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ICYMI: Plastic waste becomes Adidas tees, how Bitcoin went luxury, data to reduce returns

Adidas for Earth Day
Adidas for Earth Day

A round-up of everything you might have missed in relevant fashion, retail and tech industry news over the past fortnight.

TOP STORIES
  • Adidas created Earth Day soccer jerseys made from ‘upcycled’ plastic ocean waste [AdWeek]
  • How Bitcoin went luxury [Vogue]
  • How retailers are crunching data to cut losses from returns [Glossy]
  • The fashion world after Anna Wintour [NY Times]
TECHNOLOGY
  • Alibaba is becoming a major investor in facial-recognition technology [Quartz]
  • Retail’s adapt-or-die moment: how artificial intelligence is reshaping commerce [CB Insights]
  • Leap Motion’s “virtual wearables” may be the future of computing [Co.Design]
  • Why beauty giants are snapping up technology startups [BoF]
  • Farfetch launches startup accelerator [BoF]
  • LVMH’s Ian Rogers on Station F [WWD]
SUSTAINABILITY
  • The beginner’s guide to how blockchain could change the ethical fashion game [Fashionista]
  • Why brands are under increasing pressure to be transparent about what they believe in [AdWeek]
  • Stella McCartney: ‘Only 1% of clothing is recycled. What are we doing?’ [TheGuardian]
RETAIL & E-COMMERCE
  • Brandless, the ‘Procter & Gamble for millennials’ startup that sells everything for $3, is launching a pop-up, but you can’t buy anything [Business Insider]
  • Glossier opening permanent retail space in LA [WWD]
MARKETING & SOCIAL MEDIA
  • Two computer-generated influencers are at war right now, and nothing is real anymore [W Magazine]
  • With privacy updates, Instagram upsets influencer economy [BoF]
  • How Vans is shaking up its experiential marketing to get more personal [BrandChannel]
  • Snapchat has launched in-app AR shopping, with Adidas and Coty among the first sellers [TheDrum]
BUSINESS
  • Adidas partners with Lean In to promote equal pay for women [WWD]
  • Gap CEO Art Peck: Big data gives us major advantages over competitors [CNBC]
Categories
data e-commerce technology

Four quick highlights from NRF 2018

NRF 2018
NRF 2018

NRF’s Big Show hit New York once again this week with an expo floor covering every form of technology modern retailers need today*, and big topics of conversation pointing to the future of the industry.

From a topline perspective, focus was on everything from personalization through artificial intelligence, to the need for speed, enabling a frictionless experience as well as the increasing demand for invisibility in technology.

Personalization

Artificial intelligence remains one of the hot terms in the industry today – machine learning, computer vision, natural language processing and chatbots were found left, right and center across NRF. Underlying that in terms of the reason it matters, however, was a focus on personalization for customers. Neiman Marcus’ president and CEO, Karen Katz, talked to the challenge of shifting from being a retailer that nails this in store through the human-to-human experience, and now trying to replicate that in the online world. “Online is where the next level is presenting itself for [service-oriented] personalization,” she said.

Speed

Spencer Fung, CEO of Li & Fung, talked to the idea of the industry shifting from being optimized by cost, to finding competitive advantage in speed. As an industry, the time it takes to get from ideas to stores has only extended by virtue of parts of the supply chain located further and further away. “This cost optimization model in a world where consumers are moving 10x faster is no longer valid. You can no longer make decisions today on what will sell in 40-50 weeks time,” he said. The supply chain of the future, underpinned by new technology, is predicated by speed.

Invisibility

While technology is so central to the NRF scene, the discussion for retailers is increasingly around how to make this invisible for consumers. “The most relevant future innovation platforms are ones that consumers don’t see,” said Levi’s brand president James JC Curleigh. He talked to the idea of complete simplicity on the front end, all the while there’s increasing sophistication behind-the-scenes. Intel’s chief innovation officer, Stacey Shulman, agreed with this point, telling us: “Technology should never be at the forefront from a consumer perspective, it just needs to be the helper at the back. It’s what enables sales associates to get back to the customer and back to what’s important.”

