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Podcast Retail sustainability technology

Peter Diamandis: A look to the future

We have the tools today to make the change the world needs, says engineer, author and futurist, Peter Diamandis, on the latest episode of the Innovators podcast. 

Speaking from Summit LA19, an annual gathering of today’s brightest leaders, he explains why we must remember that our mindset matters more than ever before as we head into 2020. 

“I think this is the most extraordinary time ever to be alive. I think that we are living in a time where if you want to make a difference in the world you can. You’re more empowered as individuals to take on the world’s biggest problems than heads of nations and kings and queens were just decades or centuries ago,” he explains.  

During a time when we’re surrounded by negative news – something we pay 10x more attention to than anything positive – it’s easy to get dragged down. But it’s time to feel optimistic, he notes. We have a new decade ahead of us, which presents more opportunity than ever before. 

“I’m more bullish than ever before. Yes, we have problems. Yes, we have environmental problems. Yes, we have political problems. Yes, we have all those things. But the fact the matter is, we also have the tools to challenge them and change them and make the world a better place. We’ve romanticize the past, but the past was pretty brutal, pretty brutal compared to today.” 

During this conversation, Diamandis explains why there’s a crazy idea behind every breakthrough innovation, how the next decade will be a critical time to reinvent much of humanity, and the one thing you need to know to prepare for this future.

Listen here: Entale | Spotify |  Apple Podcasts | Android Google Podcasts | Stitcher | RSS

Catch up with all of our episodes of the Innovators podcast by the Current Global here. The series is a weekly conversation with visionaries, executives and entrepreneurs. It’s backed by the Current Global, a consultancy transforming how consumer retail brands intersect with technology. We deliver innovative integrations and experiences, powered by a network of top technologies and startups. Get in touch to learn more. 

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business Comment data e-commerce Editor's pick Retail Startups technology

Buy, build or partner: A new model of working with startups

Earlier this summer Nike announced it was acquiring AI startup, Celect, in order to “beef up its predictive analytics strengths”. It’s a smart move. A data move. Like all things artificial intelligence, this solution needs a lot of consumer or retail data to get smarter. And Nike, with its $36.4 billion in revenue last year, has a lot of data. 

A tech acquisition is a complicated beast that comes with as many challenges as it does advantages. And it should not be seen as an innovation silver bullet by most corporates. 

Take augmented reality by comparison for instance, an area where we’ve seen multiple acquisitions over the past couple of years. This space is changing so rapidly, the tech you buy is almost immediately obsolete. There is higher image quality every day, new capabilities in what it can read – like skin diagnostics and not just makeup in beauty for instance – and constant challenges to stay ahead in the market as a result. 

For a company that has pulled such startups in-house, there needs to be serious commitment to advance the technology. Unfortunately, what tends to happen is that a lot of the potential development work gets lost. A startup on the outside, by comparison, has to keep evolving in an aggressive way in order to survive. But how can an acquired startup remain competitive if they can’t seek out your competitors as clients? 

Another approach to innovation is building, where brands create solutions in-house, or with agency partners, from the get go. More often than not, this sort of work comes under the experiential header: a tech solution based on the creative. What we frequently see as a result, is big investments (six figures and above) for little return due to the fact the technology just doesn’t rise to the task. 

Not that there aren’t successes within all this – there are many examples of building solutions internally, especially foundational or backend tech – that do make sense. But in our experience with the companies we work with and have gotten to know, it often doesn’t work. Even for basic technology needs, building in-house can frequently be met with many of the same challenges as an acquisition does, namely the fact progress and development gets caught up in the politics and daily grind of everyday business. 

It doesn’t matter what size of organization you are in this case either. We work with large public companies that are leaders in the industry – and we see the same challenges time and again. Things don’t evolve quickly enough and objectives are not met. Eventually, no one is watching that investment any more and innovation gets a bad rep. 

So we believe in a third option. 

With the challenges presented by buying and building, not to mention a lack of progress in internal culture making room for innovation to be successful, we decided to create a platform for partnerships. This middle step is known as open innovation. 

Very simply, this is about setting objectives internally, creating a blueprint of what you want, and then searching exhaustively for the best external partners that fulfil that brief. 

