As online retailing continues to grow exponentially, retailers find themselves facing new sets of problems that weren’t indicative of the in-store shopping experience of yesterday.   Two weeks ago, Nike cited industry research that shows that roughly 60 percent of consumers are wearing the wrong shoe size.  This is a significant problem for the athletic shoe giant because many online shoppers overcome the challenge of finding a proper-fitting shoe by purchasing multiple sizes of their desired shoe online and then returning the ones that didn’t fit.  Trying on multiple pairs of shoes in the comfort of your home is definitely a great way to find the perfect fit, but it is also a very cumbersome and expensive solution. 

For one, it’s inconvenient for the customer to order and pay for multiple pairs of shoes and then go through the process of returning the ones that they don’t want. For retailers like Nike, it increases their cost since they have to process a much higher number of returns and credit customer accounts.

Technological Innovation Helps Better Serve Customers (and Improve the Bottom Line)

In order to save costs and better serve its customers, Nike introduced a smartphone app that uses augmented reality (AR) to perform a highly accurate scan of one’s foot utilizing a smartphone camera.  By mapping out a morphology of both feet, the customer is assured that the size ordered is the only one necessary.  This innovative technology builds the level of trust that shoe buyers have in Nike which helps solidify brand loyalty. 

What’s more, Nike saves the foot map results in the customer’s profile for later use.  This insight into the customer’s foot physiology has a number of business benefits for Nike including building personal relationships that retailers are striving to create with each customer in order to better succeed in a hyper-competitive retail environment.  Nike’s undertaking is part of a massive trend in the retail sector as 100 million consumers will shop in AR online and in-store by 2020 according to Gartner, Inc.

AI Helps You Learn About Your Customer

The first commandment of retail is “Know thy Customer.”  To better understand your customer, you need information and a way to process and interpret that information.  This is where AI and cloud service providers such as Azure come into play.  According to a McKinsey study, AI could potentially generate $4 billion to $8 billion in annual revenue for the global retail economy as well as $2 to $5 billion in consumer goods.  A greater insight into shoppers means a greater ability to convert them into regular customers.  That is the power of AI.  AI and the data gleaned can:

  • Increase promotion efficiency
  • Cultivate personal relationships with your customers
  • Innovate and develop new products
  • Increase sales transactions
  • Reduce customer complaints
  • Build brand loyalty

Chatbots and Azure

Chatbots are also growing more prevalent every day in the retail industry. Retailers are using Azure’s Bot Service and Framework to service customers more effectively and efficiently.  Modern bot software today relies on a growing stack of technology and tools in order to deliver increasingly complex experiences that users now demand. 

Gartner has stated that 25 percent of customer service and support operations will integrate chatbot technology by 2020, up from just 2 percent in 2017.  They also believe that within a few years, chatbots will power 85 percent of all customer service interactions.  In fact, by then, they predict that the average consumer will have more conversations with chatbots than with their spouse! Juniper Research estimates that by 2023, 75 percent of all chatbot interactions will be retail-based.  Why? Because the retail sector is one of the most promising sectors for automated agents with huge upside revenue potential. What’s better? Implementing this technology costs less in the retail sector. 

Many online shoppers have experienced chatbots first-hand; but chatbots aren’t limited to online commerce alone.  Large box retailers and shopping malls are integrating them in order to help customers locate and direct them to products on the shelf.   One example is the Mall of America that services 400 million people a year.  The mall’s chatbot is accessible through a number of alternative mediums and helps customers locate retail and restaurant establishments in real-time.  It can even makes suggestions or connect the shopper with a mall associate for additional information.  The integration of online AI-driven tools within the brick-and-mortar environment creates an omni-channel retail experience for the shopper in which they can experience consistent service throughout all of their shopping interactions.  This omni-channel strategy allows consumers to purchase wherever they are, whenever they want – and stay in constant communication.

Sentiment Analysis and Gesture Recognition

The ability to determine what your customers may want before they are even fully certain would be a huge competitive advantage for any retailer.  This requires the ability to understand the opinions or sentiment of shoppers.  The good news is that consumers today express their sentiments everyday through social channels, text messages, chatbots, tweets, online reviews, etc.  One of the ways that Microsoft Azure offers this capability is through text analysis. By analyzing these sentiments, retailers can fine-tune their suggestive marketing strategies when they come in contact with customers. 

Retailers are also integrating apps and kiosks into their stores in order to serve customers more efficiently.  Taco Bell was able to increase their average order transaction by 20 percent by encouraging customers to use its app rather than human cashiers.  Cinemark Theater’s use of self-service kiosks increased concession spending per person for 32 straight quarters.  Kiosks are even more effective when AI technology is integrated with facial and/or gesture recognition.  With facial recognition, frequent customers are instantly identified as they approach a kiosk or storefront. The technology then offers suggestions based upon known shopping history.  And gesture recognition enables shoppers to find their preferred products with a simple wave of the hand using a touchless device.