Frictionless

In the context of NRF, the word “omnichannel” is an oft-overused one. This year, however, it was the idea of making retail frictionless that was bandied about more predominantly. Neiman Marcus’ Katz talked to this as being one of the organization’s greatest challenges. Calling it frictionless retail is about having greater scope for every touchpoint, she suggested. Nordstrom’s SVP of customer experience, Shea Jensen, meanwhile, told us her focus is on providing convenience; doing things in the context of continuously solving customer problems.

*Want to know which technologies we deemed most relevant from the show floor? Our team of startup scouts combed through the innovations demonstrated, examining and analyzing those of chief importance to retailers and brands today. Get in touch to find out more.

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Comment data e-commerce technology

5 bold predictions for e-commerce tech in 2018

Mike Mallazzo of Dynamic Yield, shares his views on the year ahead in e-commerce tech, from the need for vast amounts of data to gain ground in the machine learning era, to the idea of Patagonia as a target for Amazon.

Bold predictions for e-commerce tech in 2018
Bold predictions for e-commerce tech in 2018

Fifteen years ago, the existential threat to many major retailers was a small online bookshop. Ten years ago, the medium that drives 60% of online retail traffic didn’t exist. Five years ago, personalisation was a nascent technology experiment being conducted by a few enterprise retailers. One year ago, the term “retail apocalypse” didn’t even exist.

With the pace of innovation in e-commerce technology, predicting how retail tech will shake out in 2018 is the ultimate fool’s errand.

1. The golden age of customer experience will shine brighter

Today’s e-commerce professionals aren’t just thinking about changing colours on banners and buttons. The conversation has shifted to thinking about the entire shopper journey and how to optimise every element of it.

As barriers to entry in e-commerce crumble, there are scores of e-commerce start-ups in every category competing for your affection. Concurrently, there are thousands of marketing technology vendors trying to sell these companies technologies to help them deliver superior digital experiences.

The competitive landscape is fierce, breeding incredible innovations in every corner of retail from supply chain and logistics to in-app augmented reality. With smart people competing across the internet to capture our attention, the end experience for the end user will continue to get better and better.

2. Artificial intelligence will finally make a real impact, but with little glitz and glamour

With honorable mentions to “growth hacking” and “storytelling”, no buzzword was more abused in 2017 than “artificial intelligence”, or AI. It’s replaced big data as the new teen sex with everyone talking about it and nobody doing it.

However, the problem with adoption of AI in e-commerce has not been limitations of the technology itself. It’s been in access to data to help the machines learn. In order to meaningfully impact the customer experience, machine learning algorithms need to ingest vast amounts of data; machine learners are ultimately only as good as the school supplies you arm them with. However, even for tech-forward retailers, this data often exists across a myriad of software programmes and dusty basements of servers making it impossible for them to create unified profiles of their customer.

Low hanging applications of AI in retail lie in solving unsexy problems, such as which recommendations strategy to serve new visitors to an e-commerce website. While AI won’t upend retail anytime soon, practical applications of machine learning to common e-commerce problems will proliferate in 2018, benefiting brands that adopt the technology.

3. Retail’s middle class will face its toughest year yet

Already eviscerated, retailers and department stores that sell to the middle class will encounter even tougher market conditions in 2018.

All of the feel good articles saying that a lemonade stand can compete with Amazon leave out an inconvenient truth – most of the brands successfully competing with Amazon sell really expensive goods. The median household income in America simply can’t buy Away luggage, a Rent the Runway subscription or $150 shoes from Rothy’s.

Quietly, the retail apocalypse has also been a boom time for hyper discount retailers such as Dollar Tree, who can still compete with Amazon on the basis of price. Incredibly, one company, LA-based Hollar, has successfully managed to take the dollar-store experience online, blending competitive pricing with sophisticated supply chain and digital technology.

Expect Hollar to become a true household name in 2018 and beyond and a company that delivers real value to the e-commerce ecosystem.