One of the benefits of this tends to lie in the quality of output you receive. When working with an outside partner – particularly at the startup level – a new large corporate client could become the centrepiece to the startup’s growth. This often means the team will continue to update the product and guard its integration after launch. It becomes part of their story. Having the chance to work with an established brand or retailer is almost sacred to an entrepreneur, which is a very different mindset to what you may find in an employee. 

But startups struggle to deliver work ethic with a full understanding of execution needs, deadlines and ability to navigate the red tape in corporations that could hold back the project. That’s why we believe open innovation is most successful when it comes with an assigned partnership manager. Our ultimate role is about providing the framework that can lead to success. 

What we’re increasingly being asked for more recently however, and thus now offering, is essentially a hybrid model – one that is all about partnerships, but unique ones that more closely align with the optimal version of building. This is where we start talking about having your cake and eating it too. 

Many companies have figured out that working with curated top startups is the most cost-effective and efficient option. But then last year, we started to see a new conversation emerging around the fact that often what retail executives look for just doesn’t exist as yet. The kind of solution you have in mind is not what is being pitched to you. You look at all the possible startups in the space and all of them are missing that one thing. You don’t want an incomplete approach. You want the full package.

How are you thinking about new innovation? The Current Global is a transformation consultancy driving growth within fashion, luxury and retail. Our mission is to solve challenges and facilitate change. We are thinkers and builders delivering innovative solutions and experiences. Each of the rules referenced above is matched by one of our products and services. Interested in how? Get in touch to learn more.

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business e-commerce Podcast product Retail technology

Mastercard: Creating experiences beyond transactions

Mastercard is on a mission to curate and create priceless experiences that money cannot buy, says Raja Rajamannar, CMO of the company, on the latest episode of the Innovators podcast.

While credit cards have historically been about giving consumers speed and convenience, over the past couple of decades they have made strides into becoming an integral part of how consumers live their lives.

“We are a lifestyle brand. Lifestyle doesn’t mean it’s lifestyle for the rich and famous -lifestyle for everyone,” explains Rajamannar. “Everyone deserves to lead a beautiful life and to grow.”

On the one hand there’s the fact the technology is more seamless – gone is the swiping and signing, and in is the tapping and dipping. And if you’re shopping online, digital wallets mean you don’t even need to remember your password.

But on top of that today are perks focusing on giving consumers exclusive access to events, services and treats that help create an even deeper emotional connection between brand and participant.

A few years ago, Mastercard noticed a change in consumer behavior and strategically shifted its advertising spend into experiences. It now hosts over 750 experiences on any given day globally, from recreating the iconic The Rock restaurant from Zanzibar in NYC’s Tribeca, to enabling card holders to shadow Cirque du Soleil cast members in Canada. This strategy is based on addressing key consumer passion points, ranging from music and sports to the environment and philanthropy.

During this episode, Rajamannar explores creating emotional connections, gives advice to brands on how to drive loyalty through having a clear purpose, and reveals an industry first: why the brand is launching a sonic identity.

Listen here: Entale | Spotify |  Apple Podcasts | Android Google Podcasts | Stitcher | RSS

Catch up with all of our episodes of the Innovators podcast by the Current Global here. The series is a weekly conversation with visionaries, executives and entrepreneurs. It’s backed by the Current Global, a consultancy transforming how consumer retail brands intersect with technology. We deliver innovative integrations and experiences, powered by a network of top technologies and startups. Get in touch to learn more. 

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business e-commerce Podcast product Retail

Orlebar Brown: Trusting partners for growth

When you start a business, you should always be thinking about what your end goal is, says Adam Brown, founder of luxury swimwear brand Orlebar Brown, on the latest episode of the Innovators podcast. In Brown’s case, it was the eventual acquisition by none other than Chanel.

Many founders pride themselves on being scrappy, and figuring it out as they go along. There is an element of truth to that approach – Brown spent the brand’s first two years in a storage unit in West London learning every aspect of the business, from pressing shorts to talking to customers on the phone. 

But he knew from the get-go that one of the strongest tools he could have under his belt was finding the people he trusted to do the things that were beyond his expertise. That is a surprisingly rare trait for a founder, who often have so much emotional stake in the game that it is hard to let go of the control. 