Moving Forward in Retail

No facet of retail has been untouched by the technological disruption in recent years.  AI helps give the insight you need to create seamless and effortless experiences with customers.  By better understanding your customers you help build customer relationships with your brand. Ultimately this brand loyalty reduces the likelihood that your customers shop elsewhere.  What’s more, the efficiencies that AI brings to your operations helps reduce costs that will add to your business’ profitability.  The digital transformation of the retail sector has already begun.  Now it’s time to fully embrace it. 


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How to choose the best tool for your business or IT project

Whether it’s a medical test, a college entrance exam or a fitness test, testing isn’t fun.  Software testing isn’t any different – it isn’t much fun for developers who manually test newly created code for a new application their team creates or updates.  It’s easy to omit testing, but impossible to have a viable software product without it. As much as we would like developers to just get it right the first time, it isn’t going to happen, and it’s not necessarily their fault.

Developers often have little more than an agile user story to work on. Confusion and complexity can grow as different visions of the product are expressed by multiple stakeholders. Developers can’t be expected to crank out an end-product and get it right the first time.  Couple this with the constant tinkering nature of an agile-based project, and it’s easy to understand just how important continuous testing is.

Manual Testing Doesn’t Cut It Anymore

The human nature of software development dictates the need for rigorous testing.  So why would you use manual testing that incorporates the human element as well? Consider the magnitude and scope of testing required today for different applications.  Tests need to be performed for a variety of environments and different data sets. For instance, a web application must be tested in multiple platforms using varying device types, browsers and form factors.  

Automated Testing Should be the New Standard in Testing

Automated testing can simulate workloads representing anywhere from one user to thousands of users; and it goes far beyond the limitations of manual testing.  And when testing is automated it can be conducted endlessly and unattended. There’s no fatigue and the cost is minimal compared to hiring manual testers. Quality assurance automation executes the full gamut of tests you need, when you need them and with increased speed and quality.  Another great benefit? It reports the outcomes and comparative results versus previous assessments.

Different Types of QA Testing and Testing Scenarios

There are many aspects to a successful application, and therefore more than one type of testing to accommodate them.  In the end of course, it’s all about determining if the code behaves as expected.

  • Unit Test – A unit test focuses on a single unit of code such as a function in an object or module.  These tests are short and quick to run. They are especially useful when modifying existing code.
  • Test-Driven Development (TDD) – TDD is more of a development process than a testing process.  TDD breaks up the project into small repetitive development cycles. A cycle represents a minimum amount of new code that must then pass a specific test.  New code is added only if the test failed and is then retested. This process not only creates error free code, but streamlines it as well.
  • Behavior-Driven Development (BDD) – BDD focuses on the business behaviors that the code is implementing.  This is the “why” behind the code. Also referred to as acceptance testing, it helps determine if the requirements for the end user as conceived are indeed met.

Popular Automated Testing Tools Today

Selenium

First released in 2004, Selenium is one of the most popular automated software tools for browser-based web programs.  It is an open source solution and thus has no licensing costs. It accommodates multiple programming languages including Java, Python, C#, PHP, Ruby, Pert and .Net.  Tests can be conducted within the Windows, Mac or Linux operating systems and it supports multiple browsers including Firefox, IE, Chrome, Safari and Opera. With Selenium, you can be assured that your web application behaves as expected under both normal operation flows and unexpected user behaviors.  

Behat

Behat is an open source BDD testing tool for PHP. It’s used to help define how your application should behave in different scenarios.  It utilizes continuous example-based communication between developers and business stakeholders that all parties can easily understand. Every application has a list of documented actions and Behat verifies them by auto-testing them against the application itself.

BrowserStack

Created for testing mobile web applications, it is a cloud-based automated testing platform that incorporates more than 2,000 environments including various mobile devices, browsers and operating systems.  It utilizes mobile emulators of both Apple iOS and Google Android and can be utilized for continuous integration or cross-browser testing.

Cucumber

Cucumber is another BDD tool that focuses on the end-user experience and can serve as a bridge between business and technical professionals.  It supports multiple languages including Ruby, Java, Scala, Groovy and .NET. Like Behat, Cucumber is written in the Gherkin format that uses simple English and is especially user-friendly to non-programmers. It’s so user-friendly that test scripts can be written by those without any prior coding experience.

We’re only scratching the surface here because new automated testing solutions are readily being introduced and expanded upon.  There is no “one perfect” tool out there as every environment is different. When choosing an automated testing tool, consider the type of tests you’ll be conducting, the language you’re working with and ultimately the type of application you’re looking to test. Automating the QA process will soon be mainstream, so it’s best to brush up on the various tools and start thinking about how you can implement QA automation in your company.

Not convinced you’ll get the ROI your business is looking for? Check out our QA Automation ROI Calculator to find out.


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You need a software application that does (blank), you meet with the developers, and a few months later you have your new software. Easy, right?  If only it were that simple.

Most people agree, creating customized software is generally a complex process. It requires a great deal of planning, collaboration, teamwork and management. And the stakes are high. A poorly implemented software release paints a negative image of the development team as well as the organization that hired them.  That’s why the software development lifecycle requires some type of methodology to oversee the development operation.