4. Amazon will meaningfully enter fashion by way of acquisition

Last time Jeff Bezos couldn’t crack a niche e-commerce market, he simply bought out his competitor, Vito Coreloning diapers startup Quidsi. Look for Amazon to bring back this playbook in 2018 to finally break into fashion.

Amazon whisperer and NYU professor Scott Galloway predicts that Nordstrom will join the Amazon empire next year to plug this gap. An even bolder prediction from Gene Munster has Amazon buying Target in 2018 for about $40 billion. While Amazon has shown a willingness to swing big with the Whole Foods acquisition, I’d look for slightly smaller stores with high margins, nouveau riche clienteles and chic brick and mortar presences to be prime targets. Amazon can buy a retailer with less than $1bn in revenue with pocket change while avoiding pesky antitrust concerns.

Bold prediction: Amazon unites the South American topographies by making a bid for Patagonia. Bezos picks up a socially active brand beloved by millennials while Patagonia does the deal to lower prices and to provide financial cover for even more political activity

5. Brands will have less value than ever

While Amazon’s shadow looms everywhere, retail’s old guard is also being hammered by the fact that more shoppers every month are simply ambivalent about the logo on their clothes.  For many millennials, the $12 black polo with no logo is just as good as the $70 Lacoste polo with a cute little crocodile.

Perhaps nothing is more telling than the fact that one of the VC darlings in e-commerce is literally called “Brandless”. In 2018, expect a lot more nice apparel from no-name brands to flood the market, increasing pressure on many iconic brands to win on the basis of customer experience rather than brand equity.

Mike Mallazzo is the head of content at Dynamic Yield, a personalisation technology start-up. His writing on the future of commerce, media and technology has appeared in Quartz, Entrepreneur, Forbes, The Next Web, MediaPost and the Chicago Tribune. 

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data e-commerce Editor's pick mobile technology

ASOS launches visual search tool to aid inspiration and discovery for shoppers

ASOS visual search
ASOS visual search

My filter for successful visual search is simple – can you take a photo of someone else’s shoes or jacket when on a busy train and find a direct replica online? Can technology negate the awkwardness of actually speaking to someone during your commute to find out where his or her “must-have” item is from?

Fashion stalker claims aside, the short answer is still no. In the majority of cases, the tech is not yet good enough to pull apart a busy image and identify exactly what that piece is.

It is however getting better at finding similar items. Thanks to artificial intelligence, it can identify shape, colour, print and more – it can serve up relevant options and at least start to inspire discovery.

That’s the key theme behind the launch of e-commerce site ASOS’s visual search launch on its native app today.

This is a fashion website with a huge 85,000 products on it; 5,000 new ones every week. One of many challenges in the online retail space is balancing that newness with the overwhelming nature of volume, particularly for users increasingly browsing on mobile. It’s for that same reason we’ve also seen Pinterest and eBay recently playing in this computer vision space. It’s about that keyword: “discovery”.

This rollout from ASOS then, aims to enable shoppers to capture fleeting moments – whether that’s someone they pass on the street, a look a friend is wearing or even a screengrab from Instagram or otherwise – and use them to search through the site’s product lines to find similar suggestions.

“The depth of our offering is absolutely one of our strengths. However that range can be challenging to present to customers, especially on a mobile phone,” Richard Jones, head of product and UX at ASOS, explains to me. “If you know what you want, you can quite simply get to what you’re looking for. But what we’re trying to find is more of that discovery use case – if you’re not quite sure what you want, or you’ve seen something that’s inspired you, visual search is designed to kickstart that discovery… It’s about getting as close as possible to giving you something that is visually similar.”

The tool is shown as a camera icon in the search bar of the ASOS app. Tapping on it then invites customers to either take a picture or upload one from their library to have it find similar products.

Jones knows the tech isn’t yet perfect, if anything the examples out in the market to date have been a “bit clunky”, but with machine learning and big data, it’s only going to improve, he suggests.

ASOS’s own version, the tech for which is powered by an external third party the company has opted not to disclose, is built on this notion. “The more [this tech] gets used, the better it gets trained, the data results get better… the smarter it becomes,” he explains.

