L.L.Bean wants to know what you’re doing in its duck boots
L.L.Bean wants to know what you’re doing with its boots and coats after you’ve bought them. That’s why the company is planning a test, placing sensors in merchandise to send data to a blockchain platform.
The idea behind the test is to capture information such as temperature and how often an item is worn and washed to see if customers are using the clothing as intended. It will also help Bean learn if the products are meeting expected standards.
“If we can see that the customer really is utilizing [a product] in the way we intended, if they’re wearing it in the right climate or on a daily basis, that helps us decide whether it’s still viable in a market,” Chad Leeder, innovation specialist at L.L.Bean, told The Wall Street Journal. “If we see a high return rate, we’ll analyze why.”
While the company has received feedback from customers over the years, the data captured in this test will for the first time be “quantifiable,” according to Mr. Leeder.
For those having Orwellian thoughts, the test will not include geo-location, and will be done with the knowledge and participation of Bean customers purchasing the items.
Customers will need to download an app and pass their phones over the sensor to transmit data to the Ethereum blockchain platform where Bean will be able to access it. Those participating will also agree to share additional demographic information. Mr. Leeder told the Journal that the company is considering offering customers incentives to participate.
Bean is moving into relatively new territory with its test. A recent survey of businesses in the consumer industry by IBM found only 18 percent currently using blockchain, although almost 70 percent expect to be using it within three years. The technology is expected to produce benefits in a wide number of areas, including product safety and authenticity, supply chain optimization, finance/operational processes, regulatory compliance, promotional strategy management, customer engagement and co-creation.
- L.L. Bean To Link Boots, Coats to a Blockchain – The Wall Street Journal
- How will blockchain disrupt retail – RetailWire
DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: How might L.L. Bean benefit from its planned test? Do you think consumers will be eager or reluctant to participate? How might other brands use sensors to gain product usage data?
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15 Comments on "L.L.Bean wants to know what you’re doing in its duck boots"
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President, Max Goldberg & Associates
L.L. Bean will greatly benefit from customer use data. It can help them create new products and better market uses for current ones. I wonder how many consumers will be willing to participate, as this does have Orwellian overtones. And I wonder how representative L.L. Bean’s sample of participants will be.
Chief Executive Officer, The TSi Company
I think this is a smart idea for L.L. Bean to learn as much as they can about their product use. It’s vital that customers agree to participate, but those that do will most likely be loyal L.L. Bean customers who will do what they can to make the test a successful one, meaning they will make sure the data gets obtained correctly.
I see this as a test that can happen periodically, for L.L. Bean and other brands as well. But I do not see a need in the future for all of our clothing to be monitored with sensors tracking our every move and use.
Head of Experience Design, Tribal Worldwide London
This is a very interesting experiment and L.L. Bean is ahead of the pack by using blockchain as a means of data capture. Understanding how consumers really use their products will no doubt offer great insight for future product development but also this understanding could lead to new and different ways of merchandising and marketing for existing lines.
On the question of reluctant participants, there will always be those who won’t want to share their data, but my guess is that even with the few that do L.L. Bean may find the insights they are hoping for. After all some insight is better than none.
Head of eCommerce, Tuft & Needle
Impressive use of blockchain technology. This will allow for increased efficiencies and quicker pivots for new and existing products. Nothing beats real-time data that can be actioned on relatively quickly. The ability to see increasing and decreasing trends based on real-time data will be a game changer for both product development and for marketing purposes. I presume the average consumer is not familiar with blockchain technology but if geo-tagging and other privacy concerns are addressed appropriately, I believe participation will be plenty.
There is a huge opportunity to pair AI with sensors to transmit usage data in the CPG space to identify potential replenishment times, sending out reminders to consumers that they may be running low on a certain item. The key to execution here is deploying this technology without feeling intrusive.
Strategy Architect – Digital Place-based Media
Using sensors to capture data on product usage for consumer goods is at its early stage. Beyond design inputs this data can drive warranty coverage and cross-selling. Think for example how the viewing/usage history of a flat panel TV can drive promotion for new game and programming services. But it can only go so far in its benefits because usage data is inherently historic, and few consumers buy products expecting their use history to be simply repeated.
Senior Vice President, Dechert-Hampe (retired)
I’m not sure about the business value of this feedback, but the L.L. Bean product folks are going to have a hoot reviewing it! They’re probably going to find out that 95 percent of the usage for “extreme conditions” clothing is suburban leisure wear! I just hope that doesn’t cause them to decide that the products don’t really need to meet the current standards for performance. That would leave the other 5 percent of us (like me) with some very cold, wet feet!
