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Innovation Mansion brings “human factor” to NRF

The Current Global’s Innovation Mansion came to New York last weekend exploring how retail’s future needs to focus on technology and humans working as one.

Attended by c-suite executives from Fortune 500 companies and the world’s leading brands, the experiential activation aligned with NRF’s Big Show event happening this week.

Under the theme of “The Human Factor”, it examined the techniques used by top innovators, showcased rising technologies and explored how tech can deliver personalization, experience and convenience while being increasingly led by emotion.

One of the highlights was a live Innovators podcast recording with retail trailblazer, Ron Johnson, who is best known as the man behind the Apple store and the Genius Bar concept, and then CEO of JC Penney. Today, he is the founder and CEO of Enjoy, an e-commerce company that aims to reinvent the last mile.

Speaking to Current Global’s co-founder and CEO, Liz Bacelar, Johnson discussed the importance of deepening relationships with consumers at every step of the shopping journey. He explained how he believes the future of commerce is mobile retail, and how he is focusing on helping premium brands deliver joy and convenience to the consumer’s home.

Co-founder & CEO of Camp, Ben Kaufman and Co-founder & CEO of Current Global, Liz Bacelar

Meanwhile Ben Kaufman, co-founder and CEO of family store Camp, and former CMO of Buzzfeed, talked on the podcast about how his retail concept is using the winning recipe of merchandise, theatre and experience. Described as the “Speakeasy for kids”, the store brings a fresh perspective to traditional brick-and-mortar, with a rotating schedule of activities and themes, allowing customers to always find something new.

“We find a way to integrate productive retail space into even the big immersive experiential set pieces,” he explained to Bacelar, demonstrating how every square foot of the store is used to its best potential. 

Wrapping up the day was a panel focused on direct-to-consumer brands. It featured sunscreen brand Supergoop!, DTC incubator dtx company and retail concept SHOWFIELDS. The discussion explored how to build a brand for modern consumers, who see no boundaries between physical and digital.

Guests also had the opportunity to explore the latest technologies set to transform your business in 2020 with “The Hot 12” tech exhibit from Current Global, which included everything from smart mirrors to cutting-edge vending machines.

Look out for our Innovators podcast episodes with Enjoy’s Johnson and Camp’s Kaufman, publishing soon. Meanwhile, subscribe here to keep up with the latest episodes.

A special thank you to our content partner Bellwether Culture and partners United Talent Agency and Membrain.

Want to know more about how our technology partners can help you reach your innovation goals? 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.

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Editor's pick Podcast Retail technology

How Tim Kobe shaped Apple and the future of retail

Rachel Arthur and Tim Kobe
Rachel Arthur and Tim Kobe

The type of experiences a retailer brings to their stores shouldn’t be determined by what the competition is doing, but ultimately what’s relevant to each brand, argues Tim Kobe, founder and CEO of strategic design firm Eight Inc, on the latest episode of TheCurrent Innovators podcast.

Kobe is known as the designer behind the original Apple store, which arguably paved the way for what modern day customer experience in retail looks like. But his view is that too many brands are jumping on the “experience” bandwagon because their peers are, and not thinking about how important it is to be sincere to their values.

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“People have started to expect that the values that the brand is standing for, the thing its known for, is going to come through in the experience,” he explains. It’s only by doing so that will you create experiences consumers want to share, he notes.

He’s been doing that since he founded Eight Inc in 1989 and first worked with Apple, under the direction of late founder Steve Jobs, in 1996. His focus was on moving the store from “a transaction space into a culture space”.

Retail has of course evolved significantly since then, largely thanks to the evolution of technology, e-commerce and the mobile devices shoppers now carry everyday. But what hasn’t changed is human connection, Kobe explains.

“To me the human interaction supercedes all of the tech, all of the AI… I use the iPod as an example. No one remembers how much memory it had, no one remembers how many centimetres thick it was, or millimetres – what they remember is a 1,000 songs in your pocket. It goes back to, ultimately, any product has values if it delivers on human outcomes.”

It’s for that very reason, he argues that the future of retail has to be about the future of human interactions. “[It’s about] understanding what people are doing and how they’re interacting with one another… We have to get back to understanding a bit more about the most successful human interactions that you can create. Put the technology in the background, put it behind, but let the human interactions and that contact be the thing that we get smarter at, the thing that we get better at.”

In this episode with TheCurrent’s Rachel Arthur, he also talks about the idea of “monochannel retail”, which is all about using digital and physical spaces simultaneously, dives into his work in China with brands including Xiaomi and Lincoln, and explains just how brands can get past the format fatigue we’re seeing in stores worldwide today.

Catch up with all of our episodes of TheCurrent Innovators here. The series is a weekly conversation with visionaries, executives and entrepreneurs. It’s backed by TheCurrent, 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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Editor's pick Retail technology

Cannes Lions 2018: Apple’s Angela Ahrendts on the human side of retail

Angela Ahrendts of Apple at Cannes Lions
Angela Ahrendts of Apple at Cannes Lions

“We decided it was important that the largest tech company in the world, makes the largest investment in humans in the world,” said Angela Ahrendts, SVP of retail at Apple, at the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity this week, with regards to her ‘Today at Apple’ initiative.

The scheme, which picked up the Brand Experience & Activation Grand Prix at the festival’s awards last night, sees 18,000 events held in Apple stores around the world every week. The focus particularly is on education, both in terms of helping consumers understand technology, but also the creative or liberal arts.

This links back to something founder Steve Jobs said in 2011: “It is in Apple’s DNA that technology alone is not enough—it’s technology married with liberal arts, married with the humanities, that yields us the results that make our heart sing.”

As a result, the teams at retail had to evolve too. While Ahrendts has been leading a mass redesign of the stores to what are now referred to as “town squares”, in a bid to drive a sense of community, she has also been rethinking who services those spaces.

The renowned Apple Geniuses continue to exist, but so too do new “creative pros” as a result. These are to the liberal arts what the genius is to technology, she explained. Today there are 3,500 of them worldwide, who all teach everything from photography to art, music and design skills in store.

“These people are our secret sauce,” Ahrendts explained. “This is something Apple has, and Amazon or Alibaba doesn’t: people on the front line.” What’s key is that they are hired for their empathy, rather than their ability to sell. In fact, no one who works at Apple is on any quotas or commission, which is also something that goes back to Steve Jobs’ original vision.

“He told all of the original employees when he opened the first Apple stores, that they weren’t allowed to sell, that their job was to enrich lives and they had to do so through the lens of education,” Ahrendts outlined.

That objective is currently rolling out worldwide, with Apple upping the size of its retail footprint (doubling and tripling some of the existing ones in the process) in order to make space for the boardrooms and educational forums accordingly. Upcoming new openings include a legacy theatre renovation in Milan, a five-storey flagship on the Champs Élysées in Paris, and a reworking of the Washington Carnegie Library in DC.

Retail isn’t dying, said Ahrendts, but it’s evolving fast and it’s only through focusing on human needs that you can today survive. Apple dedicates 40% of its staff hours to service and support and a third of its square footage, she noted. All of that is aiming to cement the notion of the company being primarily a “human” business.