Retail Retains Human Qualities, Without the Humans

Twiggle recently announced it has raised $15 million, bringing its funding up to $33 million total. Its primary investors are MizMaa Ventures and Korea Investment Partners, with some additional participation from Yahoo Japan, Alibaba and Naspers.

The platform aims to redefine the online retail experience by drawing parallels to how customers would find products in store.

With just two API calls, Twiggle’s Semantic API integrates into existing search engines and provides a natural language layer that allows search engineers and data scientists to enhance search logic and present better results to shoppers,” the site’s product page reads.

Twiggle declares it wants to “enhance search logic, not replace it.” The idea is that search engines can be as helpful as sales associates. Users could find products and apparel by typing in simple language they would use in a physical interaction. Instead of utilizing SEO keywords or brand names, Twiggle would match users with their desired items even if all they have to go off of is “pink skirt with strawberries.”

The concept is moderately paradoxical in a world that has steadily been moving away from the traditional sales associate to customer interaction. Shoppers are more inclined to check off their Christmas lists with Amazon Prime or beat the crowds by taking advantage of Cyber Monday. Shopping malls are seeing less and less foot traffic. The phrase, “No thank you, I’m just looking,” is almost an automated response from shoppers who are used to freely perusing websites with no intention to ever press “check out.”

In this self-servicing economy, it’s unexpected to see a software product draw us back to traditional shopping behaviors, albeit with a modern, digital perspective. It’s a reverse anachronism, almost. We’ve been trained out of expecting assistance from a salesperson, only to be presented with technology that acts as a hologram of that relationship.

The Biggest E-Commerce Company Goes Brick and Mortar

“We are having our cake and eating it too, just without a checkout line.”

Amazon has delved into a similar paradox with the emergence of its Amazon bookstore, a physical retail store much like the ones Amazon’s online e-commerce presence eradicated. Amazon Books claims to be different from its competitors, providing user review ratings to influence buyer decisions. This idea of a physical retail store seems a little retro, especially coming from one of the first companies that took us to the web for books.

Additionally, Amazon has announced Amazon Go, a retail store that eradicates the need for a checkout line by using sensor technology to detect items in a shopper’s cart or bag. A shopper is then charged via the card they have connected to their Amazon Go app account. Amazon Go stores sell mainly groceries, meals and other snack foods, for the moment.

This creation of a physical storefront that fails to create sales associate roles is previously unheard of, but perhaps this is a new normal we should begin to anticipate.

Although these instances have their unique particularities, the concept is consistent: We are moving away from traditional salespeople and retail experiences, while using technology to maintain the familiar aspect of shopping to which we have grown accustomed. We are having our cake and eating it too, just without a checkout line.

READ: When Virtual Collides with Brick and Mortar

It’s difficult to imagine a world of independent retail. I imagine stores will always require employees for security, as well as managers to answer questions and resolve issues. Boutiques would suffer without intuitive individuals to arrange appealing window displays, and bookstores are unnecessarily difficult to navigate without the help of those who understand the organization.

Personally, I hope we realize the importance of retaining human-to-human interactions in shopping experiences. Aside from the massive amount of jobs automation could potentially eradicate, human retailers remind us of our need for other people and of the efficiency of working together.

I can’t imagine having been helped to find my prom dress by a machine. These are inherently real-life experiences that deserve meaningful interactions with equally real people, even if we are, “just looking.”

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