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business Campaigns e-commerce Editor's pick product Retail

The rise of livestream shopping: From Kim Kardashian to hypebeasts

In the build up to this year’s Singles’ Day event in China (Nov 11), Kim Kardashian West took to TMall to co-host a live streaming shopping session with one of the country’s top-selling influencers, Viya Huang. The event drew in 13 million viewers and helped Kim K sell her entire stock of 15,000 bottles of KKW perfume in just a few minutes.

Broadcasting shopping events have long been a success in Asia, a region that often leapfrogs the West when it comes to responding to its audience’s want-it-now behaviors with digital tools. In 2018, the genre generated $4.4bn in sales in China alone. 

To further put in perspective the success of the feature on TMall, Huang, who joined Kardashian West on-screen during the broadcast, previously broke a record on the platform in October when she sold almost $50m in one day. 

In this case, the benefits of the partnership were twofold: while for Kardashian West it meant tapping into a mature audience and expanding her already huge visibility in Asia, for TMall, this served as a testing ground for its Global Influencer Ecosystem, a program that aims to train and support 2,000 influencers around the world.

Kim Kardashian’s TMall livestream

Live streaming has its origins beyond retail, and is part of a much wider voyeuristic nature the internet helped incubate – from watching people play video games on sites like Twitch, to the huge popularity of unboxing videos on YouTube. 

Brands following suit feels only natural as a result. Sprinkle in some influencer dust, and you’ve got a recipe for success. 

But this fairly new behavior is also an offshoot of a much wider trend for immediacy, or blink-and-you’ll-miss-it tactics that retailers have long deployed with flash sales and limited edition products.

You only need to look at the long-standing popularity of shopping channels like QVC and HSN, which combined brought in $3.1bn in sales during Q1 2019, to find the winning strategy: a charismatic host who sells a single product with a masterful sense of urgency, either focusing on its price or exclusivity, urging viewers to call in. But how do you refresh that model to suit the younger generation whose mobile-first behaviors mean they don’t watch live television, or even pick up the phone?

Enter platforms like NTWRK, a self-described QVC for Gen Z and Millennials, whose second round of funding included the likes of Foot Locker, Live Nation and rapper Drake. The app broadcasts live sessions where hosts, who are often celebrities or musicians, will sell limited edition goods – from sneakers to concert tickets – only available for the duration of the show. This, according to the platform, is “shopping at the speed of culture.” 

NTWRK could also represent the next step in hypebeast – or urban streetwear – culture, adding an extra level of exclusivity now that queueing outside stores has become a secondary market in itself.

Meanwhile H&M’s young brand Monki recently hosted an experience on its own e-commerce site where its fashion editor and a buyer discussed fashion trends and their favorite products of the season, while viewers could shop the products and even replay the video once it had ended.

Monki’s livestream

The popularity of these platforms and one-off events show that appetite is definitely there, much like in Asia. But in order to create a seamless shopping experience and keep customers coming back, brands and tech platforms still have a few kinks to resolve. 

Firstly, there is the issue of internet connection, which will undoubtedly improve once 5G has hit the masses. Then, there is creating a user experience that enables viewers to shop while never having to leave the stream to add their payment information or check out. Lastly, but perhaps most importantly, it will be up to brands and retailers creating these streams to enlist hosts and create experiences that will grab and keep the attention of a notoriously fickle demographic.

It will be interesting to watch this space mature. A trend that is so clearly influenced by a tried-and-tested retail format – TV shopping networks – highlights how innovation is often about evolution, and not reinvention. Finding what works, and updating it to the digitally-led generation.

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 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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Editor's pick product Retail social media

3 ways streetwear is reinventing the product ‘drop’

The streetwear ‘drop’ model of drip-feeding products in order to generate a constant sense of newness is now a tried and tested one. But as luxury brands and retailers borrow from its success recipe, the big question is: is the hype bubble about to burst?

While many of streetwear’s forefathers now claim the once-niche movement is long-dead, brands are still finding different ways to capitalize on such an invested audience. Beyond product releases that draw crowds outside stores at major capitals, from New York to Tokyo, there is a new level of creativity being deployed in order to keep the momentum going.

Here, we highlight the most disruptive ways in which streetwear brands are continuing to achieve the same level of frenzy:

Reinventing the scavenger hunt
Fred Perry x Raf Simons

The traditional ‘drop’ strategy involved feeding the audience with specific release dates and locations, and waiting for the masses of eager streetwear fanatics to show up and queue. But as a system of resale and unfair buying behaviors began to develop, brands had to rethink their strategy.

