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Digital and cosmetics: the innovations that are on everyone's lips

In this age of digital technology and smartphones, personalization is everywhere, even in our makeup bags. And, with the current pandemic, cosmetics brands our bringing their in-store experiences into our bathrooms. While smiles are hidden from view at the moment, brands are preparing for the day when they will be unmasked: more and more brands are using the latest technology to offer product personalization services. Discover innovations created by the likes of Estée Lauder, Chanel and Yves Saint Laurent, for a look that is guaranteed to be yours and nobody else’s! 

 

Estée Lauder’s Lip Blend Machine corner

In November 2019, Estée Lauder opened a new “corner” at Galeries Lafayette. The brand is enabling its customers to personalize their lipsticks by creating a custom shade. The service is provided along with personalized advice to adapt the color to their complexion and look. Customers had to wait 30 minutes to get a tailored product in a box containing the lipstick and two refills.

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Source: www.influencia.net

 

The system was a bit slow and, above all, short-lived, as the campaign only lasted a few months. However, it put the idea out there! Other brands got in on the concept, adding touches of digital and even m-commerce.

 

Smartphone, who’s the fairest of them all?

In January 2021, YSL Beauté announced the release of its personal lipstick creator “Rouge Sur Mesure”. Yves Saint Laurent launched a lipstick that can be refilled and, above all, personalized from anywhere! Using a super easy-to-use mobile app, the brand will now help its customers choose their Rouge Sur Mesure Powered by Perso by YSL.

Using face and image recognition technologies, users can test the color in real time using their smartphone camera, match their color with their bag, select the lipstick color in a magazine photo to get inspired, and more. Personalization is done using a mixture of three preselected basic colors.

For now, this amazing technology remains in the beta test stage, and only people living in the United States can sign up to be testers. Test participants are rewarded with a gift of two sets of cartridges worth $180… However, with the retail price announced at around $300, it remains a somewhat inaccessible “beauty tool”.

 

The latest cosmetics brand to enter the field: Chanel and its Lipscanner

The concept of this app is similar to that launched by Yves Saint Laurent, but Chanel has gone a step further by adding an e-shop module. Beyond the recommendation and virtual try-on features, the brand is making it possible for customers to order their personalized Chanel lipstick and receive it a few days later. The rest of the world won’t have to wait for the Americans to test it first! In addition, the range of colors includes all of Chanel’s various lipstick shades. The brand is also adding a community dimension with a photo sharing feature.

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The slogan is simple: “Love it. Scan it. Find your perfect shade. ” Scan any color you see, whether it’s on someone else, in a magazine or on a poster. Within seconds, the new LIPSCANNER app will identify the corresponding CHANEL lip color. “Then, test out your match virtually with CHANEL TRY ON. Save or share photos of your discoveries and order the products you love directly through the app. ”

Choose your very own lipstick! We can expect to see other competitors get involved, dig deeper into the concept with new features and extend it to cover new products. The “beauty experiences revolution” is underway!

Online, offline, everywhere: Coronavirus as the driver of omnichannel commerce

The coronavirus pandemic has exposed weaknesses in many areas of the economy and society and revealed the true scale of our shortcomings. The consequences of underestimated or deferred issues, such as home schooling, have become very apparent. In the past year, politicians, parents, teachers and students have learned the painful lesson that, without up-to-date learning strategies, without an efficient infrastructure, without data protection compliant platforms and without all those involved having the necessary media skills, the virtualization of education cannot succeed.

The same is true of the digitalization of sales and marketing: The coronavirus lockdown has accelerated the paradigm shift and mercilessly exposed existing weaknesses.

 

Coronavirus has shone a light on the challenges of selling

 

For a number of years, Amazon, Zalando, Apple and others have been demonstrating the advantages of incorporating both brick-and-mortar and digital channels into Customer Experience and User Centricity strategies. Many retailers and brands were already following suit before the coronavirus pandemic, others were hesitating – often with drastic consequences – as during the first lockdown, sales models without digital sales options, such as eShops, digital marketplaces, social media or affiliate platforms, came to a standstill almost overnight.

An increasing number of market players are drawing their own conclusions from this enforced “emergency stop” – but not always the right ones! As simply establishing or optimizing an online shop solution is not sufficient to set yourself up successfully for current and future sales. Branding, marketing and sales will fundamentally and permanently change, irrespective of the end of the pandemic. Coronavirus is merely shining a light on the need for action. The focus: Omnichannel.

 

In the future, omnichannel will be at the core of every commerce strategy

 

Customers interact with brands, products and offerings via different touchpoints within various digital and brick-and-mortar channels. It must be possible to address the customer’s situation-based needs by means of these touchpoints and channels – for example, providing information or product advice for positioning within the Relevant Set1, as well as the actual sale or increasing loyalty within after-sales.

Omnichannel consistently focuses on the customer. High-quality seamless networking of channels is crucial for a compelling brand and product experience. The aim is to communicate consistently with the customer across all channels and for the customer to be able to access “their” sales offers at every touchpoint at any time.

This orchestration principle2 is currently experiencing massive change as the result of progressive digitalization and the coronavirus pandemic – on the one hand, in terms of smart functionality within touchpoints and channels and, on the other hand, in terms of the role that the individual touchpoints and channels play within the customer journey.

 

Showrooming and webrooming are being redefined

 

“Showrooming” and “Webrooming” refer to typical shopping scenarios or end-to-end journeys within the networking of digital and brick-and-mortar channels:

  • With showrooming, the customer draws their inspiration from brick-and-mortar stores and then seeks advice and broadens their product knowledge within digital channels (eShop, comparison sites, expert blogs, social media) and also makes their purchase online.
  • With webrooming, the customers uses digital channels to obtain information on a product or a brand. Depending on the product, the customer also sets up a configuration online but then makes their purchase in a store.

During the coronavirus pandemic, many small, local retailers have made a virtue of necessity and used showrooming in a modified form, by specifically designing their store displays for product presentation. In this case, a call to action – for example in the form of QR codes – links to either the retailer’s own webshop or to digital marketplaces, where the customer can buy the products presented.

In recent months, larger operators, above all, have redefined webrooming: In conjunction with the click and collect model, they have transformed their brick-and-mortar retail spaces from a point-of-sale to a point-of-experience. Customers find and order their desired items via the brands or the retailer’s online channel and then collect them from their local store. Despite same day delivery, the need for this kind of shopping experience has increased during the coronavirus pandemic, because delivery services are frequently overstretched and are, therefore, less reliable. Furthermore, there is also a desire for a “hands on” product experience, which cannot be entirely replaced by virtual product presentations.

The orchestration and roles of channels are thus experiencing a distinct shift. It is largely the role of the brick-and-mortar store that is changing: The store is now primarily operating as a presentation space, in which products are staged and brought to life, with more in-depth research and the purchase transaction increasingly moving to digital channels.

 

Brand management, customer centricity and logistics are becoming more challenging

 

Not only in lockdown, but definitely amplified by changed coronavirus shopping behavior, customers, who would previously have preferred not to shop online, are also turning to digital services – and will also continue to use them after the pandemic. Brands and retailers must face up to this fact. There is therefore an urgent need for action in terms of ensuring a presence, offerings and sales options on digital channels and, if necessary, expanding them further.

