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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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business Editor's pick sustainability

Purposeful innovation leads British Fashion Council award winners


“Purpose is the new luxury,” said Cyrill Gutsch, founder of Parley for the Oceans, at the British Fashion Council’s annual awards last night, which celebrated creativity and innovation from across the industry. 

He picked up the Special Recognition Award for Innovation, for his work recycling plastics recovered from the ocean into new products for brands including adidas, G-Star and Stella McCartney.

He echoed a theme that resonated throughout the evening focused on pushing for a positive revolution in light of climate change. “The planet is broken, the oceans are nearly dead and we need a dream of a magic blue universe that is well protected – something that we actually fight for together,” he said.

Also focused on this message was Dame Vivienne Westwood, who picked up the Swarovski Award for Positive Change. She used the occasion to give an impassioned speech about capitalism and the industry’s enormous responsibility to protect the planet.

Activism continued as a theme throughout the evening, with references made to Brexit, the Paris riots and even the Cambridge Analytica and Facebook data scandal revealed earlier this year.

Miuccia Prada, on reception of the Outstanding Achievement Award, added: “Just a little note for fashion, I think more and more we should feel a responsibility for defending human rights and freedom.”

Dame Vivienne Westwood
Dame Vivienne Westwood

A surprise for guests meanwhile came when HRH The Duchess of Sussex, Meghan Markle, arrived on stage to present the British womenswear designer of the year award to Clare Waight Keller for Givenchy, who was of course the designer behind the dress for her wedding to Prince Harry.

Meghan took the opportunity to reference female empowerment: “As all of you in this room know, we have a deep connection to what we wear. Sometimes it’s very personal, sometimes it’s emotional. But for me, this connection is rooted in really being able to understand that it’s about supporting and empowering each other, especially as women. When we choose to wear a certain designer, we’re not just a reflection of their creativity and their vision, but we’re also an extension of their values, of something in the fabric, so to speak, that is much more meaningful. I recently read an article that said, ‘The culture of fashion has shifted from one where it was cool to be cruel to now, where it’s cool to be kind’.”

Other awards during the evening went to Craig Green as menswear designer of the year, Demna Gvasalia for Balenciaga as accessories designer of the year, Marco Bizzarri for Gucci as business leader, and Virgil Abloh for Off-White, in the Urban Luxe category. Gucci won the brand of the year, while Pierpaolo Piccioli of Valentino picked up the overarching designer of the year award.

Emerging talent accolades went to Samuel Ross for A-COLD-WALL* and Richard Quinn, while Kaia Gerber picked up model of the year. There were also special recognition awards to Kim Jones as the 2018 trailblazer and to Mert & Marcus, who won the Isabella Blow Award for Fashion Creator.

This year also marks the first time the awards have celebrated a young global creative community with the launch of the“NEW WAVE: Creatives”, which recognized 100 of the most innovative and inspiring young creative talent from around the world.

How are you thinking about innovation? We’re all about finding you the perfect partners to do so. TheCurrent is a consultancy transforming how fashion, beauty and 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

What is going on in Paris with this whole #seebuywear strategy?

Models present creations for fashion house Gucci during the women Spring / Summer 2016 Milan's Fashion Week on September 23, 2015 in Milan.  AFP PHOTO / TIZIANA FABI        (Photo credit should read TIZIANA FABI/AFP/Getty Images)
Gucci, spring/summer 2016, Milan Fashion Week (Photo credit: TIZIANA FABI/AFP/Getty Images)

If you don’t already subscribe to FashionREDEF, and Adam Wray’s witty commentary that comes atop its newsletter everyday, you absolutely must.

On news that Francois-Henri Pinault, CEO of Gucci-owner Kering, poo-pooed the see-now, buy-now model because “waiting creates desire”, Wray responded that desire follows from waiting for lunch, or a long-distance relationship, and not in the same way for luxury goods. “Desirable products create desire. Effective marketing creates desire,” he wrote.

“If you build a consistent, legible, aspirational brand image, you don’t need a six month media blitz to warm consumers up to a new collection – they already know what they’re buying into. If Saint Laurent – a Kering brand – hit the runway and the shop racks simultaneously, it would sell briskly, and Pinault knows it. His comments indicate a cautious approach to a complex, risky restructuring more than philosophical position,” Wray continued.