That also reflects the way the ASOS team are operating – pushing the launch out to market (in the UK only at first) in order to test and iterate accordingly. It’s about getting it out there and learning how it’s best used before then rolling it to different geographies thereafter.

In its press release, ASOS refers to this as the “build-measure-learn” approach to innovation, a methodology developed by the Lean Startup.

This announcement also supports wider planned technology investment by the company. It currently has a tech team of 900 employees and is planning to hire a further 200 over the next year, for instance. It says its focusing on its AI-powered recommendation engine, which uses big data and a smart algorithm to learn customers’ preferences over time, as well as on improving site infrastructure to drive agility and speed up innovations for customers.

Zooming in on the mobile experience is particularly key. Today 80% of UK traffic for ASOS and nearly 70% of orders come from a mobile device, with people spending 80 minutes per month, on average, in the ASOS app.

With such mobile-native customers, Jones says it’s about how to now use the underlying technology that is in these devices – the high processing power, the ultra high-definition cameras, the depth perception imagery and more.

“We’re thinking about how do we use these devices in a way that is natural and contextual to how our 20-something customers live their lives. They go everywhere with [their smartphones] – so how can we make sure we give them an experience they are expecting?” he comments.

Further motivation lies in the fact using the camera as a means to search is going to become fairly default in September when Apple launches iOS 11, which includes the ARKit development platform. That essentially means all manner of augmented reality uses will be possible directly through the iPhone’s camera lens; visual search included. Net-a-Porter is another e-commerce player that has referenced using it.

“What we want to do is be able to meet that customer expectation and demand,” Jones adds. The visual search tool will live within the app for now, with the intention of making that broader experience an increasingly personalised one for each shopper down the road.

ASOS’s visual search launches on iOS in the UK today with pending rollout for Android and then international scale thereafter.

This post first appeared on Forbes

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business data digital snippets e-commerce film social media Startups sustainability technology

What you missed: Amazon’s big data ambitions and on-demand textiles, Facebook’s VR, a sustainability deep dive

Amazon's Echo Look
Amazon’s Echo Look

A round-up of everything you might have missed in relevant fashion business, digital comms and tech industry news over the past fortnight.


TOP STORIES
  • Amazon’s big data fuelled fashion ambitions [TechCrunch]
  • Amazon wins patent for on-demand textile manufacturing [Retail Dive]
  • Facebook launches VR project Facebook Spaces [The Drum]
  • Tech tackles the fitting room [Racked]

BUSINESS
  • LVMH takes control of Christian Dior in $13 billion deal [BoF]
  • Hermès joins trend of accelerating luxury sales growth [Business Insider]
  • Kit and Ace shutters all stores worldwide, except in native Canada [Retail Dive]
  • Retail workers fight to get a cut in the era of e-commerce [Racked]
  • Debenhams unveils its turnaround strategy [The Industry]

SUSTAINABILITY
  • How to cut carbon emissions as e-commerce soars [Bain & Co]
  • Are fashion’s recycling schemes as effective as they seem? [The Fashion Law]
  • Is deadstock the future of sustainable fashion? [Fashionista]
  • The myth of closed-loop manufacturing [Glossy]
  • How much has actually changed 4 years on from the Rana Plaza collapse? [Refinery29]
  • Why is fashion still sleeping on all-natural dyes? [Fashionista]

SOCIAL MEDIA
  • How brands are finally cashing in on social with shoppable Instagram Stories and Snapchat ads [AdWeek]
  • Why does the term ‘influencer’ feel so gross? [Man Repeller]
  • Rue21, mode-ai launch virtual stylist with Facebook Messenger group feature [Retail Dive]

MARKETING
  • The state of data strategy in fashion and retail [Glossy]
  • Do podcasts make you wanna shop? [Racked]
  • John Lewis unveils experiential National Treasures summer campaign [The Industry]
  • Mytheresa.com teams with Miu Miu on capsule, fashion film [WWD]

RETAIL & E-COMMERCE
  • Macy’s and the survival of retailing [Bloomberg]
  • Why retailers are trying on showrooms [Retail Dive]