The vendor’s own online shop is not sufficient for this, but rather the omnichannel principle described above must function properly. The availability of products on digital marketplaces and a presence within suitable social media channels is crucial. It is important to achieve an intelligent balance between the loss of control in terms of brand management and becoming an authentic part of the customer dialogue, by highlighting the relevance and usefulness of the brand, product or offering for potential customers and continually adjusting it. What is absolutely essential is a precise knowledge of target groups and their persona, as well as an understanding of the individual customer’s actual requirements during the particular phase of the customer journey.

In terms of technology, the challenge is to consolidate data from all the systems in which user information is collected and stored (e.g.web analytics, CRM, eShop, ERP, etc.) to establish a “Single Point Of Truth”. All market players, regardless of their size, are facing this challenge i.e. in future, retailers and brands without appropriate digital infrastructures and platforms will barely be able to compete.

Product information, the individual customer’s needs profile, as well as logistical aspects, such as inventory management for the various touchpoints, must be available across all channels – both digital and brick-and-mortar. It must also be possible to flexibly adjust orchestration of the channels to changes in the customer’s shopping behavior – in order to ensure in the future, in situations such as lockdowns, that trade does not grind to a halt.

 

And what about B2B?

 

The same paradigm shift also applies to the B2B market. When sales representatives or consultants are no longer allowed to visit their customers during a pandemic, or on-site appointments need to be reduced for economic reasons, sales dialogue needs to take place virtually via digital platforms. And, in doing so, the customer expects exactly the same shopping experience as for private B2C shopping – but with the special characteristics of a B2B sales process, such as shopping lists, bulk discount prices, purchasing limits for employees, bulk consignments, etc.

 

The recent experience of the coronavirus pandemic makes it essential for all retailers and brands to face up to the “Sales Shift”. The digitalization of marketing & communications, sales and business processes is a must. What is absolutely vital is a digital infrastructure, which is based on intelligent and powerful software solutions. The first step is an intensive analysis of the customer journeys of target groups and the development of an omnichannel strategy based thereon.

 

 

1 In Marketing it is a phrase for a brand or product of interest to a potential customer. A product or brand which is in the relevant set is likely to be bought.

2 The principle of harmonizing all channels in terms of communication, branding, interaction and transaction options.

Where to Play – Innovating in three steps to seize opportunities in an uncertain environment

In the uncertain environment we are experiencing, it is crucial for all entrepreneurs, business leaders and innovation managers to identify the various market development possibilities and assess related opportunities, in order to look ahead with peace of mind and build a growth strategy that will be able to adapt to change. 

Make sure you are running in the right direction and remain agile, without losing your focus!

This is the ambition of the methodology imagined and developed by Marc Gruber (researcher and Vice-President of Innovation at the EPFL science and technology institution in Lausanne) and Sharon Tal (lecturer and former director of the Technion Entrepreneurship Center at the Israel Institute of Technology), who drew on fifteen years of research and business creation support (with more than one hundred business cases studied and analysed)1 

This methodology is recommended by Alex Osterwalder and Yves Pigneur (authors of the Business Model Canvas), who make it a perfect partner for the lean startup approach and Business Model Canvas tools to define your field of play.  

It is based on three steps to provide step-by-step assistance with your thinking, linking each one with decision-making tools, in order to: 

  1. Explore opportunities and clearly understand your field of play 
  2. Assess options through comparison, to identify the most attractive ones 
  3. Define an agile strategy with a focus on a single option, while keeping alternatives open to take new directions 

These three steps will enable you to make a well-informed decision, establish a common language and receive support over time.

 

1.Identify newopportunities 

The aim of this first step is to gain an overview of essential technologies and capacities that are specific to your organisation, in order to identify opportunities on the market. To help you do so, the methodology suggests using the ‘Generate your Market Opportunity Set’ model. 

  • The first step involves identifying your business and technological expertise, through the resources and skills that you currently possess or are being developed. View them as they are, uncorrelated with their usage context (product, customer need, etc.), in order to describe them in a generic way, in terms of properties and functionalities, in the ‘Abilities’ section.  
  • Once you have established a list of your capacities and technological assets, you can move on to the discovery step by looking for potential applications. The idea here is to look beyond your market of choice, in order to generate a diverse range of applications and unleash your creativity. Do not hesitate to combine your technology with other types of technology in order to enrich your range of applications. Exploit all of your knowledge and experience, and use external sources, online platforms, patent databases, etc. 
  • Alongside this discovery phase, for each application, you need to identify potential customer profiles. Segment them in order to identify sub-segments, which will enable you to be more relevant in your analysis. 
  • Finally, combine applications and customer profiles to obtain market opportunities that you consider to be promising, in order to fill your basket of opportunities and move on to the next step: evaluation.  

This discovery phase can take a fairly long time, which is normal, and even preferable, as this is a reflection of serious work and should produce a large number of opportunities, which will need to be filtered, in order to discard those that are not promising enough: no existing customer need, lack of skills, technical constraints that are too great, not in line with your values, etc. 

 

2.Evaluate youropportunities

Once your basket is filled with the most promising opportunities, you will be faced with the challenge of prioritising them! They will not all be equal, so you need to compare them in order to focus on those that are most attractive and have the greatest chance of coming to fruition.  

The methodology is based on two dimensions: the potential they represent and the challenge of implementing them. This provides you with a map that you can use to compare them. 

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Before you get to the map, however, you need to evaluate each opportunity by asking the right questions and confirming assumptions, in order to transform them into knowledge and analyse them, which will enable you to draw precious lessons for decision-making. This is the key moment to gain a better understanding of your customers, your environment, the market value chain and your internal capacities.  

It is also the right time to set up workshops bringing together your team, to jointly evaluate each of the opportunities, through the lens of two dimensions, each with three parameters: 

  • The potential 
  • A convincing reason to buy: would someone want our product/service and would they be willing to pay for it? Is there a real unsatisfied need? Are we able to meet the need and, if so, can we do it better than others?  
  • Market volume: what is the size of the market today, how many potential customers are there, and how much consumption does this represent over a one-year period? What are the growth prospects and what is its maturity? Has the market grown over the past two years? 
  • Economic viability: is the investment-revenue ratio interesting from an economic point of view? Do the target customers have the necessary financial means? Will they be loyal? 

Once you have answered all these questions, you can first give a score to each parameter, ranging from ‘weak’ to ‘medium’, ‘high’ and ‘very high’. You can then give an overall score, which may be weighted to reflect the relative importance of the parameters (to be decided based on your specific situation). The score is purposefully non-numerical in order to take into account all the subtleties of the evaluation.  

  • The challenge 
  • Obstacles to deployment: what difficulties will you encounter when developing your product/service (technological, UX/UI, regulatory, etc.), accessing the market (distribution channel existing or to be created) and getting funding (seed capital)? 
  • Return on investment time: How long will development take before production can begin? Is the market ready? How long is the sales cycle and what is the buying process (B2B)?  
  • External risks: how strong is the competition and what threats does it pose? Are you dependent on third parties or regulations? Is your product/service compatible with existing practices? 

