It’s no secret that Sears is losing business to Target and Wal-Mart. Last year’s financial report clearly suggests that. The cash is burning quickly and the trouble is piling up for the 123- year-old department stores chain so much so that it’s rushed to close more than 50 stores this year. But it looks like nothing is working for Sears nowadays. The recent failure of Sears’ Alfie, a voice controlled shopping assistant, reconfirms it.
In essence, Sears’ Alfie is a physical device, a button that sits on a tabletop. You just have to press it and you can ask various questions regarding your shopping. In short, it allows customers to find the right item at the best price, regardless of the retailer. Naturally, it saves time because it can shop for anything from everyday items like paper towels to gifts. As customers have to pay no added charges for the service Alfie provides, and the Alfie app is free in the app store, it does help in saving money.
Not just that. Sears’ Alfie is able to track users’ preferences based on previous purchases and allows users to shop from history, simplifying the task of reordering frequently purchased or favorite items. One can also review recommended options sent via text message through the free Alfie app. Besides, to help people with their shopping orders and dilemmas, experienced Alfie personal shoppers are available to assist with orders 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Though it has voice activated functionality, it’s not a complete IoT device. It needs human intervention to interact and execute orders.
Indeed, the product looks good and promising. But still, it went unnoticed. And there is a reason for that. Sears’ Alfie began quietly selling in June, but its official announcement came at the beginning of the September. So, the first three months, which are always very crucial for the marketing of any new product, feature or service, remained underutilized. Certainly, it did affect its prospects. A quick Google News search of “Sears’ Alfie” yields fewer than two pages’ worth of relevant page results, most of which come from local news sites. But we can’t just blame Sears’ PR team for this mess.
For an outsider, Alfie might sound like revolutionary or innovative. But those who keep a close eye on all the happenings of retail technology will realize that there is nothing innovative about it. It’s an imitation of Amazon’s Alexa, the voice service that powers Echo, provides capabilities, or skills, that enable customers to interact with devices in a more intuitive way using voice. That’s precisely why many people felt that this is a halfhearted attempt by Sears to desperately sound innovative. But the fact is there was nothing “new” in it.
Frankly speaking, looking at the track record of the mistakes that Sears has committed–be it buying then selling off brands like Land’s End or mistreating its staff, it does come as a disappointment, but certainly not as a surprise!
Wrapping It Up:
Undeniably, the business world is going to become more and more tech savvy. It’s a need of an hour and thus, Sears’s decision to come up with a voice controlled shopping assistant was a rational one. But the solution should have been more innovative…something which can add a value and differentiate it from the competitor’s solution. Alfie had too much resemblance with Alexa…and that rarely helps. Similarly, just like retailer should work hard to come up with innovative solutions, it’s also important to promote it at the right time and on the right platforms. You can learn these two important lessons from the failure of Sears’ Alfie!
Just like we have tried to explain why Alfie is failing, here we have talked about why Chipotle’s loyalty program failed–do not miss it!
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