Retail

Retail Pulse: Chipotle Mexican Grill Unveils Alexa Skill; Kroger Goes Back To Basics

Chipotle

Retailers are tapping into voice technology to help consumers order their favorite products such as restaurant takeout as they expand their artificial intelligence (AI) strategies. Chipotle Mexican Grill, in one case, recently announced an Alexa skill that lets diners reorder Chipotle meals for pickup or delivery with the voice assistant.

Diners download the Amazon Alexa app, enable the Chipotle skill, link profiles, and then reorder Chipotle meals. According to the company, the process is as easy as asking, “Alexa, tell Chipotle to reorder my favorite for delivery.” The restaurant chain also has a giveaway of Amazon Echo Dots to all of its Chipotle Rewards members who are named Alexa. It also “celebrates reaching seven million Rewards Members.” (As it stands, it had had more than 2,500 restaurants as of Sept. 30 of this year in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, France and Germany.)

“We always strive to introduce additional access points in the Chipotle ordering experience and overall digital ecosystem,” Chipotle Vice President of Digital Strategy and Product Management Nicole West said in an announcement. “With this new skill for Alexa, our customers can get their favorite Chipotle orders delivered straight to their door in the most convenient way possible — all they need to do is ask.”

In addition to Alexa, the restaurant chain is also turning to other digital innovations. The same announcement notes that Chipotle Mexican Grill has also rolled out its own AI-generated voice assistants in its restaurants. The offering is meant to decrease friction in the establishments so diners can effortlessly move through the ordering process, and workers can put their attention to offering a strong guest experience. According to the announcement, “The voice automation provides the option to pay ahead and the ability to skip the line and go straight to the digital pickup shelves or drive through the Chipotlane to collect the order.”

Beyond quick-service restaurants, 7-Eleven has rolled out voice ordering with 7Voice that lets customers make orders via Amazon Echo and Google Home systems. The voice activation works with the firm’s 7NOW app, delivering purchased items in about 30 minutes or less. Raghu Mahadevan, 7-Eleven’s vice president of the digital customer experience, said in an announcement earlier this month, “7Voice takes 7NOW ordering from screen to voice, enabling customers to order in whatever way they prefer that is most convenient to them.”

From 7-Eleven to Chipotle Mexican Grill, retailers are expanding their digital ordering strategy with the help of voice assistant technology.

In Other Brick-and-Mortar News

Kroger Co. is going back to the basics of grocery retail after attempting to renovate too many locations and sell too many new products at once. The company intends to refresh stores at a slower clip to keep more locations fully operational. Kroger initiated its plan to revitalize its business after more than a decade of same-store sales growth that concluded in 2017. According to that plan, the company would invest in technology and refresh stores.

It said the project would bring in $400 million of operating profit by next year. The grocer has since renovated roughly 20 percent of its 2,700 locations with its “Restock Kroger” plan. The profit rise, however, hasn’t reportedly come to fruition. In September, the firm pulled its 2020 profit guidance, and its stock has dropped nearly 40 percent since its late 2015 peak.

And Target Corp. increased its full-year outlook on profitability as well as strong sales, offering a “safe haven” of sorts after multiple retailers unsettled investors. Online sales increased 31 percent in the quarter, but eCommerce didn’t weigh on profitability as it has done in past times. Target’s online shopping investments, with the rollout of curbside pickup and same-day deliveries, have bolstered sales, brought in new shoppers, and helped keep Amazon at bay.

The retailer has also doubled down on toys during the holiday season by bringing over 24 mini-Disney stores inside some of its locations and fulfilling sales made on a relaunched Toys R Us website. The holiday shopping season could be less than stellar for merchants, per Bloomberg Economics. Sales are forecasted to increase by just 3.4 percent. And Target, as well as others, have enjoyed the benefits of the downfall of Toys R Us. The selling season is shorter this year, however, with six fewer days from Thanksgiving to Christmas in comparison to last year.

In other news, Macy’s announced it has experienced a data breach, as its site has been hacked with code that steals shoppers’ payment information. The site was compromised in October, and a malicious script was added to the Checkout and My Wallet pages. If payment information was sent via those pages at the time, they were compromised, credit card data, and customer information and was reportedly sent to a remote site under control of the attacker.

To keep tabs on the latest retail trends, check next week’s Retail Pulse.

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