As with the potential dimension, each parameter should be given a score before an overall score is given. 

Once each of the opportunities has a score, it is important to perform a global review, in order to make any necessary adjustments to the scores and ensure a consistent evaluation, before moving on to the next step: the attractiveness map.  

To complete this map, simply take each opportunity and position it according to the scores it has been given. This will give you an overview, enabling you to compare the opportunities, and then identify a main market opportunity and alternatives. 

  • Gold mine: these opportunities generally reflect a need that is important, but remains unsatisfied, which is relatively rare these days. If this is the case, then you most probably have a unique capacity to address a very widespread issue. This will undoubtedly be your main market opportunity.  
  • Moon shot: highly technological and innovative offerings, which involve a significant degree of risk, but are the most interesting if they succeed. If you are robust in terms of technology, then this is a main market opportunity for you. If not, it can be seen as a long-term option. 
  • Quick win: these opportunities offer little in terms of results, but also require little investment. You can integrate them as initial milestones in the short term, as part of a more global long-term approach. 
  • Questionable: the least interesting opportunities, ultimately bringing little value and difficult to implement. To be put to one side. 

 

3.Build your Agile Focus Strategy

The discovery and evaluation phases will have enabled you to define a set of market opportunities with many lessons to be learnt. Now, it is time to make a decision to focus your efforts on the most promising opportunities, while remaining agile to deal with uncertainty. And it is in this decision that one of the keys to success of any entrepreneur lies: knowing how to consider other options to turn to if things don’t work out as you expected… because things do not always go to plan! 

Rather than putting your focus entirely on a single opportunity, Sharon Tal and Marc Gruber put forward a strategy that makes it possible to strike the subtle balance between focus and agility. This strategy is based on their various works (500 plus technology projects put under the microscope), which have demonstrated the benefits of selecting a main opportunity to focus your initial efforts, while keeping options open to fall back on and respond to changes. 

By using the above-mentioned map, you will be able to choose the most attractive opportunity, but the aim is also to build an intelligent portfolio of options that will strengthen your agility. This is what the Agile Focus Strategy is all about. 

 There are two categories of options: 

  • Backup: an attractive opportunity that does not involve the same risks as the main opportunity and will give you something to bounce back off if you don’t succeed. 
  • Growth: an attractive opportunity that enables you to create value over time and know what to do next if you succeed. 

Ideally, all of the opportunities you choose should be linked, so that you can reuse the capacities and resources that you will have implemented for one or another. 

 

How to build your Agile Focus Strategy? As a team. Team discussions are an opportunity to develop various points of view and drill down into the details, so you can make a well-informed and shared decision. Success begins with the creation of a team! 

 

1- Choose your main market opportunity 

This is not such an easy choice, as it is rarely the case that one opportunity really stands out. Most of the time, the options are either very similar or diametrically opposed in terms of risk versus ROI (quick win vs. moon shot). The only advice that the two researchers give is to consider your personal preferences (values, passion, ambition, risk appetite, etc.) and the interests of your stakeholders, on the one hand, and to avoid choosing an option in the ‘questionable’ quadrant, on the other. 

 

2- Look at backup and growth options 

List all of the attractive opportunities that remain as potential candidates. Next, evaluate those that are not veryfairly or very similar to the main opportunity, in terms of products or markets. 

  • To what extent do the products share the resources (human, material, etc.), technological capacities (foundation, functionalities, etc.) and networks (commercial, distribution, partner, etc.)? 
  • How well do customers know your brand (value, reputation, promotion, etc.) and do they use existing distribution channels? 

Define the type of each option: 

  • Backup option (plan B): it does not involve the same risks and is not based on the same assumptions, but it shares resources or technological capacities with the main option, so those that are already deployed can be reused. 
  • Growth option (long-term plan): this will enable you to use the main opportunity as a springboard to increase your value creation potential. It should be part of a long-term roadmap. 

 

3- Define a strategy for each option 

A final choice needs to be made: you need to select a backup option and a growth option to accompany your main opportunity in your Agile Focus Strategy. To do this, ask yourself the following questions: 

  • Use now: Can we use this option now? Are we able to support its human and financial investment? Does this option enable us to reduce risks and/or increase the main opportunity’s value creation potential? 
  • Keep open: Should we keep this option open? Should we stay informed about the target market and develop a flexible service or product? This means that, alongside the main option, you will need to allocate some of your time and budget to watching the market (new trends, studies, competition, network, etc.), and take the modularity of your offering into account very early on in order to reach several targets.  
  • Put in storage: How about the remaining opportunities? Keep them on a list, as they may come in handy one day. 

 

You are now all ready to describe your Agile Focus target. Use the diagram below to position your main option, backup options and growth options. Don’t forget to accompany your chosen options with arguments that will defend their position and convey the right messages. Success requires effective communication! 

 

While the methodology and associated tools are designed to define your strategy, the learning process along the way is just as important. It will help you better identify your organisation’s strengths, your competitive landscape, your clients and the difficulties you will encounter. The knowledge and lessons you will gather are equally precious. 

 

 

3 tips on how to tackle IOS14


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Do you recognize this pop up?

With Apple’s rollout of iOS 14, we can expect a big difference in the number of reported events linked to Facebook advertising. Apple will require user approval to allow Facebook to track activity in various apps and websites, which of course will affect you as an advertiser. The question is how much it will affect you and what you can do about it? One thing we can be sure of is that we will all be affected and now it is time to roll up our sleeves and start positioning ourselves in the best possible way.

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How you as an advertiser will be affected

1. Delayed data

Until now, advertisers have more or less been able to follow ad reporting in real time, something that will no longer be possible. You can expect to wait up to a full 3 days before you can receive a report on how your ad has performed.

2. No support for breakdowns

You will not be able to break down your campaigns into delivery – and actions such as age, gender, region and placements.

3. A maximum of 8 events

Advertisers will be limited to 8 events per domain. In addition, these will be ranked in a certain order of priority when it comes to reporting. In what way, you are probably wondering? Let’s say you measure both items that have been placed in a shopping cart and purchases in your 8 events. If a visitor enters your site, adds a product to the shopping cart and then completes the purchase, only the latter event would be registered – ie a purchase. This will be based on a priority order of your events.

4. Default attribution window – 7 day clicks 1 day view

In the future, 28-day click attribution windows, 28-day impressions, and 7-day impressions will not be supported for active campaigns. This means that your default attribution at this time will be 7-day clicks and 1-day impressions. This will affect how your results are displayed and I would therefore urge you to continue reading a little extra about how we advertisers can best prepare for this …

 

3 important preparations (and a bonus)

1. Select 8 events

Facebook will automatically select the 8 events that they think are most relevant to your business. The rest (in case you have more) will be inactive and you will not be able to select these as campaign targets. Go to the Events manager and prioritize the events that are most important to you if you have more than 8 events.

2. Verify your domain!

If you use a Facebook pixel for your site (which you should do) you may need to verify your domain.

3. Compare attribution models

One important thing you can do to prepare is to compare your attribution models to see how many occur after your 7 day period. Of course, this is something that will affect differently, depending on whether you sell more impulse-driven products / services or something that requires you to make a bigger decision. If we compare a purchase of a new hygiene product and a car, there is, for example, a time frame within when our decision is made and when we are ready to carry out the purchase itself. If we assume that few buyers make impulsive car purchases. In order to take a look at this, go to your Ads manager, select columns and press compare attributions to bring up available windows. Click on 1 day, 7 days and 28 days.

