Macy’s New App Answers Questions You Used To Ask Store Employees

Have you ever walked into a department store, immediately became lost, and, for some unknown reason, you can’t find a sells associate to direct you to the shoe department? These is the kind of information that, traditionally, could be obtained by speaking to a store employee. But why should you speak to an actual human when you can just spend more time staring at your smartphone?

This morning, Macy’s announced a partnership with Satisfi to test “Macy’s On Call,” a mobile customer service platform that utilizes IBM’s Watson — the supercomputer that competed on Jeopardy and comes across like a smug jerk in those TV commercials.

The service, which is being tested at 10 stores across the country, allows customers to type in questions — generally those we have been asking Macy’s employees since the dawn of retail — related to navigation details of the specific store.

For example, Macy’s suggests shoppers can ask questions at, such as “Where can I find women’s shoes?” or “What floor is the bathroom located?” and expect to quickly receive detailed responses.

Macy’s claims On Call isn’t just a preset script of answers to frequently asked questions, but that the system will evolve over time as it learns more about each store’s customers — again, much like the way a human employee should learn and adapt, but without the lunch breaks or sick days.

Some On Call test stores will include a Spanish-language option for shoppers.

It’s unclear why Macy’s decided to use a mobile phone to direct customers around stores rather than trained employees, but the retailer suggests the service will help customer service. We’re not quite sure what that says about the state of Macy’s employee training.

“At Macy’s, we remain focused on identifying, testing and supporting new ideas and approaches that will help elevate service to our customers through technology,” Peter Sachse, Macy’s chief growth officer, said in a statement. “This program… will help us explore new ways to engage one-on-one with customers in-store, providing them another level of service right at their fingertips.”

For now the service is available at the following stores:
• Macy’s Montgomery in Bethesda, MD
• Macy’s Woodbridge Center in Woodbridge, NJ
• Macy’s Clackamas Town Center in Portland, OR
• Macy’s Santa Anita in Arcadia, CA
• Macy’s Miami International in Miami
• Macy’s Short Hills in Short Hills, NJ
• Macy’s Mall of Georgia in Buford, GA
• Macy’s Lenox Square in Atlanta
• Macy’s Aventura in North Miami
• Macy’s Roosevelt Field in Garden City, NY

On Call isn’t the first time Macy’s has looked to technology to make the shopping experience more enjoyable for customers.

Last year, the retailer began testing an upgraded version of its dressing rooms — using smartphones, tablets and built-in clothing chutes — in an effort to sway customers to shop at its bricks-and-mortar stores.

Here’s how it worked: customers browse apparel displayed on mannequins, when they see something they’d like to try on they select their size via the Macy’s app on their smartphone or company-owned tablets provided in the dressing room, the items are then quickly delivered to the fitting room through a wall chute.

Want more consumer news? Visit our parent organization, Consumer Reports, for the latest on scams, recalls, and other consumer issues.