TECHNOLOGY
  • Amazon builds team for autonomous vehicle technology [AutoNews]
  • Burt’s Nature showcases the Burt of Burt’s Bees in VR [The Drum]
  • Estée Lauder’s augmented reality efforts focus on Europe [L2]

START-UPS
  • Walmart’s tech incubator hires co-founder of Rent the Runway [Bloomberg]
Categories
business data Editor's pick film social media

From the archive: Unilever’s ‘All Things Hair’ provides stellar example of big data in action

unilever_allthingshair

In December 2013, Unilever launched a YouTube channel in the UK dedicated to hair. All Things Hair, as it’s called, generated over 17 million views and an average viewing time of one minute and 51 seconds, in its first six months.

Today it has nearly 180,000 subscribers, and remains one of the strongest examples of big data being used effectively.

Created in conjunction with agency Razorfish, it is filled with hair styling tutorials from leading video bloggers (vloggers), including the likes of Zoella and Tanya Burr. That content isn’t arbitrary however, rather selected based on Google searches.

Unilever partnered with the search giant to gain real-time insights into what exactly people are looking for knowledge on. There are 11 billion searches about hair on Google every year – 30 million each day – making it a rich pool to draw from and enabling the company to predict what solutions, problems and styles people care about.

That information is sent to the vloggers – many of whom have several million followers in their own right too – who are paid by Unilever to create the tutorial content incorporating brands including Toni & Guy, Dove and VO5.

Speaking at Cannes Lions last year, Unilever chief marketing and communications officer, Keith Weed, said: “The content is relevant, useful and authentic. It’s a really cool application of big data, based on what is actually big insights.”

It’s also a great example of merging together real-time search data with influencer and content marketing. Cleverly it does so in a way that retains an authentic feel, rather than a hardline promotional one.

Some recent example content:

Categories
Comment data digital snippets e-commerce Editor's pick film social media technology

2014: A designer meets digital year in review

Burberry_burberry_hr

What a year it has been for fashion and technology…

From wearables taking off with varying designer brands during fashion week, to the launch of new services like Apple Pay, the success of Alibaba’s IPO, discussion around visual search, the ongoing use of selfie campaigns and more, one thing after another has once again been making an impact in this space.

Below then, are 10 of the posts you loved the most on the relaunched F&M site this year. It’s an interesting exploration of subjects as varied as big data and viral videos, as well as the more gimmicky, yet PR-worthy role technology can often play. Think drones, Oculus Rift, the ALS #icebucketchallenge, and yet more on wearable tech.

Thank you for reading and see you in 2015!

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Blocks business data e-commerce Startups

Lyst’s ‘big data’ visualised in projection mapping from Holition

Lyst_holition_projection

With an inventory of over one million items from more than 9,000 global fashion designers and retail stores, not to mention a solid group of actively purchasing consumers (a record $10m in sales was generated in a recent month), it might come as no surprise to hear Lyst has also got a lot in the way of data.

The once social curation site, now e-commerce platform, recently showcased that fact in collaboration with Holition.The latter created a projection that visualised the vast amount of data Lyst receives daily, in real-time. As per the video below, it documented around 250,000 items of clothing and accessories on the screen at any one time. Prices were shown, as were brands, combined designed to enable the viewer to understand and spot popular trends.

This “engaging and colourful piece of digital art”, as Holition refers to it, was on show at Lyst Studios, the company’s headquarters, in Shoreditch, London.

Said Holition CTO, Russell Freeman: “[Lyst] sucks up a huge amount of information every day and we wanted to be able to visualise that in a really beautiful way.”

Lyst, which launched in 2010, has also just announced what it refers to as a “complete brand refresh”. A new logo, a content-led homepage (as below) and a redesign across desktop, tablet and mobile are included. Working in partnership with creative agency Wednesday, the company has introduced a new aesthetic that it refers to as “modern, bolder and more distinctive”.