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In the above case, it was thus (sorry about the Swedish numbers in one of the images, but the numbers are the same 😉):

Attribution for viewing

  • 1 day: 14 purchases

Click attribution

  • 1 day: 19
  • 7 days: 21
  • 28 days: 25

In total, this means 39 conversions (25 clicks + 14 impressions). Note that included in 28 days is also 1- and 7-day clicks, which means that you need to count 28 days – 7 days to find out the result, ie how many occurred after 7 days. This is how it looks:

  • 1 day viewing: 14 purchases
  • 1 day click: 19 purchases
  • 7 day click: 2 purchases
  • 28 day click: 4 purchases

With this new standard from Facebook (7 days click + 1 day view), we will in this campaign see 4 less purchases than we had done with the previous default setting of 28 days click + 1 day view.

So with that said, how many of your conversions will fall outside of this 7 day period depends largely on the type of product / service you are marketing. However, it can be helpful to know approximately how much of your conversions have historically occurred at a time later than 7 days after they clicked on one of your ads.

4. Bonus tip: Make no hasty decisions!

We are relatively used to making quick decisions because we have been able to see campaign results in real time. As we can no longer do that (it can take up to 3 days), we will need to give our campaigns more time before we assess the results and make any adjustments.

My tip: Feel free to let your campaigns run for 1 week before you evaluate the performance.

 

Time will tell

It is still too early to say what the outcome will be of all these changes. There are of course more things to consider, such as how our target groups will be affected, but at the moment I have chosen to highlight the above parts.

Food: what is happening in the areas of foodtech and agritech in Asia?

Growth of the world population, and the middle classes in Asia’s emerging countries in particular, has led to an increase in demand for food. Digital is now playing a role in food production, helping to improve crop performance, optimize resource use, connect farmers with the market and track food. We take a closer look at some of the players that are transforming one of the most ancient human activities.  

 

Changing food needs 

China and India are together set to bring an additional one billion people into the middle class by 2030, according to CaixaBank Research. China’s emerging middle class has begun to reproduce western consumption habits, making it the biggest consumer and importer of meat at the present time1Faced with this growing demand, the agricultural sector must innovate to produce more, while avoiding affecting consumer health and exhausting resources. A series of scandals in China have also created opportunities to make the food sector more transparent.  

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Elsewhere, the world population is migrating to urban areas (according to the United Nations, three quarters of the world population will live in cities by 20502). This is particularly true in Asia and the trend is making the supply chain to cities increasingly complex 

An issue highlighted by the closure of borders during the Covid-19 crisis, self-sufficiency has become a strategic challenge. Singapore, for example, currently imports 90% of its food from neighbouring countries. The Singapore Food Agency has announced its ambition to produce 30% of its food locally by 2030. The country is investing more and more in urban agriculture and innovations that make it possible to produce meat in labs, for example.  

 

Urban farms: green in the city 

In Singapore, Edible Garden City is shaking up the agri-food sector. This company has built a community linked to urban farms and created 200 food gardens over the past seven years, sometimes in iconic locations, such as the Marina Bay Sands hotel. It has helped farm-to-table restaurants flourish in the country. Edible Garden City also has its own farm, which integrates modern technologies, including a system that turns food waste into fertiliser with the help of insects.  

Other urban farms in Singapore, such as Sky Greens and Sustenir Agriculture, have developed vertical production technologies in a controlled environment using LED technology. Sustenir Agriculture uses artificial intelligence to monitor plant growth and the agricultural system as a whole, from the raw materials to ERP. The farm currently produces around 11 tons of kale cabbage a year on less than 50 square metres, and double the amount of vegetables such as lettuce3. Thanks to the closed and controlled environment, food grows faster, uses less water and produces twelve times less carbon emissions than imported products. By analysing data, the farm is able to identify exactly how to improve yields, from nutrients in the water to the energy used to produce light.   

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Sustenir Agriculture’s LED lighting system. Source: www.straitstimes.com 

 

Connecting farmers with demand: technology in the field 

Technology is also helping farmers in rural areas improve their productivity and connect with customers. In India, for example, several startups have grown rapidly in recent years with a Farm to Fork delivery model. They are helping the supply chain go digital and increase efficiency.  

For example, Ninjacart, founded in Bangalore in 2015, has designed an application that enables restaurant and shop owners to order fresh produce directly from farmers, thereby cutting out the middleman. Transactions are carried out on the platform, while the logistics (delivery and warehousing) are then managed by Ninjacart, which takes a commission on each transaction. The service is guaranteed paperless from A to Z. Ninjacart is currently able to make deliveries from the farm to the delivery location in less than 12 hours, with an efficiency rate of 99.88%. Thanks to its fifty or so warehouses, an army of “ninja” delivery people and demand prediction algorithms, more than 1000 tons of fruit and vegetables are delivered to 60,000 retailers in seven major Indian cities on a daily basis. 

Due to very strict lockdown measures, most urban markets had to close. Retailers had to cease their operations and farmers, who make up most of Indian’s working population, found themselves with harvests they were unable to sell. Ninjacart then launched the ‘Harvest The Farm’ campaign to directly link farmers and consumers, enabling producers to cover their costs and sell their harvests. Consumers also benefit with fruit and vegetables at low prices, while Ninjacart covers the cost of the supply chain. The startup worked with local delivery applications, such as Deliveroo, to make deliveries to the end customers.  

 

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The final farm-to-consumer delivery campaign deployed by Ninjacart during the lockdown in India  

Following this success, in 2020, the startup has raised 10 million dollars in Series C financing from Flipkart, India’s e-commerce giant, and 50 million dollars from Walmart. 

 

Supply chain transparency: a clear choice 

Following a number of food scandals, China has become a pioneer in the area of supply chain traceability. In 2015, e-commerce giant Alibaba launched its HEMA (Freshippo) grocery stores, which integrate many new technologies, including a major innovation at the time: each product has a QR code that customers can scan to get information about the product, the supplier, the product’s entire journey, its storage conditions, and comments from other customers, as well as recommendations and recipes. With this technology, meat consumers can, for example, find out exactly when the animal arrived at the farm, when it was slaughtered, where it was transported from, and so on. You can even see the number plate of the lorry that transported it and food safety certificates.  

Read our article on food safety and blockchain 

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The application for Alibaba’s Hema grocery stores makes it possible to track the origin of products

 

Several startups in China are also focussing on product traceability by using blockchain technologyVeChain, a blockchain specialist aiming to improve supply chain management, is collaborating with Walmart China4. Sam’s Club, a chain of stores owned by Walmart that is dedicated to wholesalers and small businesses, is working on a project to use VeChain’s blockchain to track the journey of 20 product categories for its brand Member’s Mark. The packaging will include a QR code enabling customers to access product origin information. The Singapore-based VeChain also has other projects in China, including for tea traceability.  