No doubt they’ll detect a lot of asphalt and concrete hitting boot soles, Ben. Work boot styles are very hot with urban Millennials. I would guess L.L.Bean wants to understand that better because they must be losing out to Redwing, Timberland, Wolverine, Thorogood, Caterpillar and the like.
Chief Amazement Officer, Shepard Presentations, LLC
The benefits are obvious and have been stated in the article. L.L. Bean has a base of loyal customers that will be happy to be a part of the test. This is the future. Brands will be able to track all types of use and abuse and, as a result, better meet the needs of their customers.
President, b2b Solutions, LLC
Great idea. I appreciate the fact the survey participants are willingly offering to participate. However I would expect that the survey will represent a small sample of their customers. My expectation is that the data contributors will skew younger and more brand loyal that the average L.L. Bean customer. My other expectation is that the number of participants will diminish over time once the novelty of providing data goes from something interesting to being just another thing I am supposed to do.
Principal, KIZER & BENDER Speaking
I love this idea and I bet L.L.Bean’s loyal customers will, too. What better way to find out how products are actually used and how they hold up? Following me would be a waste of time, but it makes sense for my extreme sports loving, Millennial son-in-law. This takes Customer interaction to a whole new level.
In order to sell supercomputers, we were constantly focused on the truth: “Never confuse selling with installing.” Looks like L.L.Bean is confused on this.
Those features which lead to purchase of a product very often are used only sporadically — yet the product can sell quite well AND lead to very satisfied consumers.
This phrase shows L.L.Bean’s confusion: “If we can see that the customer really is utilizing [a product] in the way we intended, if they’re wearing it in the right climate or on a daily basis, that helps us decide whether it’s still viable in a market,” Chad Leeder, innovation specialist at L.L.Bean, told The Wall Street Journal.
What matters is WHY they buy the product and whether they’re satisfied with it after their purchase. There may be small bits of insight to be gathered by intruding so far on consumer lives. But, from experience, that data is as likely to mislead L.L.Bean as it is to help them.
They should walk away from this idea.
CFO, Weisner Steel
“For those having Orwellian thoughts, the test will not include geo-location.” Or so THEY tell us … Bwah, hah, hah!
I suppose a few will opt out, most will just shrug “whatever,” and few eager souls will jump at the chance (throwing in the term “blockchain” is sure to excite interest — in both the strongly pro- and con- camps — even though probably only one person in a hundred can explain what that means here).
I’m certainly not going to second-guess the thinking here, but I’m dubious it will provide much data beyond what current surveying/testing methods provide. The publicity value, though, is apparent.
Director of Marketing, Wiser Solutions, Inc.
Having more data about how shoppers are using products helps retailers provide the best products. On top of that, L.L.Bean will also be able to market their products better. If the findings are surprising in terms of how shoppers are using their products, they can shift focus and market more accurate value propositions.
George, you hit the nail on the head with the “Orwellian undertones.” Customers don’t want to be tracked unless there is some overall benefit. If L.L.Bean can position this as helping them make better products, then some customers may participate. But many will be wary of tracking.
Retail Tech Marketing Strategist | B2B Expert Storytelling™ Guru | President, VSN Media LLC
To make sense of this plan, I’d need to understand exactly what the sewn-in sensors are capable of sensing. If geolocation is truly off the table, it sounds like it comes down to motion, moisture and/or temperature.
Then somebody needs to tell me exactly how the garments are going to send their data to the blockchain. Any device that communicates can be located to its point of connection to the network, right?
Assuming a research sample of customers are OK with this, how can the cost of a sophisticated sensing/communications device be amortized within the price of the product?
I’m sure I sound like a skeptic, but I’m actually quite fascinated by L.L.Bean’s intent. What conscientious brand wouldn’t want to know more about how its products are used? At the moment, however, any mention of “blockchain” in a press release sounds to me like the mention of “e-commerce strategy” circa 1999. Should boost your share price, but nobody really understands what you mean.
Director, SaaS Marketing, Zebra Technologies
An interesting way to engage the tech-savvy customer and for L.L.Bean to show their commitment to product improvement AND blockchain. They should not have a problem gaining recruits for this campaign and the data will surely give them some insight into product use. This could have real value or none at all, but I’m a big believer that sometimes these analytic fishing trips can provide retailers with immediate and longer-term, unknown insights.