He ended on the idea of Pinault wanting to learn from others’ mistakes, a move all too evident from the luxury industry’s initial lack of willingness to embrace all the challenges (and opportunities) the digital era has brought. I have consistently heard – even with every new social media platform – the desire to first know which competitors are already on board before many of them have also opted to take the leap. It comes as no great shock that Burberry was one of the first major players to announce its move to an in-season consumer calendar; it has long been the first on all of these fronts, from its early uptake of all things digital, to its more agile supply chain system influenced heavily by CRM data.

Unsurprisingly over in Paris however, Pinault is not the only one thinking otherwise. The Fédération Française de la Couture du Prêt-à-Porter des Couturiers et des Créateurs de Mode is sticking by its guns and will shun the consumer-show shift too, reports WWD.

“As far as we are concerned, the present system is still valid,” said federation president Ralph Toledano.

He previously commented: “The fashion industry is a huge success, our companies are growing very healthily and business is excellent… We are not going to be ruled by technology.” Indeed, let’s not forget that for many brands in Paris, while technology is surely a consideration, such steps into embracing digital have, to this day, still fallen short of actually launching e-commerce; and this is in spite of the fact we know that digital today now influences 60% of all luxury purchases.

The thinking around whether or not to adapt Paris Fashion Week was also taken to a board of broader industry players off the back of the CFDA’s announcement in the US that it had hired the Boston Consulting Group to look into whether to make New York Fashion Week a consumer-facing affair. They included Dior CEO Sidney Toledano, Chanel’s president of fashion Bruno Pavlovsky, Saint Laurent CEO Francesca Bellettini, and Hermès executive vice president of manufacturing division and equity investments Guillaume de Seynes.

Sticking with the status quo is now also being backed by brands including Nina Ricci, Chloé, Agnes b., Issey Miyake, Isabel Marant, Balenciaga, Lanvin, Sonia Rykiel, Leonard, Dries Van Noten, Maison Margiela, Paul Smith and Kenzo.

To be fair, Ralph Toledano does go on to list a multitude of reasons why such moves are so complicated (understandably), and thus at this stage deemed unnecessary – from managing the supply chain and its purposeful scheduling, to balancing embargoes with press and buyers (although that latter part seems very do-able frankly, especially if they’re used to it in other cities).

There is no one-size fits all solution, that’s for sure. And truthfully I stand by my earlier thoughts that the industry is ripe for division into new categories, rather than all of ready-to-wear being lumped into one, as those more agile shift to a more “mass luxury” appeal.

But, it must be said, and as Wray essentially pointed out, this does also feel somewhat like another case of Paris lagging behind its counterparts, as it has done with so much of digital. The issue is, the case of waiting for the right “me-too” moment may at some point finally catch up with some of these brands.

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business e-commerce Editor's pick social media

Tom Ford & Vetements’ seasonless fashion: Big change or same old same old?

tomfordSS16

A few months ago the CFDA was discussing possible plans to turn New York Fashion Week into a more in-season, consumer-focused event on the back of the social media/live streaming revolution. We’ve not heard so much about that lately but designers seem to be going ahead and making changes anyway.

The only problem is that they’re not all making the same changes.

Tom Ford and label-of-the-moment Vetements were the latest on Friday to follow Burberry and announce a change to their fashion week approach.

Ford will show both men’s and women’s in September, which for the men’s offer is a huge change as it’s several months after the traditional timing for men’s fashion weeks. Both collections will be available straight away and will be season-neutral.

Demna Gvasalia’s Vetements label will instead show in June and January. That’s when most labels show their menswear for the main season and pre-collections for womenswear. Not sure if it has anything to do with giving him a clearer run at main season for his new Balenciaga gig, of course.

However, CEO Guram Gvasalia, told Vogue.com the brothers want to cut out the need for pre-collections, get their product on sale faster so copyists don’t get there first, and stop overproduction. That’s no surprise given how much product is marked down at the end of the season.

He also said current seasonal schedules are “insane” and damage creativity.

vetementsAW15

Now, neither Vetements nor Tom Ford have ever fallen in with the crowd and done things traditionally, so perhaps it’s not such a shake-up as it would seem.

