Digital butlers make the world a better place

Choice intermediaries - otherwise known as digital butlers - have the potential to plan your meals and design your outfits.
1 June 2018

Want to cook? Are ingredients a problem? Tech might solve that. Source: Shutterstock

When it comes to online shopping, one of the major downfalls reported by consumers is the hassle of browsing and choosing products. It can no doubt be a tiresome process.

However, with advancements in technology, we expect this problem will soon be eradicated- namely with the help of digital choice intermediaries.

Choice intermediaries sit between the consumer and the retailer, brand or marketplace and according to RetailNet Group, can be defined by the following characteristics:

  • They operate a digital consumer engagement platform
  • They leverage the platform to aggregate and direct demand
  • Have the ability to attract and sustain high viewership and audience reach
  • Have the power to influence consumer’s purchase decisions

The use of intermediaries is already becoming apparent in the music industry. Instead of having to spend a large amount of time sifting through thousands of songs, Spotify subscribers can instead select a playlist to suit their mood.

Choice intermediaries are linking Spotify users with their desired music choice. Source: Shutterstock

What does this mean for us online shoppers?

I don’t know about you, but I often sit down to shop online and am overwhelmed by the product choice presented to me by many retailers.

After adding, removing, and then re-adding items to my carts, I very often just exit the website in frustration, telling myself “it will just be easier to shop in-store!”

Choice intermediaries: the answer to challenges in online shopping?

Bobby Gibbs, a principal in the retail and consumer goods practice at Oliver Wyman, told TechHQ:

“Shopping online today – particularly for food – but across most product categories is actually pretty difficult.”

“Search engines are fairly optimized for finding the thing you want but not for browsing. When we ask consumers why they do not shop online for food, 20 percent cite difficult shopping experiences as the primary reason,” added Gibbs.

Choice intermediaries could address the problem of “too much choice”, by providing consumers with clear recommendations based on their needs.

The digital food butler

Choice intermediaries could be particularly valuable to the food retail space. When it comes to the challenges involved in online grocery shopping, many shoppers list the difficulty in sifting through the many brands of products as the main factor. This actually deters many people from shopping online.

Recently, we’re seeing the introduction of recipe aggregators – or digital food butlers – which aim to minimize this hassle felt my shoppers. These are an intermediary class of websites and mobile apps that collect and recommend recipes for consumers.

Consumers are demanding a hassle-free shopping experience. Source: Shutterstock

According to Gibbs, such “butler” apps are solution-based, as opposed to individual product based. For food, this means meals rather than ingredients. For apparel, this means the outfit rather than the items.

An example of such is Chicory, a New-York-based food-tech startup with 80 million unique visitors a month.

Using artificial intelligence, Chicory is able to match digital recipe ingredients to products that consumers are looking for.

From this, consumers can buy the entire shopping list with just the click of a button via one of Chicory’s grocery integrations.

Yuni Sameshima, co-founder and CEO of Chicory, explained to TechHQ:

“We combine ingredient search with machine learning to make sure that when “2 lb organic chicken breast” appears in a recipe, the user is mapped to a package of organic Perdue chicken (or other chicken products) at the selected retailer.”

According to Sameshima, the “food butler” becomes relevant in a future where personalization becomes more prevalent.

“In a world where there are alternatives to going into a retail store and being presented with every chicken brand in one aisle, retailers (and other companies) can select specific brands that they think will maximize the chance a consumer ends up placing an order,” he added.

Applications such as Chicory have the potential to save a large amount of time for busy consumers. It can facilitate consumers in meal planning based on factors such as family size, nutritional needs, preferences, schedules, and budgets.

With examples like this, it is not difficult to see how choice intermediaries are likely to become the future of food retail.

The future of choice intermediaries

The idea of food butlers and other choice intermediaries become even more exciting when we envision how they could innovate in the future.

For example, with the use of connected devices, they even have the potential to help manage inventory levels in the pantries of customers in order to minimize waste- a large global problem right now.

Choice intermediaries have the potential to minimize food waste. Source: Shutterstock

“We expect the most successful choice intermediaries will link to what customers already have,” explains Gibbs.

This not only could be applied to food, but also other industries. For instance, for apparel, the choice intermediary may have a catalog of your closet. From this, using machine learning, outfit recommendations can be presented to you based on your style and size.

According to Gibbs, the more integrated intermediaries will also link beyond what you order to what you need.

“Our vision of the “food butler” app goes beyond shopping. Choice intermediaries will not wait for consumers to shop. They will anticipate consumer needs by linking to user calendars.”