In a session at the Women in Retail Leadership Summit, a trio of executives offered case studies on the growing influence of technology within the retail industry. More specifically, these retail leaders shared how themselves and their companies are utilizing technology to help address business challenges, both internally and externally.

Lockie Andrews, chief digital officer, UNTUCKit; Talia Halperin, vice president, brand management, BuzzFeed; and Rucha Nanavati, group vice president, information technology, Albertsons, shared use cases to illustrate how their companies have found innovative ways to leverage technology, driven by their leadership.

AI Helps UNTUCKit Improve Marketing ROI

Lockie Andrews: UNTUCKit was known as a shirt brand, but where do we go from there? Is that a $1 billion concept? Maybe. But with our venture capitalists, they wanted us to figure it out very quickly. The brand moved into different categories that it wasn’t known for — e.g., jackets. However, we saw that our site visitors weren’t crossing categories.

It was my bright idea to leverage tech to help us understand how we could move people throughout our experience. But people within the organization believed we didn’t have the data to enable cross-category shopping behavior on our site. I went in and found we had segment [data]; we have Tableau, which helps us to visualize that data to get actionable insights; and we’re also collecting tons of data that’s just not being used. It became clear we had a nice sample size of customers who did cross-category purchase, so why aren’t we using that data now to inform our decisions moving forward?

Start where you are; don’t worry about what you don’t have. What you have now might suffice. By leveraging artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning, applying it to our existing business, we’ve been able to double-down on Facebook marketing. We were smarter about targeting, and doubled down. We’re seeing phenomenal returns and increased return on ad spend (ROAS). But in order to take it to the next level, we decided to partner with Simon Data. Through segmentation we were able to take in additional data points — we’re feeding Snowflake, our data warehouse, with over 1,200 attributes — and create a data model. That data model informs us on the best ways to serve up ads to our customers to get them to start appreciating the other categories.

In doing so, we’ve seen conversion rate increase. In the three months we’ve had this partnership with Simon Data on top of Facebook, we’ve seen a reduction of 16 percent in our CPA, and ROAS has increased by 28 percent. The one I’m most excited about is return on investment. As a chief digital officer, I care that the tech isn’t just there as a silver bullet or a shiny new toy, but that it really works. In the first three months, we’ve had a 31 percent [ROI], and I’ve hit all kinds of attribution margins. Basically, we’ve paid back the cost of the subscription model, and we’re above our plan by 30 percent. And we have a ways to go leveraging this in other paid social, paid search, and other opportunities.

IoT Product, Interactive Video Prove Tasty

Talia Halperin: Tasty is the biggest food brand in the world and on Facebook. It’s on a mission to connect people through food. While you’re consuming our content, what we’re really about is how do we teach a new generation to cook and to connect people. We want to go beyond the hands in the pans and be a forward-facing brand that connects people through food. Two in three people actually cook Tasty recipes. They’re not just consuming the content; they’re going home and making these crazy things.

How do we provide services to our audience that gives them tools and shapes their kitchen experiences? Tasty launched in 2015. We sold 100,000 copies of the Tasty cookbook in less than 30 days, and realized there was a huge opportunity for more Tasty merchandise. In 2017, we launched a Tasty app on iOS and our first tech-focused product, the Tasty One Top, on the same day. About a year ago we went into retail with our Tasty brand. How do we get people from URL to IRL? From the phone to their table, and making these meaningful connections.

The One Top is a smart induction cooking device which syncs with every recipe in the app, and guides you step-by-step through the cooking process. The product integrates our audience insights and the recipes that we know our audience loves into a real-world experience.

We made this really complicated tech product, but how do we truly reach our audience that doesn’t want a tech product, who wants something that’s just everyday kitchen equipment? This past year we launched a line of kitchen wear into Walmart, and we did this in organic ways — integrating tried-and-true products into the recipes that we know you love. We used audience insights and data as well as the analytics tools that we have to figure out the items that our audience really wanted, needed and couldn’t live without so that we could make great videos and great product.

Our next generation of videos are interactive and integrated with our own content. For example, choosing your adventure with how you want the recipe to go. Instead of the traditional Tasty video where we’re showing you how the recipe is supposed to go, the consumer gets to pick what they want. This is yielding super valuable data for CPGs, advertisers, and retailers.

Albertsons Uses Robots to Speed Up its Supply Chain

Rucha Nanavati: Robotics in retail. We use them pretty much everywhere you can think of, from distribution to e-commerce to manufacturing. The supply chain has never been a stranger to automation. Anything that is repetitive we will put a robot on it, we will put automation on it, and we will do it. We’ve had voice pick, conveyor belts that can move products fast in a large warehouse, semi-automated replenishment, automated goods storage and retrieval. And now we’ve moved on to robotic automation.

This is the newest thing we have in our distribution center. We’ve partnered with a company called Symbotic that specializes in warehouse grocery automation. This is high-density storage which increases your warehouse’s capacity by about 30 percent or more. It has a robotic de-palletizer, which takes the shrink out and puts it on a conveyor belt. After that the machine figures out what product it is and where it should be put. It hands the product over to these autonomous mobile robots, which we call bots, and they move around and store product. The beauty of these machines is that they are category friendly. So when they get into the store, the system isn’t just efficient for the warehouse, but it’s also going to make it efficient for the store when we have to stock it.

The star of the show is the autonomous mobile robot. These things run about 25 mph, and their movement is accurate to about an inch. When you look at high-density storage, there are about 10 or so different levels. About 200 of those robots are running around at the same time doing both inbound and outbound work.

When you look at the storage, you feel all of the products have been put in some random way because it’s not like all the cereal boxes are in one place or all the shampoo is in another. It feels random, but it’s beautifully harmonious. It knows exactly where it put the product. And it has redundancy built in, so if one level goes out, you are not out of any particular product. From a technology perspective, this is robotics to the next level. It buys you transportation efficiency, it buys you store efficiency, it buys you warehouse efficiency. It’s a lot safer for our warehouse personnel as well. And who doesn’t like cool tech?