Burberry is still the biggest name to make this change and it would maybe take the same decision from Dior, Prada, Marc Jacobs and more, to really suggest that the rule book is being torn up in terms of show timings.

But in terms of instant delivery, that’s definitely been happening more widely. Both Moschino and Versace’s Versus have already gone down the instant availability post-show route, as have number of other labels.

Lots of fashion’s talking heads are discussing this at length but it’s still not clear how it will play out.

Maybe we shouldn’t be so concerned. After all, the oh-so-traditional haute couture has been around for over a century and has always been the ultimate in instant availability as it shows spring/summer in January and autumn/winter in July. The only waiting involved is the several weeks while the million-plus beads are hands-stitched onto your £100,000 dress.

This post first appeared on Trendwalk.net, a style-meets-business blog by journalist, trends specialist and business analyst, Sandra Halliday

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business Comment e-commerce Editor's pick social media

Digital pioneer Burberry does it again, this time radicalising its whole fashion calendar

This post first appeared on Forbes.

burberry

If there’s one thing the fashion industry is talking about this morning, it’s Burberry’s move to “align runway with retail”. The British heritage brand, and renowned digital innovator, is shifting its fashion week calendar so it shows in-season in both February and September (starting September 2016), meaning collections will be available to buy “immediately” after they’ve appeared on the catwalk, both online and in-stores.

Speaking to The Business of Fashion, Burberry’s chief executive and chief creative officer, Christopher Bailey, said: “There’s just something that innately feels wrong when we’re talking about creating a moment in fashion: you do the show in September and it feels really right for that moment, but then you have to wait for five or six months until it’s in the store… You’re creating all this energy around something, and then you close the doors and say, ‘Forget about it now because it won’t be in the stores for five or six months’.”

The move will also see the brand combine both its men’s and women’s shows together at London Fashion Week, and call the collections for the month they appear and not “spring/summer” or “autumn/winter”. Digital and print ads will also launch instantly.

Bailey added: “It often felt slightly superficial to be talking about an autumn/winter collection, when it’s 90 degrees in a third of the shops we’re selling it in. We are a global company and the world is not one weather pattern.”

Such a change inevitably has implications for the company’s supply chain, and was the side that needed the most consideration and thought in order to become more agile and flexible, Bailey says. It will now be designing and manufacturing simultaneously, as opposed to one leading to the other. Wholesale partners will also have to work more collaboratively, and be trusted to work to new embargoes set by the brand. But Bailey says it will also provide opportunities to create exclusives for certain stores and special events for their VIP customers.

Burberry is not the first to announce a shift to this “see now, buy now” model, but it’s certainly the biggest so far. Other, smaller brands including Rebecca Minkoff, Misha Nonoo and Thakoon are also changing the way they do things to better suit a direct-to-consumer model. The Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA) has also hired the Boston Consulting Group (BCG) to conduct a study on whether or not New York Fashion Week at large should change to become more closely aligned with retail drops.

The moves come of course as fashion weeks become increasingly public-facing forms of entertainment, rather than mere trade events. Ever since live-streaming began in 2010, designers have battled with capturing that “energy”, as Bailey refers to it, when there was no instant gratification to be had for the broader audience. Many, led by Burberry at that time, attempted to offer exclusive items available for pre-order (and arrival in more like six weeks than six months), but that only ever really felt like a cheap fix.

Where Burberry goes, others will of course now follow. Expect to see multiple other brands, no doubt big and small, start to shift to a current-season view. Topshop Unique is a very obvious one. The likes of Tommy Hilfiger in New York too. But does it suit the more traditional luxury houses in Milan and Paris?

In a piece I wrote on this subject in December, Caroline Homlish, a New York-based digital brand strategist who recently launched her own agency following senior digital positions at Chanel and Alexander McQueen, said she didn’t imagine such cities changing anytime soon, but that perhaps a line could be drawn between what’s considered “luxury” and “contemporary” these days.

It could be that we end up dividing the industry, positioning couture and ready-to-wear as they’ve always been, and introducing a third consumer event series alongside suited to those actively able and agile enough to go direct to the consumer. Burberry for instance, sits very wholeheartedly under what could be considered “mass luxury” today, comparative to some of its European counterparts.