Chris Morton, Lyst CEO and cofounder, said: “We’ve spent much of the last four years focussed on building a deeply engaging product that delivers a truly personalised shopping experience for each of our millions of users around the world, and that’s now generating very meaningful sales for our partner brands and stores globally. I’m delighted that we have now been able to turn more attention to our brand, with this new identity and content based homepage forming the first of several exciting brand- led initiatives in the coming months.”

The move comes off the back of the aforementioned successful sales figures as well as the fact the company is on track to grow 400% year-on-year for the third year in a row. Its universal checkout launched in 2013, which enables shoppers to buy from different fashion brands and stores in one basket on Lyst’s website and mobile apps, is reportedly behind the growth.

Lyst_redesign_homepage

Categories
business data Editor's pick film

Unilever’s ‘All Things Hair’ provides stellar example of big data in action

unilever_allthingshair

Big data might be one of those phrases we’re all now used to hearing, but finding examples of those truly using it effectively (and willing to talk about it) are few and far between.

Enter then Unilever’s All Things Hair, a YouTube channel from the UK that really speaks to real-time relevance thanks to true data insights.

Created in conjunction with agency Razorfish, it is filled with hair styling tutorials from leading video bloggers (vloggers). That content isn’t arbitrary however, rather selected based on Google searches.

Unilever partnered with the search giant to gain real-time insights into what exactly people are looking for knowledge on. There are 11 billion searches about hair on Google every year; 30 million each day – a rich pool to draw from, enabling the company to predict what solutions, problems and styles people care about.

That information is sent to the vloggers – many of whom have several million followers in their own right too – who are paid by Unilever to create the tutorial content incorporating brands including Toni & Guy, Dove and VO5.

Speaking at Cannes Lions this year, Unilever chief marketing and communications officer, Keith Weed, said: “The content is relevant, useful and authentic. It’s a really cool application of big data, based on what is actually big insights.”

It’s also a great example of merging together real-time search data with influencer and content marketing. Cleverly it does so in a way that retains an authentic feel, rather than a hardline promotional one.

Accordingly, the channel has generated over 17 million views and an average viewing time of one minute and 51 seconds, since it launched in December 2013.

Some example content:

Categories
data technology

Looking back at SXSW: wearables, privacy and avoiding bandwagons

This article first appeared on The Business of Fashion 

Rachel Arthur recaps the highlights of this year’s SXSW Interactive conference and identifies key takeaways for the fashion industry.

Valencia_ONeal_IMAGETHINK_SXSWi14-656x371

AUSTIN, United States — The marketing and tech crowd hit Austin, Texas, once again this week for the annual SXSW Interactive conference, bringing with them more members of the fashion industry than ever before. There were representatives from long-time attendees like Burberry and Bergdorf Goodman, alongside a flurry of first timers from Parisian fashion houses and UK department stores alike, a sure sign of technology’s increasingly pervasive impact on fashion retail.Thought of as an incubator for tech-enabled creativity which aims to provide a “view on the future,” the annual event is overloaded with keynotes, panel discussions and pop-up events, not to mention a trade show floor. But, as usual, much of the action also happened off-piste, in spontaneous conversations at hundreds of events and parties.

Here, we’ve compiled some key takeaways, on themes ranging from wearable technology to consumer privacy.

The State of Wearables

It was clear wearables — an emerging category of personal accessories with embedded sensors, displays and other digital technology (such as Nike’s FuelBand, Google Glass and Apple’s rumoured iWatch) — were going to be a key topic even before SXSW began. They’d dominated the scene at the International Consumer Electronics Show (CES) held in Las Vegas each January and over 60 sessions addressed the topic, up from a mere handful last year.

Speakers unanimously agreed that the category is advancing rapidly. American basketball star Shaquille O’Neal even made an appearance to discuss his new interest in wearable technology with Rick Valencia of Qualcomm. Yet despite predictions that the market for wearables could reach $30-$50 billion over the next 3 to 5 years, the growing consensus was that mass adoption was still a ways off. On Google Glass, Robert Scoble (author and startup liason officer of Rackspace) said: “This is one of those products you know is the future, but it’s so unfinished at this point that it’s frustrating. It’s three to five years away before it’s really useful.”