Brown, however, always knew he didn’t want to be a CEO with 300 stores across the globe. He also doesn’t consider himself a designer, but rather a curator. So his focus became the product, and creating a process to perfectly tailor swim shorts that fit every body shape, and could take you from the beach to a fancy dinner party. The brand filled a gap in the market and quickly created its own niche.

And in 2018, just at the right time, Chanel came knocking. The acquisition, says Brown, represents the perfect marriage of aspirations that both sides have for the swimwear brand, as well as the chance to leverage many of Chanel’s mature capabilities in brand positioning, sourcing, e-commerce, and so on.

During this conversation, Brown tells us just why the Chanel partnership is a match made in heaven, how they are looking to connect sustainability with the brand in a creative way, and just what is needed to make the luxury consumer forget the price tag.

Listen here: Entale | Spotify |  Apple Podcasts | Android Google Podcasts | Stitcher | RSS

Catch up with all of our episodes of the Innovators podcast by the Current Global here. The series is a weekly conversation with visionaries, executives and entrepreneurs. It’s backed by the Current Global, a consultancy transforming how consumer retail brands intersect with technology. We deliver innovative integrations and experiences, powered by a network of top technologies and startups. Get in touch to learn more. 

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business Podcast product Retail

Thom Browne: Choosing authenticity over hype

A brand’s success depends on authentic relationships and good design over hype, says Rodrigo Bazan, CEO of designer label Thom Browne, on the latest episode of the Innovators podcast. 

“I tend to like less anything based on hype or cool, or the hot thing of the moment, because by definition that’s going to cool down at some point. So I still believe that the big things that are happening are led by a very, very strong design idea,” he explains.

It’s for the same reason that dressing rapper Cardi B for this year’s Met Gala in a larger-than-life ruby ballgown made sense for the luxury label, he notes. 

The Thom Browne team does little PR and has no internal VIP team, meaning the relationship with Cardi, as well as sports superstars like basketballer LeBron James, happen organically.

Since launching in 2004, the brand has gained a loyal audience that appreciates its modern take on classic silhouettes. The designer’s discrete nature (he himself is not on social media) and timeless designs mean it has managed to stand out in a world of overconsumption and celebrity designers that rule social media, from Virgil Abloh at Off White and Louis Vuitton to Olivier Rousteing at Balmain. 

Bazan explains how the brand is averse to overexposure and flashiness, instead focusing on creating more of these meaningful partnerships, from dressing Barcelona FC players off the field to creating bespoke tailoring with Barneys. As a result, it is steadily growing a business aiming to survive the influencer fatigue that is starting to pick up speed. 

Join us to learn more from Bazan about what that means in practice, including how music and celebrity help fuel its success, why the brand believes in sportswear over streetwear, and just how its thinking about the balance of data and design today.

Listen here: Entale | Spotify |  Apple Podcasts | Android Google Podcasts | Stitcher | RSS

Catch up with all of our episodes of the Innovators podcast by the Current Global here. The series is a weekly conversation with visionaries, executives and entrepreneurs. It’s backed by the Current Global, a consultancy transforming how consumer retail brands intersect with technology. We deliver innovative integrations and experiences, powered by a network of top technologies and startups. Get in touch to learn more. 

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business Podcast Retail sustainability

Roland Mouret: Rethinking single-use plastics

“Being creative gives us the ability to help change the world”, says Roland Mouret, a designer on a mission to eradicate single-use plastics in the supply chain, on the latest episode of the Innovators podcast. 

“Let’s not consider our creativity penalized by the fact that we have to become responsible,” he explains during the recording at the British Fashion Council’s annual Fashion Forum this year. 

His view is that the concept of luxury that dominated the past few decades has been destroyed by the climate crisis, meaning having money, logos and power are no longer the values consumers want to be associated with. 

Instead, we’re seeing a global shift to a more sustainable approach, he explains. This makes for a highly complex business shift, he acknowledges, but he’s doing so by taking a small step that could add up to a big change if adopted across the industry. 

Consequently, one of his focuses is around the humble coat hanger. Not those glamorous types you see in luxury stores, but the cheap plastic ones that flood the supply chain to get products from manufacturer to shop floor, and ultimately end up going to waste. He is working with a startup called Arch & Hook to do so. 