What will be particularly interesting to see come September then, is whether what’s shown on its catwalk shifts too. Fashion weeks, no matter their form, have always been a tool for promotion; a PR move to generate hype around a brand (and of course wholesale buys for it), even though that specific ready-to-wear collection was quite likely not what generated the most revenue. Other pre-collections, the broader retail product mix, not to mention entry-level accessories and fragrance/beauty items were in place for that.

If the catwalk collection is available immediately to buy, it’s quite likely there will be an aim to promote a variety of product through it. Burberry’s luxury arm (what was called Prorsum before the brand moved all of its lines under one “Burberry” umbrella) will still have its place, but it’s likely we’ll also see big pushes around its bags – think of the nylon backpack last season – scarves, and quite likely some cheaper apparel.

In an ultimate aim to make it more relevant in a toughening global luxury market, the biggest test will be to see how sales perform thereafter. Here’s looking forward to September.

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digital snippets e-commerce mobile social media technology

Digital snippets: NYFW’s consumer shift, has Burberry become a gimmick, Thakoon’s real-time fashion plans

A round-up of the latest stories to know about surrounding all things fashion and tech…

thakoon

  • NYFW going consumer? CFDA hires BCG to study the idea [WWD]
  • Is Burberry becoming too gimmicky? [Yahoo Style]
  • Thakoon to shift to “real-time fashion”, launch see-now, buy-now, wear-now model (as pictured) [BoF]
  • How Rebecca Minkoff is disrupting the traditional runway show [Co.Design]
  • Proenza Schouler to keep its Pre-Fall 2016 collection images under wraps and off Instagram [WGSN Insider]
  • JC Penney shoppers visit Santa’s workshop in new virtual reality initiative [AdAge]
  • The North Face launched an online customer service tool powered by conversation [Digiday]
  • Aldo takes non-fashion approach in new Instagram push [Digiday]
  • How Boohoo.com releases up to 300 new products a day [Fashionista]
  • Michael Kors bet big on Instagram marquee ads, and it’s paying off [AdWeek]
  • Swatch to start selling mobile payment watch in US in 2016 [Bloomberg]
  • How Apple executive Angela Ahrendts is bringing a touch of chic to retail stores [NY Times]
  • Why Gilt Groupe is forced to sell, either to Saks’ parent company or someone else [Re/code]
  • 3D fashion police: how 3D-printed clothing could affect fashion law [3ders]
  • Is virtual reality the future of fashion week? [Vogue]
  • ‘Unboxing’ videos a gift to marketers [NY Times]
  • How luxury brands are balancing the digital tightrope between aspirational image and conversation [The Drum]
  • Social media: powerful selling tool for emerging designers [WWD]
  • The future of wearables is normal clothes made smart [Racked]
  • Last fashion week, Dazed armed anonymous industry insiders with wearable tech bracelets [Dazed]
  • Team behind Lady Gaga’s flying dress to bring wearable tech to a store near you [Mashable]
  • How Clothing+ is bringing smart clothes closer to your kit bag [CNET]
  • Half a year later, the Apple Watch feels like a stalled platform [Quartz]
  • Will phones replace wallets by 2021? [Vogue]
  • What’s going on at Condé Nast? [BoF]
  • Why brands are ditching Twitter’s 6-second Vine app [AdWeek]
Categories
Editor's pick Startups technology

Material science hits Selfridges with The Unseen’s colour-change accessories line

jacket

There’s something quite magical about an item that changes colour when held in your hands – a combination of awe and wonder harking back to science experiments we were all tasked with exploring as children.

If only you could bottle that, and sell it…

Well, now you can. Or rather, The Unseen, a London-based company fusing the worlds of science and design, can. Founded by Lauren Bowker, who refers to herself as a material alchemist, this is a start-up that has captured the simple idea of colours that alter based on user interaction or the environment they’re placed in, and launched it as a limited-edition, luxury accessories collection in UK department store, Selfridges.

shoulderbag_CROP

There’s a calfskin backpack that shows vivid flushes of colour in response to air pressure as the atmosphere brushes across it’s surface, and an Italian alligator-skin shoulder bag with environmentally responsive ink that changes to reflect the different seasons in the UK. It turns black in the winter, red in the spring, blue in the summer and green fading to red in the autumn.

Read my full interview with Bowker over at Forbes.