There are two primary methodologies you should be aware of – Waterfall and Agile.  A quick web search will garner numerous links in which these two approaches duke it out as to which one is better.  However, to say one is better than the other is like saying that owning a truck is better than owning a compact car. If you need to haul a lot of stuff, a truck is better.  If you live in a very dense, urban area where parking is at a minimum, a compact car is better. The approach you choose depends on the situation at hand. Not sure which approach is best for your project? Read through the descriptions of each below to understand each one. Still have questions – feel free to reach out to us and we’ll help you decide.

Waterfall

First off, waterfall may seem like a strange name for a project management process – but it’s a common term in IT;  and many refer to it as “traditional.”  One possible way to explain the name is that just like a waterfall, water can’t go back up after it cascades downward. A waterfall project is comprised of various stages and each one must be completed and signed off on before being passed on to the subsequent stage.  Each successive stage has its own personnel team and relies on information forwarded from the previous stage. Waterfall is ideally suited for instances in which there is a defined vision by the customer of what they want. To use an antiquated example, think of Henry Ford and the Model T.  The car moves along the assembly line as teams of employees complete their assigned tasks. What starts out as a simple frame in the beginning, drives out of the factory a completed car, ready to hand off to the dealer. Using a waterfall approach, the car moves along from start to finish in order.

In terms of a software development project, the successive phases are usually broken down into these basic stages:

Research – Analysis – Design – Construction – Testing – Implementation

A waterfall-oriented development team usually consists of four roles that include a project manager, business analyst, developer and tester.  Compared to agile, waterfall puts more emphasis on planning on the front-end. Progress is easy to measure and end results are more predictable thanks to detailed planning and design in the early stages.  You could say that waterfall sticks to the script as the plan is conceived at the beginning and everyone follows the plan in proper order.

Agile

As its name implies, this methodology is about agility and flexibility.  It’s highly suited for software development due to software’s elastic nature. Unlike, waterfall, there is a more loosely defined vision that guides the process. There are no defined stages.  Agile is a continuous deployment practice made up of “sprints.” A sprint is a short span (2-3 weeks per sprint is very standard) in which products are planned, developed, reviewed and released.  But the definition of “product” can vary from project to project. Agile isn’t designed around a single release, but multiple releases, that may in fact induce further releases.

For instance, the sprint at hand may be to create a button that the stakeholders of the application have decided is now needed.  Once completed, this sprint may then be followed by another sprint that centers around the release of a new application feature. This perpetual cycle can go on for years as the software evolves.  Each sprint is loosely defined by a storyteller who creates a story of what the product at hand should accomplish based upon the input of the stakeholders. Because there is no highly defined plan at the beginning, each day begins with a daily standup, a fifteen-minute meeting in which contributors and managers discuss what was completed the previous day and agree on what needs to be done on that day.

Although the agile approach may sound chaotic, it is actually a very orderly process that allows for constant customization and refinement.  While the end product may be far different than its vision, the customer and other stakeholders are continuously involved throughout the agile process.  One of the goals of Agile is to get something of value in the hands of the customer as soon as possible. In the case of a new application, the aim of the agile team is to get a basic working application delivered as soon as possible.  Continuous sprints then take place to add new features, many of which may have never been conceived at the outset. Unlike waterfall where testing is done at the finale, testing is continuous, sometimes operating in parallel to the code development.

Summary

As you can see, each approach is very different.  While Agile is definitely the newer methodology of the two, it is readily gaining acceptance in the software community.  Both approaches have their advantages and disadvantages. As stated, there is no overall better way, only a way that is better suited to the needs of your project and organization.  Before you begin a project, be sure to find out which approach your development team utilizes.

As technology and business leaders, many of us have been part of a decision around building new technology solutions to create new services or products. In this mobile-first era, one of the first questions you are challenged with is – do we need an App for that? Or can this service or product can utilize just the mobile web version?

We all wish this was an easy yes or no answer. But the answer may be much simpler than you think. There are 3 main criteria you need to consider that will help you make the decision.

#1 – Application feature set

If your product needs built-in phone features like GPS, Accelerometer, Contacts, Push Notification, etc., then you will need to build an app. From the technological advancement with HTML5, some of the phone features can be accessed so you may be able to get away with only a mobile web version. You will need to research the specific feature set requirements with what is possible to do within HTML5.

If the answer is – yes, I have to use phone features that are not available through HTML5, then your decision is made, no need to read further!

#2 – Audience

Just because a customer downloaded your app does not mean that they will be using the app for life, or even at all. The data shows that people actively use only 5-7 apps in a given month. Unless there is a compelling need for the users to download the app, they will not.

Again, your answer here will determine what direction you take.

#3 – Resources

Since you have read it this far, the assumption is that the decision is still pending. Developing a mobile app is a skillset that not all developers hold. You should carefully evaluate the resources at your disposal in making the decision. Not only do you have to build an app (possibly on multiple platforms – iOS, Android, Windows), but you also must manage and maintain it. You should consider the total cost of ownership as you make this decision.

In conclusion, whether you build an app or not, you will need to develop a solution that is mobile responsive at the least.

Sincerely, The Xcelacore Team


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