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Editor's pick Retail

3 key takeaways from NRF’s Big Show 2019

NRF’s Big Show landed in New York this week and featured innovations across the spectrum increasingly focusing on seamless and personalized experiences.

In this sense, technologies such as artificial intelligence and the use of data are becoming essential tools to serve the customer tomorrow. Conversations on stage echoed the tech on display on the startup floor, looking at how brands are striving to meet those needs.

Data needs to strike a balance

On an exhibition floor stacked with companies that are leveraging data to better serve the customer, conversations naturally turned to how brands can use it successfully but most importantly, responsibly. Following the Facebook and Cambridge Analytica scandal and the new GDPR regulations in Europe, it is incumbent on brands that want to deploy data to be transparent and clear with how they will use it.

From executives at Ralph Lauren, through to smaller names like LA-based accessories label Hammit, tracking behavior can bring enormous benefits, speakers said. From helping choose product assortment to how to better serve customers online, brands shouldn’t be shy about talking to their methods. If the consumer sees they are getting a service that is relevant and saves them time, they will appreciate it, they noted.

For Aaron Sanandres, co-founder and CEO of menswear label UNTUCK.it, the challenge is how to use that data to serve the customer in-store without sounding too intrusive or, in his own words, “creepy”. While online a “Welcome back, Aaron” greeting might seem like a pleasant surprise, in person, the customer might have an entirely adverse reaction, he said. Getting the balance right is tricky: “Doing that in a way that’s inviting and not off-putting is the challenge.”

Physical retail still rules

Retailers and brands are deploying physical retail in increasingly creative and flexible ways, showing naysayers that the channel is far from dead. Arguably one of its biggest cheerleaders is Story founder, and now Macy’s brand experience officer, Rachel Shechtman, who took to the stage with Macy’s CEO Jeff Gennette, to explain how she is thinking like a media company to deliver content – and merchandise – that is relevant to the consumer up-to-the-minute through retail.

For smaller brands, the brick and mortar experience is now an invaluable tool to allow them to become more granular in their approach. While a brand’s retail experience always has to have an overarching layer of consistency, it is by building small moments that are relevant to a specific demographic, at a specific location, that creates a stronger sense of community and loyalty.

For John Frierson, president at LA-based retailer Fred Segal, brands born digitally do this well because they have already worked out all of the kinks of providing a frictionless experience online. They can therefore take a fresh approach when venturing into physical. “When they come down to the real world they are not looking at traditional retail metrics, but rather at storytelling. It then becomes a much more interesting experience,” he said.

Customers and employees sit at equal measure

There is a lot of conversation on how to be customer-centric, but the employee satisfaction piece is more important than ever – both to attract the best talent in an increasingly competitive market, but also to create an internal environment that lives and breathes the company’s mission, speakers commented.

In a conversation about building leadership, Levi’s CEO Chip Bergh believes the company taking a stand is not only important for the consumer it serves, but also because it is what his employees expect of him. CEOs, he said, have the responsibility to themselves and to others to give back.

Brandless founder Tina Sharkey agreed, saying its DNA to be purposeful not only helps repeat customers – wherein those who understand their social mission shop 80% more frequently than those who don’t – but employee retention too. “Employees want to work at a place where they feel they have movement and meaning in their work,” she explained.

Patagonia CEO Rose Marcario noted that while the company’s mission statement is a hugely attractive sell to consumers, it has equal importance to its employees. “You have to inspire the people that work for you into a greater and bigger purpose than themselves, and for us it’s saving the planet.”

How are you thinking about retail innovation? We’re all about finding you the perfect partners for your innovation strategy. TheCurrent Global 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 Editor's pick Retail

Community and causes: Highlights from the Fast Company Innovation Festival

Chip Bergh, CEO of Levi Strauss & Co.
Chip Bergh, CEO of Levi Strauss & Co.

Experiences that attract young customers, engaging with the community and taking a stance on social issues were the major topics of conversation at this year’s Fast Company Innovation Festival.

Speaking at the conference, brand experts highlighted the growing importance of listening to their consumers, and reflecting their lifestyles and values.

Shopping as an experience

“Experience today is a younger generation’s currency,” said Daniella Vitale, CEO of Barneys New York. “They’re less motivated by money and more motivated by an authentic experience.” At a panel about the company’s strategy for reaching young customers, Vitale mentioned the success of “The Drop”, an elaborate, experiential program that involved a retail model inspired by streetwear, as well as parties and workshops. “We were willing to forfeit profitability and sales for an incredible experience.”

Vitale stressed, however, that the program ended up generating a huge return on their investment by converting visitors to repeat customers while retaining the ones they already had. ”The Drop is way beyond merchandising. It’s about working with large-scale brands on creating exclusive projects.”

Companies as communities

Tina Sharkey, CEO of FMCG startup company Brandless, says the company thinks of itself less as a company and more like a community, which includes constant communication with its customer base.

Social networks are its go-to channel for those conversations. “We are constantly asking what do they think, what we can do better, what they are looking for?” Sharkey said. “People want to answer these questions because people want to be seen. It amazes me that direct-to-consumer companies think of [social media] as a channel as opposed to a direct relationship.”

For Sharkey, the brand becomes a platform for customers to be heard and for products to tell their own stories. For instance, Brandless does weekly Facebook Live events with its buyers so that customers can ask questions in real time. “Companies shouldn’t be creating false narratives around the products. The products need to be able to speak for themselves. Therefore the quality of the product is foundational.”

Brands weighing in on activism

For Chip Bergh, CEO of Levi Strauss & Co, countries are so politically divided at the moment that CEOs have a great obligation to weigh in on causes. Recently, the company pledged $1M to gun control organizations, as well as signed a letter asking Congress to pass the bipartisan Dream Act. It has also also teamed up with over 200 brands, including Patagonia, in the “Time to Vote” campaign, which grants employees time off to vote.

Levi’s isn’t afraid of losing customers, Bergh said. “When we took action on gun control, I got lots of emails of people saying they would stop buying Levi’s, but I also got thousands of other ones from people saying they would buy even more from us.” The risk seems to be paying off, however. “We’ve had four quarters of double-digit roll growth. That’s on top of last year’s 8% growth. So our business results are actually accelerating.”

Bergh also said that becoming political was never an issue for the talent the company works with. “Having the courage to stand up and take a stand has always been a part of our lifeblood, and it’s who we are. And our employees expect it.”

Are you thinking innovatively enough in your brand messaging? 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.