Fashion designer Rouland Mouret with our co-founder, Liz Bacelar

He refers to hangers as the plastic straws of the fashion industry, highlighting their need to be replaced by sustainable alternatives. In doing so he ties the fashion supply chain in with the overconsumption challenge of single-use plastic. Worldwide, about eight million tons of it leak into the ocean every year. 

Join us for this episode where we also talk to Mouret about why he’s on a mission to make sustainability sexy, the major trend he thinks is dying out in fashion right now, and how the climate crisis is redefining power and the luxury industry. 

Listen here: Entale | Spotify |  Apple Podcasts | Android Google Podcasts | Stitcher | RSS

Catch up with all of our episodes of the Innovators podcast by the Current Global here. The series is a weekly conversation with visionaries, executives and entrepreneurs. It’s backed by the Current Global, a consultancy transforming how consumer retail brands intersect with technology. We deliver innovative integrations and experiences, powered by a network of top technologies and startups. Get in touch to learn more. 

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business Podcast product Retail

Stadium Goods: Riding the sneaker culture boom

The success of Stadium Goods comes off the back of unprecedented consumer desire for sneakers and the need for a rich brand experience in which to buy them, says the platform’s co-founder and co-CEO, John McPheters, on the latest episode of the Innovators podcast. 

“For me the light bulb was that demand had never been higher. It was continuously growing, there were more and more people that wanted to buy our products, but there wasn’t a rich experience that consumers could go to to buy that stuff that was trusted, where they knew what they were getting, where they could really hang their hat on the brand experience and the presentation.” he explains.  

As a result he and his partner, Jed Stiller, set about creating a site that is focused on consignment – meaning it resells existing sneaker stock as well as broader streetwear – but it only does so with unworn and authentic styles. That focus on trust is the key, he says.  

Only launched in 2015, the site was acquired by ecommerce marketplace Farfetch in 2018 for $250 million. Very few emerging businesses have seen such rapid growth. It’s now considered such a market leader, it recently announced a partnership with auction house Sotheby’s to sell 100 of the rarest, most coveted sneakers ever produced.  

The site’s explosion aligns with the growth of sneaker culture worldwide. Expected to hit nearly $100bn in global sales by 2024, sneakers are outpacing much of the rest of the industry, including that of handbags. As a result, they have become the new ‘cash cow’ and awareness driver for all manner of brands, not least those in the luxury space, where such products are used as entry to otherwise more aspirational price points. 

In all parts of the market this has resulted in ‘cult’ or ‘it’ sneakers to own as a result. A rare pair of Nikes today can easily sell for as much as those from Gucci or Balenciaga as a result. This means it’s increasingly a race, with some limited edition styles going for $10,000 or more. 

Co-Founder & CEO, Current Global, Liz Bacelar and Co-Founder & Co-CEO, Stadium Goods, John McPheters

In this episode, recorded live at the British Fashion Council’s annual Fashion Forum, we chat to founder John McPheters about the cultural relevance of such products, the evolving role of exclusivity and desire in luxury today, and just how what he’s doing is really about teaching the industry to give up control.

Listen here: Entale | Spotify |  Apple Podcasts | Android Google Podcasts | Stitcher | RSS

Catch up with all of our episodes of the Innovators podcast by the Current Global here. The series is a weekly conversation with visionaries, executives and entrepreneurs. It’s backed by the Current Global, a consultancy transforming how consumer retail brands intersect with technology. We deliver innovative integrations and experiences, powered by a network of top technologies and startups. Get in touch to learn more. 

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business Comment e-commerce Editor's pick Retail Startups technology

6 rules for retail innovation

Innovation is one of those words that is often misconstrued in retail. Those who avoid it, claim they want to stay away from gimmicks. And those who love it, often use it as a PR-driven initiative or as an opportunity for technology to be deployed without much strategy. 

Sadly, innovation in retail has been largely about bells and whistles and not true fundamental change. 

Innovation in its true sense of the word – implementing new approaches to generate a different result – should be critical for anyone operating a major retailer or brand today. But it’s definitely not. A recent study by Gartner shows companies typically allocate 90% of their tech budget to “keeping the lights on”, or indeed what we can call ‘incremental innovation’, and only 10% to that which is deemed transformative.