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Source: www.prnewswire.com 

Asia is at the forefront of foodtech and agritech, transforming a sector that had changed little for thousands of years. The health crisis has further sped up an emerging trend towards more local and efficient production, mainly in cities, which combines increased transparency and a closer link between farmers and the market.  

Connected health in Asia: Four thriving companies to follow

The adoption of digital in the health sector has seen exponential growth in Asia following the Covid-19 pandemic. Numerous innovations in this area had begun to emerge in recent years, in order to make healthcare more accessible in countries where Internet coverage is spreading ever further and rural areas have shortages of doctors. Digital can also be used to address other issues, such as the cost of services and taboos that remain widespread. From remote consultations combined with AI to testing robots and therapeutic applications, we look at some of the many connected health solutions that can be found across Asia. 

 

Four connected health solutions that caught our attention 

In China, Ping An Good Doctor is opening access to remote consultations 

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Remote consultation booth and medicine vending machine by Ping An Good Doctor in China – Source: AndroidPit 

 

In response to encouragement from Chinese policies to digitise healthcare services, in 2019, the banking and insurance group Ping An set up a remote consultation service that uses dedicated booths. Named Ping An Good Doctor, the service attracted 38 million euros of investment through the development of 29 partnerships with national industry giants (in the medical, banking, insurance, telephony, etc. sectors), in order to establish its connected health ecosystem1. 

 Patients enter what looks like a photo booth and describe their symptoms to a “virtual doctor”. Based on AI, the doctor establishes a diagnosis by analysing all of the data collected:  the patient’s voice, symptom descriptions and medical history. Remotely, a doctor approves the final diagnosis and prescribes medicines. Next to the booth, the patient can pay for and receive their medicine using the vending machine or place an order on the Good Doctor app. 

 In 2019, it already had more registered users than any other Chinese remote consultation platform. Between January and February 2020, at the beginning of the epidemic, it recorded ten times more registrations and nine times more consultations2. Consultations were then free for patients with a risk of infection by the virus. 

 

In Bangladesh, the app Maya Apa offers answers to health-related questions for free 

 

Launched in 2015, the app enables the population of Bangladesh to access a network of medical experts, covering a wide range of topics, of which 80% are related to health. The startup says that it answers 5000 questions per day and that 2 million users interacted with the app in December 2019 alone3 

Available in English, Bengali and local dialects, the service is free, with premium options, making it possible to receive an answer in just ten minutes. The artificial intelligence behind Maya Expert answers around 30% of questions asked by patients, with an accuracy rate of 90%, which enables the startup to greatly reduce its costs. The rest of the questions are handled by experts, who are approved following checks by the platform.  

For the remaining 70%, experts in the relevant topic answer in less than three hours. The app also offers an option including an instant messaging function, the ability to post attachments and voice notes to communicate. Anonymity is ensured, enabling individuals to keep their health issues secure and avoid stigmatisation in a society where many health-related topics remain taboo. 

 

In India, Wysa AI offers a digital therapy service
 

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Screenshot of the chatbot in the Wysa app – Source: PCMag 

 

The WHO estimates that an average of one in four individuals is affected by mental health issues at a given time in their lives4This is why, in 2017, the Indian startup Wysa AI decided to enter the connected health market by developing a virtual therapist. The application digitally promotes mental and emotional well-being, featuring the Wysa Well-being Coach, based on a penguin chatbot that is available 24/7. 

Users can access a library of audio content on personal development topics and the human therapist service (via messaging), all anonymously.  

In order to strengthen its algorithm and keep services up to dateWysa AI works in partnership with psychologists and therapists. 

Available in several languages, the service is not limited to India, as the app has been downloaded by 1.7 million people in 30 different countries, with a total of 100 million conversations recorded so far (40% of users are located in the United States, United Kingdom and India)5. While it was initially adopted by younger users (24-30 years old), Wysa has also managed to earn the trust of older users (35+ years old). 

 

In India, the Philippines and Myanmar, Forus Health is reducing the prices of ophthalmological and diabetes testing equipment 

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Source: Instagram @forus_health_imaging 

 

 

Diabetic retinopathy is a complication that affects half of people with type-2 diabetes.  

According to the WHO, 19% of the 422 million diabetic people around the world are located in India, a country that is facing a shortage of ophthalmological experts, with only 20,000 experts for a population of 1.3 billion6. 

Since 2018, the startup Forus Health, which specialises in the development of ophthalmological devices, has been developing 3Nethra, a device that is able to screen the illness at a very young age, in order to avoid future complications and reduce the mortality rate. By integrating AI and Microsoft Azure’s Cloud capacities, 3Nethra can screen for symptoms in patients in real-time. The AI scans the image instantly and eliminates the usual lengthy process of printing images for analysis to be carried out. Furthermore, its use requires no particular expertise and its price is affordable, making it accessible. 

The startup has already installed 2200 devices in 26 countries and affected 2.5 million lives7 

 

 

A selection of innovations to help fight the Covid-19 epidemic: 

The digital and technological agility of Asian countries, the involvement of tech giants and the support of governments have enabled new connected health innovations to emerge and help in the fight against Covid-19. The three following innovations caught our attention. 

 

The Alibaba algorithm that detects the coronavirus in 20 seconds 

Tech giant Alibaba has developed an algorithm to analyse CT scans. It can identify the virus in 20 just seconds, compared with 15 minutes for a doctor, with an accuracy rate of 96%. The algorithm was trained using data and scans of more than 5000 confirmed coronavirus cases and uses deep learning to study infection characteristics. The system is used at more than 26 hospitals and 100 healthcare establishments in China and contributed to diagnosing more than 30,000 cases in March8 

 

A robot that monitors the health condition of isolated patients in Singapore 

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The robot BeamPro at Alexandra hospital – Source: Alexandra Hospital 

 

The robot BeamPro was deployed in Alexandra hospital in Singapore in order to remotely monitor the health condition of isolated patients. A prototype of the robot was made three months before the beginning of the epidemic and it therefore saw its development significantly accelerated.  

It is fitted with a camera and screen, enabling nurses and doctors, who are visible by patients via video-conferencing, to observe them and ask questions. The robot’s movements are remotely controlled by a computer. 

A second version is already being developed and will enable patients to communicate with the robot in four different languages.  

In South Korea, AI and big data have enabled the development of test kits 

Seegene, a Korean company specialised in biotechnological molecules, began research to develop testing kits as early as January 2020. Thanks to AI and big data, in less than three weeks, the company was able to contribute to the development of the first prototypes. Without this technology, the company estimates that it would have taken two to three months to develop the same kit. 

In addition to the technology, the government’s swiftness in introducing relevant regulations, and the medical approval of the kits, in particular through private-public partnerships, also helped make large-scale production of the kits possible. The country was therefore able to launch screening operations in its population very early on.  

 

 

Conclusion 

Technology, including digital and artificial intelligence in particular, is an essential asset to facilitate access to healthcare and speed up the development of solutions in the sector. Asia is once again at the forefront, due to the specific characteristics of its emerging countries (such as shortages of doctors in rural areas, accessibility needs and taboos), and, in mature countries, such as Singapore, China and South Korea, thanks to governmental support, which encourages the use of technology.    

