Digital Retail Innovations – Aila Technologies

Following the launch of the Digital Retail Innovations 2018 Report (sponsored by Webloyalty) a series of Q&A’s with the leading figures behind some of the key entries in the report are being published.

Here is a Q&A with Jason Gulbinas, CEO of Aila Technologies which features in this year’s report for its work with Rent The Runway.

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1. How did the original idea come about?

Aila Technologies was founded shortly after the launch of the first iPad. We saw an incredible opportunity for retailers to use this new sleek, powerful, versatile device to solve a number of immediate needs – from eye-catching displays to interactive experiences throughout the store. Over the years, Aila’s product offerings have evolved from simple iPad docks to a full suite of iOS-based, scanning-enabled kiosks and handheld devices.

As consumer technology continues to outpace traditional retail hardware in terms of features and overall value, we’re seeing tremendous opportunities for retailers to move from clunky, single-purpose devices to smarter, integrated technology stacks that truly enable innovation and can meet the urgent need for retailers to add digital optimization and experiences into their physical stores.

2. What has been the level of take-up of the service and what are the key ways retailers are using it?

Retailers are using our products in some really interesting ways, which speaks both to the versatility of our offering and the broad demand for engaging digital touch-points. Rent the Runway installed our Interactive Kiosk in its brick-and-mortar locations as self-service touch-points for customers to quickly pick up and return items, browse all available styles, and easily check in-store inventory.

It’s a use case we find really exciting because the ways in which Rent the Runway customers are using the kiosks have led the company to rethink some core components of its strategy around brick-and-mortar. Basically, their plan was to create these high-touch locations with stylists and wardrobe consultants who would provide women with personalized consultative services.

However, thanks to the efficiency and ease-of-use of our scanning-enabled kiosks, Rent the Runway found that many customers simply want to dash into the store, drop off a previously rented item, and then grab something new to wear into work or later that night—and they often don’t want to talk to an associate at all; they want to be in and out as quickly as possible. This entire interaction can happen in seconds at one of our Interactive Kiosks, so the Rent the Runway team has been rethinking how to manage inventory and staffing in its stores to best meet customer demand.

A Rent The Runway kiosk in action

3.What about competition in this area?

We’re seeing self-service kiosks and scanning-enabled devices pop up just about everywhere, and we think that’s great. As consumers become accustomed to using digital touch-points wherever they shop, work and live, and as more retailers realise the benefits of bringing these types of technologies into their stores, it will open up all kinds of exciting new opportunities for us to help retailers reduce friction, integrate digital and physical systems, and deliver engaging experiences.

4.How has the solution been developed / advanced over time?

Our product set is continuously evolving as we look to help enterprises better leverage digital tools and efficiencies in the physical world. Our innovation around scanning has been a major evolutionary leap for us: with the quality of cameras in consumer mobile devices continuing to grow, we’ve developed technologies that can re-purpose their incredible optics and imaging capabilities to accurately capture 1D/2D barcodes, IDs, loyalty cards and more. This includes enhancements to aiming, illumination, feedback, and, most importantly, scanning speed. Also, by using the camera for scanning, we don’t need to attach additional scanning engines or optical hardware, which means that our scanning-enabled devices are incredibly sleek and ergonomic.

5.Have there been any surprises along the way?

Every day! But that’s what makes retail such an exciting industry. There’s tremendous momentum for in-store innovation right now, and that is manifesting itself in a myriad of ways. Perhaps the biggest surprise for us is the breadth of opportunity in this space: Retailers of all shapes and sizes are incredibly eager to apply digital tools to create smarter stores and better experiences for their customers.


Aila scanner in action


6.What can we expect from Aila in the future?

We’re going to continue doing everything we can to elevate the conversation about how technology can be used. Beyond the point solutions of the past, we want retailers to think about their technology stack as a platform for innovation—upon which they can test, learn and evolve. This will mean delivering more engaging experiences and streamlining operations for smarter, more seamless interactions—without getting locked into clunky, expensive hardware that can’t adapt to changing needs. We know that consumer expectations will continue to change, and we want to make sure retailers are ready to evolve and meet those needs.

7.Do you have any recommendations for entries in the next Digital Retail Innovations report?

Two companies we’d suggest taking a look at are Locus Robotics and Bottlefly. Locus makes warehousing robots that help retailers manage order fulfillment, and Bottlefly is an in-aisle digital sommelier that can provide personalised wine recommendations. Both of these companies are creating smarter, more efficient experiences that can help retailers deliver better customer experiences—whether through faster shipping times and better inventory management or product recommendations and in-store experiences.

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