The question then is how do you get it right? And how do you do it to bring progress and actual results? Frankly, the first step is to move away from old approaches. Over the past decade, numerous retailers around the world have introduced internal labs, accelerator programs and incubators. And what we’ve seen time and again, is that while such programs start strong and sharp, over time they are devoured and diminished by surrounding day-to-day business processes. The outcome even with the right intention, tends to only be marginal. 

What the industry needs is a new mindset and a willingness for new ways of working. 

We believe innovation should be actionable by connecting the right strategies to the right solutions, and closely managing integrations to make them a reality. This ties to our mission of solving challenges and facilitating change. So here are six rules for industry executives to follow to make this a reality:

1/ Validate the challenge

Deploying solutions without a defined problem is an unproductive method of innovation. It’s too easy to get lost in a sea of internal objectives and cost-cutting exercises while forgetting about what your customers really desire or need. 

To successfully determine the challenge, you must align on a united vision. Innovation internally is hard – it’s often political and frequently siloed. The best case studies out there have come from companies who have validated their roadmaps through a process of internal buy-in so they can achieve a common goal.

2/ Bring the outside in

Establishing a team that can bring different perspectives, both from outside the industry and in, as well as varied cross-disciplinary inputs, is always going to lead to greater results. New ideas come from diversity of thought – taking different things that work from other experiences, and making a new recipe out of them. It’s about getting outside your own department and making sure you have people from other parts of the company involved. Cross-pollination leads to the best ideas and strongest results. 

It’s for this reason we believe in the notion of “open innovation”: stepping outside of the internal model of building to co-create with a broader innovation ecosystem. It’s about resource and expertise coming in from experts on the outside, connected to ideas from around the globe. And it’s about increasing your chances of success by leveraging the knowledge and harnessing the success of others.

3/ Avoid the one-trick pony

The most successful projects should be updated over time, as opposed to achieving one incremental thing for a singular moment. This is about PR being the icing on the cake and not the cake itself. 

We all know innovation should have a broader goal, and often the challenge is convincing stakeholders to invest in the long term, laying the groundwork so that you gain economies of scale, not to mention scale itself, for every integration. It’s better to deploy two technologies with a clear purpose and defined ROI, then 10 pilots without strategy or buy-in.

4/ Mentor your partners

Simply put, you can’t treat startup partners like traditional vendors. These are companies big and small that provide collaborative partnerships. It’s crucial to work in a more hands-on sense, and to get help to manage these integrations if your own bandwidth is limited. 

Even when it is clear what value a technology brings to a retailer, partnerships fail due to cultural differences and conflicting expectations. To avoid this, try making time to offer your mentorship to these partners. Startups are not going to necessarily understand how to navigate your red tape or be as flexible with payments or delivery deadlines being moved. But with a strong connection in place, they could give you opportunities to co-create a brand new offering or be first to market with a technology.

5/ Empower your store teams

One of the biggest missteps with innovation is the idea of dumping new tech into store, for instance, without fully training or driving advocacy among employees. New technologies are worthless without buy-in and understanding to help things work smoothly and ensure shopper engagement. In-store, we’ve seen this with everything from smart mirrors to immersive experiences. 

This is simply about demonstrating the benefits in place for sales associates. If all this piece of tech does is add more to the checklist of things they need to do and doesn’t help their day-to-day relationship with the customer, it won’t interest them to help you as a retailer. Innovation ultimately needs to be enhancing the lives of those who have to use the tech.

6/ Calculated risks are better than failure

Innovation is usually associated with experimentation and accepting the Silicon Valley notion of ‘failure’. We’ve seen retailers trying to emulate this approach by investing in labs and incubators that fail to impact the bottom line. After all, retail corporate culture doesn’t believe in the “luxury” of merely trialing projects that won’t lead to actual results. 

So how can you test and learn with more of a conservative mindset? We believe there is a way to strategize calculated risks that allow learning and innovation to take place. Setting out a clear path of KPIs and objectives from the get-go with real measurements is the smarter way to ensure success. There’s no way around it – true innovation today is about results.