 

AI and Personalisation: explanations, limits and drives

Guided by the reasoning “offer the right product to the right customer at the right time!”, retail professionals have moved to personalise marketing strategies. Always transform better, constantly increase the average basket and consistently maintain customer loyalty while responding to relationship and emotional challenges and offering each customer a bespoke experience: given this never-ending quest for personalisation, lets examine how AI has boosted the rise and conditions of one-to-one marketing. 

 

Personalisation or Hyper-personalisation: what do we mean?

Marketing efforts focused solely on the product are over; the client-first (or customer-centric) wave has overrun everything in its path, repositioning business and branding issues with the customer in mind. Buyers are flattered to find themselves the subject of so much attention, and 80% of them say they are more likely to buy from a brand that offers them a personalised experience.1  

Lets take a simple approach: if we look at it from a minimalist angle, personalisation consists in integrating personal and transactional information (name, purchase history, etc.) into communications. This data only represents 1.6% of the data that purchasers generate. Nearly all the “Digital Body Language”2 resides in behaviour data through the millions of signals that customers send to us on an online sales website. Hyper-personalisation is conceived as the exploitation of often deeply immersed datain particular to use it in real time to create extremely contextual and relevant communication for the website visitor.  

A quick example based on email targeting:  

  • With Personalisation, the user will receive a flash sales email with their first name in the subject line for shoes belonging to the same category (sports) in which they bought a pair about six months ago.  
  • With Hyper-Personalisation, the level of contextualisation is far more advanced: this user, after browsing the site and not purchasing anything but leaving traces of their visit, will receive a message built around the trainers they saw, their search and purchase history for this range of products, and at a time of day that matches the time they usually make a purchase. 

 

Capturing and processing data within the imposed framework

Generally, we separate hot data from cold data. Cold data comes from a CRM or DMP, a pre-existing set of data such as age, gender, purchase profile, etc. Hot data is captured as the visitor browses the website, such as behavioural data on the content viewed or searched, the time spent in various categories, technical data (such as device and browser), and contextual data (time, geolocation, etc.). Exploiting this data is naturally at the heart of how personalisation works.  

This processing must be executed precisely and immediately; the customer must be influenced and persuaded in real time! It reaches a point that we come up against certain paradoxes. Data collection combined with algorithmic processing allows for content to be adjusted in real time, which could result in limiting discovery and “free”, or at least non-imposed, browsing. Itsimilar to the criticism about tribalism that was made of Facebook a few years ago. 

Consumers, reassured by the implementation of GDPR principles, now require more transparency and want to know what data brands use to optimise their personalised systems. According to a recent study, 83% of respondents are ready to share their data for personalisation purposes3, but only insofar as brands are transparent about how they use it, and users maintain control over the information sent. As you have seen, the customer experience must be built around consent, transparency and intelligence in the use of data.    

 

Driving AI to serve marketing

Given the boom in shared data and the proliferation of targeting criteria to be triggered in real time, Artificial Intelligence has naturally found its place in this context of the automation and optimisation of the customer experience.  

Lets remember that Machine Learning and AI already have extensive scopes of application. For our interests here, the algorithms used will be able to offer buyers the most relevant product suggestions and recommendations (similar to pioneer Amazon) and more. How? Based on the more numerous customer segments, the algorithm will make predictions founded on its calculations and the correlations observed between those who bought the same offer or those who found the same message appealing. All while processing an ever-greater volume of data and with unparalleled reliability. 

On the market, a wide-ranging ecosystem of solutions has grown around AI combined with hyper-personalisation. For example, we can cite KameleoonSparkowNostoNuukik, Untie Nots and Target2Sell, each of which is working to improve its predictive algorithm to optimise merchandising, content management, search, promotions/loyalty systems, and omni-channel targeting (email, social media).  

Ia personnalisation

See the SAP Commerce Cloud solution 

 

For now, lets take a closer look at the Context-Driven Services solution, an add-on to the SAP Commerce Cloud offering, which includes:  

  1. A principle of consent for any use of customer insights (Consent Management within the Store Front), 
  2. A big data cluster (Context Services) to store and enrich contextual and behavioural customer data sent from a JavaScript profile tag,  
  3. The definition of segments in the Segment Builder by managing attributes and conditions in relation with the orders, the basket content, and the customer,  
  4. The ability to dynamically assign customers to the segments dynamically so as to present them with specific content (content, promotions, search) in real time, whether the user is logged in or not,  
  5. As the visitor browses, the service enriches the profile, constantly making new calculations in the customer/segment assignments to drive a personalised experience on the site’s front office, notably via the SmartEdit CMS. 

As we have seen, personalisation brings ever more value to customers given its advanced attention to contextualisation, whose perceived benefits spill over into the relationship between the customer and the brand…as long as the brand has built a climate of trust in how data is processed and if the consent to share can be withdrawn at any time.  

CES 2021: this year, it's all about the "new normal"

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This 54th CES event did not escape the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic and, like everybody, it had to adapt. Supported by Microsoft, the Consumer Technology Association (CTA) set up a virtual portal bringing together keynotes, conferences and a space for discussions and meetings, as well as mini-websites of the some 1900 exhibitors taking part in this year’s very different and somewhat nostalgia-tinged event.

The opening keynote by Gary Shapiro (President of the CTA) rapidly immersed us in the reality of recent months, which have been so difficult for the whole planet, including some figures that showed just how much the crisis has driven us to act, innovate and unite in the face of the challenges of this new normal. Two sectors in particular grabbed my attention: healthcare and wellness; automotive.

 

A quick overview of CES 2021

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The pandemic has allowed us to move forward much more quickly with the adoption of new uses and technologies, in the areas of healthcare and wellness, education, enterprise digital transformation and commerce, where our consumption habits have been totally shaken up.

Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft, stated that: “We’ve seen two years’ worth of digital transformation in two months.” Doug McMillon, CEO of Walmart, added that: “We experienced 5 years acceleration in pick-up delivery in 5 weeks.”

The health crisis also brought about increased awareness, through the new challenge presented by this more sustainable, more social, smarter and higher performing new normal. Many players on the international stage have adopted these values, such as Bosch, which used CES as a platform to announce that it had achieved carbon neutrality for all of its 400 sites throughout the world at the end of 2020 (independent audit in progress). They owe this success to a strategy based on four main areas: increasing energy efficiency, developing the production of renewable energy, buying more green electricity and compensating for unavoidable CO2 emissions.

 

Live sustainable #LikeABosch video

Samsung launched a new programme named ‘Galaxy Upcycling at Home’ aimed at enabling users to repurpose their old smartphones as handy household devices, for example as a baby phone by using the sound sensors to monitor the room, or as a long-distance remote control to turn on lights and open windows.

 

 

Healthcare and wellness in the spotlight

Against the backdrop of the Covid-19 pandemic, 2020 was a major year for healthcare innovations. As Forbes revealed: “Telehealth usage has soared from 11% of Americans using it in 2019 to 76% of Americans in 2020, a trend that has been reflected in the record level of investment in e-health startups, representing a total of 21.5 billion dollars (nearly 18 billion euros), or a 50% increase on 2019, according to the latest report by StartUp Health1.