And indeed, it was the word ‘useful,’ more than design or aesthetics — which the current crop of wearables are widely thought to lack — that came up the most. Jennifer Darmour, user experience design director at Artefact, said she has a drawer full of wearables that she had worn for just a week or two each before abandoning them. There was too much focus on novelty, she said, rather than on creating real functional value. “We’ve been taking a technology and trying to find a problem for that technology, instead of the other way round,” she added. “We need a more human-centric approach.”

Q Manning, chief executive of app design company Rocksauce Studios, agreed: “We need to solve problems. Just because we can build it, doesn’t mean we should. We need to pinpoint will this actually be useful? Is it beneficial? Will it help me live my life better?”

Jay Morgan, digital creative director of Havas Worldwide, added: “When wearable tech becomes [part of our] normal clothes and we don’t have to [actively] interact with it, it’s not then going to be about whether people care about it, it’s just going to be a part of your life. That’s what brands need to think about it now.”

Managing Privacy

Privacy was another key topic at SXSW this year, perhaps unsurprisingly as whistleblower Edward Snowden gave one of the headline talks. Appearing via Google Hangout from an undisclosed location in Russia, Snowden called on the technology community to help protect privacy rights by building them into technical standards. “There is a policy response that needs to occur, but there is also a technical response that needs to occur,” he said. “It is the development community that can really craft the solutions and make sure we are safe.”

Christopher Soghoian, principle technologist at the American Civil Liberties Union, added: “I really think that consumers need to rethink their relationship with many of the companies to whom they entrust their private data. I really think what this comes down to is if you are getting the service for free, the company isn’t going to be optimising your experience with your best interests in mind.”

While Soghoian was referring to Internet services like Facebook, the issue of consumer privacy should be of concern to retailers as well, as they increasingly collect and leverage personal data.

“The bottom line is data should not be collected without people’s knowledge and consent,” said Snowden. “If data is being clandestinely acquired and the public doesn’t have any way to review it and it is not legislatively authorised, it is not reviewed by courts, it is not consonant with our constitution — that is a problem.”

For others, the issue of privacy and personal data was seen in the context of a value exchange, with consumers increasingly willing to reveal information in return for benefit. “The more utility you get, the more you’re going to have to give away your privacy,” said Scoble, adding he’d happily do so himself in return for more useful and personalised experiences. Sir Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the World Wide Web, agreed: “I’m excited about data being about me. The marketer gets a certain amount of value in the stats on my demographic, but the real value is for me.”

Daniela Rus, director of the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab at MIT, said the way forward was giving consumers control of their data. “We are now developing technologies to give people control over who manages their data and how. We are ensuring privacy, so it will be very easy and very comfortable for them to give their data over and get something out of it.”

Avoiding Bandwagons

Elsewhere at SXSW, conversation swirled around everything from “embeddables” (technology emebedded in the world around us, such that “virtually any human activity we can think of is going to be modified and amplified with an invisible mesh of data and processing that we will drift through obliviously,” according to one panel) to bioengineering. But ultimately, “good technology is no excuse for a bad idea,” said Paul Kemp-Robertson, co-founder and editorial director of marketing consultancy and magazine, Contagious. “It’s easy to jump onto bandwagons just because a new technology looks cool. Everyone enjoys feeling like that little kid chasing after the bright, shiny tool in the distance. But in this age of service design and living data, if a marketing idea is not useful, relevant or entertaining, then really there’s very little point in letting it loose on the world.”

Kristina Simmons, a partner at leading Silicon Valley venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz, agreed. Wearable technology, for example, should not be a priority just because everyone is talking about it. “It needs to be something that makes sense for your business. It’s about thinking about your top five priorities, versus saying I want to do something with wearables.”

“Innovation isn’t just giant leaps and bounds and the sexy stuff — it’s also about the basics and thinking about how we do things better. Incremental changes can make a big difference too,” said Will Young, director of Zappos Labs.

“Being first has always been a big thing,” said Ben Malbon, Google’s head of creative partnerships. “But the future is here already. We should use the existing tools we have on the table. Innovation doesn’t need invention.”