How are you thinking about retail innovation? The Current Global is a transformation consultancy driving growth within fashion, luxury and retail. Our mission is to solve challenges and facilitate change. We are thinkers and builders delivering innovative solutions and experiences. Each of the rules referenced above is matched by one of our products and services. Interested in how? Get in touch to learn more.

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Comment Editor's pick mobile Retail technology

Why retail is betting on virtual try-on for growth

Virtual try-on technologies are having a moment in retail this year. Interest with our clients is off-the-charts and adoption is growing everywhere.

It all started with augmented reality mirrors and apps reshaping the way beauty consumers discover and try on products in the past five years. Now, fashion and accessories brands are finally subscribing to virtual try-on in a variety of ways with the hope of driving engagement, increasing sales and fighting back returns.  

Some of the most recent examples include Nike’s try-on shoe app launched this past May. It measures the shape, size and volume of feet in order to recommend to people the best size to buy in the sneakers they’re interested in. According to the brand, the accuracy is within two millimeters and the whole process takes less than a minute.

Gucci followed suit a month later with a try-on that enables users of its app to see the Ace Sneakers on their feet in real-time. Shoppers can look at the shoes from different angles, and take pics to share on social media. This pilot is powered by one of Current Global’s core technology partners, Wannaby – a Belarus-based startup that specializes in “augmented commerce”.

In the eyewear category, Ace & Tate launched a feature on its website where users can see what they look like in its sunglasses on screen. Michael Kors has also done this via Facebook. 

And in hard luxury, an experiential pop-up from Richemont in New York, called Arcadium, features a virtual try-on experience by Jaeger-LeCoultre that allows shoppers to try styles by placing a ‘marker’ bracelet on their wrist. 

So why is so much of this happening now? Three reasons:

1- Growing consumer expectations:  Virtual try-on was born in the cosmetics space – cutting its teeth with brands like L’Oréal through to Sephora. It gained ground as shoppers got used to the idea of being able to see their faces with all manner of filters on thanks to the realism on social apps including Snapchat and Instagram. What was once a tech-generated value that consumers took a while to understand, is now perceived as a right that is extending to footwear and eyewear. 

E-commerce is evolving to serve a time-stretched and more demanding shopper that is used to having everything they want at their fingertips. Included in that is the ability to see what something will look like specifically for them, before they hit purchase. It’s utilitarian. 

2- The tech has evolved: Behind this trend is the fact the technology has caught up to the expectation. It’s now smarter, more realistic and affordable. Five years ago, the artificial intelligence and augmented reality that was needed to provide realistic mapping to the human face or body, just wasn’t there. Many good teams tried and failed – mostly because market demand wasn’t enough to fund their growth. 

3- Reducing returns: The value of returned goods will rise from $350 billion in 2017 to $550 billion by 2020 in the US, according to forecasts from Happy Returns. A contributing factor to this worrisome growth is customers opting to shop from home instead of in-store. During our work sourcing solution partners for various retailers, we’ve observed virtual try-on solutions consistently delivering positive results – from a 20% increase in basket-size for Sunglass Hut to 120% increase in engagement in a brand app. The upside for brands lies primarily in driving conversions while reducing return rates since the more likely a product is right, the more likely the individual will both buy it and keep it. 

The human body, and the ability for virtual try-on of full clothing, has been developed in chapters. The challenge is to develop accurate visualization and mapping. We have dozens of tech partners with algorithms from the US to Eastern Europe to China that have accurately learned the face, flat feet (high-heels try-on is still in the works), and now are focused on the variations of consumers hands and ears. 

As accessory and footwear brands race to catch up on AR, it’s safe to say the next vertical to jump on board is sure to be jewelry. Tech companies are racing to develop realistic capabilities in that sector to establish themselves as category owners.

What about ready-to-wear? The technology is quite impressive and is already here, with two startups leading the way on mobile and in-store. But the high cost of the tech at the present moment has prevented widespread adoption. As the space moves fast with growing adoption of AR in consumer shopping behavior globally, we expect virtual try-on to be a staple in the corporate innovation toolbox for all retailers keeping up with the digital age. 

How are you thinking about virtual try-on? The Current Global is a transformation consultancy driving growth within fashion, luxury and retail. Our mission is to solve challenges and facilitate change. We are thinkers and builders delivering innovative solutions and experiences. Get in touch to learn more.