Unsurprisingly, we have seen many examples of telemedecine at home with solutions that capture and monitor physiological parameters using the latest computer vision and artificial intelligence technologies, in order to provide better advice and improve monitoring of health and wellness. Here are a few that stood out:

  • ai: an app that transforms any smartphone or tablet into a tool to monitor vital signs. By looking at the device’s camera, the app can measure heart rate, heart rate variability, oxygen saturation, respiration, stress and, soon, blood pressure, in less than one minute and with medical-grade accuracy.
  • HealthyU™, a smart remote surveillance system that is able to provide: 7-track ECG, heart sounds, heart rate, pulse oximetry, temperature, breathing rate, and blood pressure trend.
  • Welldoc, an innovative platform (mobile app + user portal) to advise users and help them remain in good health. It addresses diseases such as diabetes, hypertension and heart failure.

It was also no surprise to see solutions designed to fight and protect against the Covid virus using air purification, such as the Airthings Wave, a device connected to a mobile app that monitors air quality in homes and offices and sends alerts. There is also the AirPop smart face mask, which is able to monitor your breathing and the state of the filter via a mobile device.

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Finally, in terms of wellness, connected mirrors are still very popular this year, such as the mirrors produced by CareOs (a French company), which presented us its latest model ‘Themis’, a well-being companion in the form of a tablet that can recognise your face, understand voice commands, analyse your skin and provide various other services. In the same category, a solution nominated for the 2021 Awards from South Korea (which is always far ahead in this area) – the zmirror by ICON.AI – can perform skin analysis, is compatible with Alexa, and features a sound system designed by Harman Kardon.

 

The automotive sector: always moving forward

The automotive and new urban mobility sectors always have a strong presence at CES and this year was no different, with some of the most interesting conferences being on the topic of electric and autonomous vehicles.

Let’s begin with Sony, which returned with its all-electric car prototype: the Vision-S. This idea was inspired by the importance of user experience in new urban mobility and was bolstered by the audience’s enthusiasm at CES 2020, which convinced Sony to go as far as testing it in real conditions in Austria, in December 2020. They have worked with various partners (including Magna Steyr, AImotive, Bosch and Continental) to jointly build this first prototype, which has no less than 40 sensors, providing 360-degree vision and Level 2+ driver assistance. Sony is ultimately aiming for Level 4, which says a lot about the ambition of this project, as it remains just that (a project) for the time being. Watch this space…

 

Sony Vision-S video

The CEO of Mobileye (owned by Intel), Professor Amnon Shashua, attended the event to present an approach that addresses the issue of scale, both in technological and commercial terms. It is essential to make the technology affordable, in line with the market for future autonomous vehicles, in order to make them accessible around the world. Mobileye’s solution comes in the form of a cost-efficient camera as the main sensor, combined with a new type of LiDAR (using photonics) offering superior reflexes than those that can be expected from a human driver. Thanks to True Redundancy™, Mobileye can deliver the performance level required to achieve Level 4 autonomy more rapidly and at lower cost than combined systems.

 

GM Exhibit Zero video

To end on a high note, I’d like to talk to you about General Motors and its vision for a future free of crashes, carbon emissions and congestion. The key to achieving this lies in the electrification of vehicles and connectivity of the urban ecosystem.

Along with this transition to electricity is the announcement of the all-new Ultium platform, which will enable 30 new electric vehicle models to be brought to market. This represents an investment of more than 27 billion dollars between now and 2025. GM’s confidence in this transition is based on its future lithium-ion battery Ultium, which lasts longer (at least 640 km), weighs less (25% reduction) and costs less (40% reduction), thanks to a 70% reduction in cobalt, replaced by aluminium.

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The other announcement made by GM is the creation of BrightDrop, a new business unit based on an electric vehicle, software and delivery service ecosystem. The aim is to help companies optimise their logistics and delivery services with its various products. The first model, the EP1 electric pallet, has been designed to easily transport packages over very short distances (from a warehouse to a shop, or a delivery vehicle to a customer’s doorstep). The EP1 can be placed in the EV600 electric delivery truck, which has been tested by FedEx teams as part of a pilot project.

 

Unusual, unexpected and unpredictable, 2020 will undoubtedly have played a huge role in accelerating new practices, particularly in the area of digital transformation. CES 2021 was the perfect illustration of this, with many innovations that have shaken up habits in the areas of consumption, healthcare and wellness. This year’s event may also have been a turning point (as Mary Barra, CEO of General Motors, rightly said) in a growing awareness of the importance of respecting the planet and people.

We look forward to next year and some return to normality with an event in Las Vegas!

Tourism: When new uses bring down major players

Many have fallen since 2018. Over the space of just a few months, seven airlines went bankrupt, the most well-known being Germania, Aigle Azur and XL Airways. With their business models based mainly on the low cost tourist transport segment, they have been joined by struggling tour operators, such as Thomas Cook UK, whose failure recently made the headlines… Not to mention the many travel agents that are inevitably suffering. 

 

BIG PLAYERS ARE NOW VERY VULNERABLE

The digital transformation of the tourism ecosystem was probably the first of its kind. The term ‘e-tourism’ has been in use for some fifteen years now and there have been many success stories. Very early on, and in response to the emergence of giants such as Airbnb, Booking.com and TripAdvisor, tourism players both big and small have made the transition to digital. Commensurate with resources invested, the results of this adaptation to a fast-changing customer relationship have determined the survival of most players.

However, there are no longer any companies that are “too big to fail” in this sector.  There are many factors involved in this series of collapses: management failures, senior executives who look the other way to make a good impression with shareholders, the uncertainty surrounding Brexit, volatile currency markets, a return of rising fuel prices and, quite simply, a lack of customers. Long-haul journeys and air travel are becoming decreasingly popular due to their impact on the environment. As for travel agents, they are in the front line when an airline goes bankrupt.

The fragility of struggling players is also directly related to the satisfaction of their customers. Customers who are “abandoned” hundreds of miles away from home will not be inclined to sing the praises of the companies that sold them the service or trip, whose reputations therefore suffer as a consequence.

 

IS MASS TOURISM IN FREE FALL?

We are all familiar with the controversy surrounding cruise ships, which leave local communities no other choice than to apply quotas, deny access or simply flee.

Because of their huge impact on the environment and local populations, tourists are beginning to change their habits. Whatever their destination or the distance travelled, tourists today take environmental responsibility into consideration. In the same way as people are going local for their food, they are thinking local for their holidays, with new approaches including slow tourism, air transport alternatives, the sharing economy and more frequent but less distant travel, to explore regional destinations and local attractions.

82% of people in France prefer planning their trip personally to meet their specific needs and desires. Each household has its own expectations. It is essential to personalise the customer relationship: understanding customers makes it possible to meet their needs more closely. Given the degree of tourists’ expectations, a virtuous circle must be created that makes service quality a core concern.

 

THE FUTURE OF TOURISM AND THE BALANCE TO BE STRUCK

Innovation and digital investments are decisive in order to be in hase with new uses, which now extend to all population and age segments. Technological and digital innvation are an effective way to address the frustration felt in the face of tourist hot spots that have become inaccessible due to the number of visitors.

