategy, we believe, is to uncomplicate things. Customers are flocking to new, simpler interfaces for shopping—such as mobile drops, personalized kits and easy-to-order subscriptions. The best digital retailers create easy experiences that build trust and encourage customers to come back (where they know things won’t be a headache).
Internally, our team often refers to the expert retail associate as our paradigm for simple shopping. This is the employee you’re always excited to see, who knows your taste, remembers your favorite order, and makes great suggestions to delight you and encourage you to try something new. Now compare this expert to a salesperson on the street, shouting deals as you walk past.
As a team, we strive to build a product that allows digital retailers to emulate the expert associate, rather than the shouting salesperson.
Tell us a bit how Caravel works, and how it departs from other ecommerce apps.
At its core, Caravel allows a brand to create Shopping Guides—these are series of questions that collect self-reported data from customers while matching them to highly specific recommendations. Our Shopping Guides are modeled after the questions that exceptional associates ask customers when first meeting them. Behind the scenes, Caravel uses technologies such as deep learning to learn a brand’s product catalog and match products to customer responses.
Once created, a Caravel Shopping Guide can be linked from any brand touchpoint, such as an Instagram Story, influencer blog post, or search result. You can imagine a Facebook ad linking directly to a Shopping Guide that outputs tailored suggestions, without requiring a customer to consult other resources or browse indecisively.
On the backend, Caravel analyzes data from each Shopping Guide to help brands better understand a customer’s individual needs and motivations and integrates with other personalization tools to build on that relationship.
Our AI team is also studying how brands can learn from these responses on a macro level to better understand what types of services their audience likes best.
As online shopping continues to evolve, so does the in-store experience. Could you share any insights you have on how you think the two are evolving in relation to one another, and how Caravel fits into this new retail landscape?
Digital and physical retail used to play very separate roles: digital collected cleaner data, but physical was where the flagship customer experience and service happened.
However, there’s been a convergence of digital and physical retail and their abilities. The ubiquity of mobile, as well as the cost reduction in IoT, has transformed stores into data hubs where brands can create intimate experiences for a community of their shoppers—think Nike by Melrose, for example.
We also see digital platforms growing in their ability to be contextually aware (understand your location, weather, etc.), as well as digital brands growing in their aspirations to hold a valuable personal relationship with each online shopper. These changes are pushing ecommerce platforms to adopt some of the best aspects of in-store retail.
We see a world where Caravel has a presence in-store, surfacing customer profiles so that associates know how a customer has expressed themselves online and can build upon that relationship. However, for the near future, we’re helping bring digital retail closer to in-store satisfaction.
What do you hope to share during the retail tech panel next month?
As an industry, we’re adjusting our expectations of what technology means for retail. I think brands, as well as consumers, are tired of interacting with technology for technology’s sake—the next wearable, chatbot or AR experience—unless it adds true value to an experience or significantly reduces costs.
I’d like to talk about this retail technology realignment: what it means to build intuitive and helpful shopping experiences that keep customer satisfaction as their focus. Technology progress does nothing more than expand the set of tools with which we can address customer obstacles or pain points.
At Caravel, we are also working diligently to validate and verify our technologies before releasing them to retailers and their customers. As we’ve seen in the retail and marketing industries, implementing a technology, software or algorithm without deliberate thinking around its implications can result in some scary outcomes and even create new concerns for customers or our industry. While speed to market is important, so is thoughtful and deliberate design for the end user.
What’s next for Caravel? Anything you can share about the next year?
In addition to working on our product, our engineering team is putting together several research initiatives that explore the different roles that AI (from deep learning, to computer vision, to natural language processing) can play in building brand-customer relationships. From that work, we’ll be publishing a few pieces that share our perspective on AI’s role as a toolset for the retail industry.
Most importantly, we are still accepting a few more brands as partners for our private beta, launching in Q1 2019. If your brand team is interested, sign up to learn more here!
Caravel is helping brands build seamless experiences for better customer satisfaction. For more from Adriana, come see her speak at a panel on Retail Tech Strategies For 2019, part of New York Retail Innovation Week, where speakers will discuss some of the biggest consumer shifts driving the need for tech innovation in retail, as well as what strategies brands can employ to best meet those demands. Tickets available now!