The first area of action: the many imaginative apps provided by tourism players, as well as startups, which are growing in number every year, offering a vast array of digital innovations in order to create a fresh tourism experience.  This is the case of the startup Muse du Voyage, with its solution built using Open Data sources that automatically identifies cultural links between tourist attractions in order to offer an alternative to “standardised holidays”. France is a major driving force in Europe, with initiatives such as France Tourisme Lab, which brings together e-tourism incubators from various French regions and helps innovative startups revitalize the tourism sector. 

We will off course never stop hardened globe trotters from taking long-haul flights to seek unique experiences on the other side of the world, but, once again, when they arrive, these travellers are adopting new uses and looking to consume more responsibly. In the realm of User Experience, travellers remain omnipotent kings in search of authenticity and humanity. It is uses that create innovations; not the other way round… And the aircraft industry has never been in better shape. 

Coronavirus drives Chinese adoption of autonomous delivery and automation

As China finds itself isolated from the world by the coronavirus epidemic, meeting increased online ordering demand nationwide and guaranteeing sourcing of medical supplies – quickly and without contaminating customers – have proved critical for suppliers and distributors.

Leading local e-commerce and delivery firms have deployed their latest autonomous delivery technologies to make up for the lack of human labour and overcome the fear of contact. They have redoubled their efforts to provide same-day delivery and set up a stable distribution network to guarantee the delivery of medical equipment to hospitals both nation- and worldwide.

 

Ensuring the sourcing and quality of medical supplies

Shortly after the outbreak of the epidemic, Alibaba deployed a B2B web platform exclusively focused on the fight against coronavirus. The platform provides details on the necessary medical products and equipment, according to government and hospital recommendations. It enable suppliers of medical supplies and equipment to more quickly and effectively meet the needs of both hospitals and local authorities. Alibaba is also committed to checking that suppliers’ products meet the criteria before shipping them across China and to the rest of the world.

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Source: Screenshot of the Alibaba direct sourcing platform

On 25 January, the group also invested US$ 140 million in purchasing medical equipment to meet urgent healthcare needs.

 

Guaranteeing quick delivery without any risk of contamination

Following the quarantining of part of the population, demand for home delivery increased, but delivery and warehouse workers were confined to their homesSo, China’s e-commerce giants had to take several measures to guarantee continuous service and fast delivery. For example, Alibaba paid available delivery and postal workers extra commission on the hours they worked and offered all sorts of businesses financial aid to cover their delivery costs. They were also given free access to Alibaba’s resource ecosystem: live video shopping services, digital delivery solutions, and online lessons from its Taobao university.

As BATX (the Chinese GAFAM) have grown into giants with a presence in all fields and industries, it’s no surprise that they are also involved in medical research. Overall, more than 30 IT and sales businesses, including the Alibaba, Tencent, and Meituan Dianping groups, respectively the equivalents of Amazon, Facebook and Deliveroo, as well as the two biggest Chinese real-estate developers, have donated US$ 432.5 million to help the government and governmental research centres to combat the virus.

 

Autonomous delivery to avoid human contact

In an epidemic, autonomous delivery has proved an ideal solution. Delivery robots help to calm delivery workers’ fear of human contact (in Shenzhen, an undetected infected delivery worker had worked for 14 days before being declared sick).

So, the current crisis has served as a catalyst to the development of several technologies that have been tested for several months by Alibaba and other tech giants in China.

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The Meituan Dianping delivery robot – Source: Handout 

  • The Chinese Deliveroo, Meituan Dianping, launches its robot delivery service:
    With the Wuhan region isolated and the risk of contamination high, Meituan Dianping decided to deploy its fleet of autonomous robots to provide last-mile delivery in Shunyi, a district of Beijing. The autonomous vehicle can carry up to 100kg of products and make between 3 and 5 deliveries a day. The business had begun testing last year but this is the first time that its robots have been spotted in public places and city centres. 
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JD’s first autonomous vehicle delivery – Source: JD.com 

  • JD.com automates last-mile delivery in Wuhan:
    Since February, the e-commerce giant JD.com has also been using autonomous vehicles to make deliveries to hospitals, stores, and communities in quarantined areas of Wuhan. One of the hospitals in Wuhan places between 10 and 20 orders a day, 70% of which are delivered by autonomous vehicles, size permitting.
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Ele.me’s Little Peanut robot delivers meals to infected people – Source: New China TV Channel 

  • Ele.me delivers its ready-prepared meals using autonomous robots:
    Another example of implementation is the ready-prepared meal delivery giant, Ele.me, which is using robots and drones to deliver to quarantined hotel guests in Wenzhou, eastern China.

 

The biggest robotic warehouse in China

The country didn’t wait for coronavirus to kick in to get ahead with automating its supply chain. The autonomous technologies used in Alibaba’s warehouses are developed by the business Cainiao, in which it owns a 51% shareholding. The 160,000m² smart warehouse, located in the city of Wuxi, near Shanghai, is equipped with 700 robots, meaning it can process 50% more orders than a traditional warehouse over a given period.

The few employees present on site work “hand in hand” with automated guided vehicles and robotic arms. The concept’s agility makes its design more adaptable and simplifies its deployment and relocation to new spaces. Cainiao also offers a solution to one of the biggest challenges of automation, which is traditionally less flexible than using new employees. It’s a smart system: it improves and learns constantly. The warehouse features the following technologies:

  • Automated guided vehicles (AGV): they are connected via the IoT to a routing system that guides them to load and unload goods collision-free. The AGVs are able to find the right article for each order. The content of the shelves is taken to employees in a specific order, meaning they know exactly what products to put in the boxes they’re filling.
  • The robotic arms are connected to AGVs: Cainiao combines 3D camera algorithms and computer vision to identify the position of objects and recognise robotic arm movements to effectively sort parcels and route them to the right shelves, conveyor belt and AGV in the warehouse.
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Source: Alizila

Innovation for last-mile delivery

The smart warehouse is just one example of implementation of Cainiao’s technologies. The group is looking to digitize every stage of the supply chain so isn’t stopping there.
A few of these inventions are particularly focused on the last-mile stage, which is the most expensive part of the delivery process, as well as environmental issues to make deliveries greener:

  • Connected packaging: Cainiao has developed smart packaging to reduce waste due to overpackaging. The seller provides the dimensions of the products ordered, and the system recommends the right packaging, as well as the order in which to pack the products to maximise space.
  • Smart letterboxes: similar to smart lockers, the concept solves the issue of time lost through repeated attempts to make deliveries when customers aren’t home. The box can be installed by consumers by their front door to take parcels or food deliveries. Equipped with its own camera, the letterbox opens using facial recognition or a mobile app. It can be used as a temporary refrigerator as its temperature can be adjusted and controlled remotely using the app.
  • The Sky Eye programme: set up for Singles’ Day, the Cloud-based video control system was jointly developed by Cainiao with other supply chain partners in 2019. It connects to the country’s logistics station cameras and enables businesses to track parcels shipped in real time to solve unexpected issues as quickly as possible. The system made deliveries 15% more efficient and successful.

China’s advanced development and early adoption of the latest technologies, from automated warehouses to delivery robots, as well as smart maintenance or delivery systems, have proved key tools to contain the epidemic. It remains to be seen how the adoption of these technologies will change when the situation gets back to normal.