By gamifying the drop experience, consumers feel a bigger sense of ownership and emotional response to the whole experience – in other words, by making them work for it, they value their purchases, and the brand, more.

At last year’s ComplexCon taking place in Long Beach, California, adidas was arguably the biggest sportswear presence with a number of activation booths throughout. But it took advantage of the larger-than-life venue by deploying giant cubes that hung from the ceiling and facilitated the purchase of limited edition shoes.

Through the ComplexCon app, it told Con-goers of the exact time a new model was about to drop. Users were then encouraged to stand under one of the cubes and scan to gain access to the e-commerce page and proceed to purchase. As a result, before the clock struck every few hours, one could see small crowds gathering under the cubes, hoping to be able to ‘cop’ the shoe before anyone else.

Fred Perry meanwhile, took it to the digital sphere to promote its latest collaboration with Belgian designer Raf Simons. It created a Google Streetview-like experience where, by visiting a virtual map of a suburban English town, users could navigate its empty streets to spot people wearing the latest collection. Once they found someone sporting the new look, they could click it to purchase, and be led to an e-commerce page.

Rewarding post-purchase
Converse’s Chuck Stop café

If digital channels have made it far too easy to get one’s hands on a limited edition item, then brands should also be focusing on the important post-purchase moment as an opportunity for creating longer-term bonds. In doing so, brands are creating a never-ending cycle of engagement, with a clear reward keeping fans coming back for more.

To promote Air Max Day, Nike’s yearly celebration of the Air Max shoe, the brand launched a virtual store where limited edition items could only be accessed if the consumer showed proof they had already purchased the latest model of the shoe in the first place. Logging in a purchase number generated Air Max ‘credits’ that were put into a virtual wallet, which then allowed access to items such as bottles, socks and stickers.

Meanwhile, when launching the latest iteration of its much-hyped collaboration with Off-White last October, Converse rewarded consumers with access to an exclusive experience at Selfridges in London. Any consumer wearing any item of Chuck Taylor clothing, and having bought the new shoes at sneaker retailer Offspring’s concession at the store, were given a Converse “coffee loyalty card”.

This granted them access to the Chuck Stop café, where they could enjoy a drink and a bagel, pick up freebies like tote bags and socks, and add their own graffiti to a wall.

Tapping into social
Nike x HQ Trivia’s limited edition kicks

Social media is arguably the most important driver of the popularity of streetwear – from enabling users to discover and covet new brands or products, as well as connecting labels to a larger community that keep their popularity going.

Ultimate rivals Nike and adidas are often the first ones to tap into new channels of engagement, in a constant battle for the top spot in positive consumer sentiment (and spending). Last year, amid the craze surrounding live gaming app HQ Trivia, Nike sponsored a live game that included access to exclusive shoes and a cash giveaway of $100,000. Previously, it had taken to Snapchat to pre-release Air Jordans at an NBA after-party in Los Angeles. Only guests on-site could scan Snapcodes to gain access to purchase.

Adidas has also played with Snapchat, and recently used Apple’s “AirDrop” functionality on the iPhone to gift attendees at Coachella Valley Music Festival with a new shoe collaboration with musician Donald Glover (also known as Childish Gambino).

Also leveraging social is NTWRK, a new social media platform by Aaron Levant, the former founder of Complexcon. Dubbed as the “HSN of streetwear” and with ambitions to become a full-on entertainment platform, the app works by broadcasting live bite-sized ‘shows’ that feature exclusive product drops. Users who wish to get their hands on product, which includes collabs with the likes of Levi’s and New Balance, need to log into the app at the exact time the show airs.

How are you thinking about retail and product innovation? We’re all about finding you the perfect partners to do so. The Current 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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Podcast Retail

StockX on creating a streetwear platform inspired by the stock market

“If you’re dealing with finite supply, then you need to understand demand to figure out what it is people are willing to pay,” says Josh Luber, founder of streetwear online marketplace, StockX, on the latest episode of the Innovators podcast by TheCurrent Global.

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

“What brands have historically relied on is the concept of mass chaos and taking advantage of that hype (…) But having a pair of Off-White Jordans that retail for $490 but resell for $2400 and just relying on bots and chaos in order to distribute it is an illogical and broken system,” he explains.

Luber’s platform, which in 2018 took on $44m in investment from Google, among others, launched in 2016 to level the playing field between buyers and sellers in a retail landscape that seems to enjoy feeding off an endless cycle of streetwear FOMO and having the latest, hottest sneaker on the market.

The re-sale market used to be a Wild West, Luber explains, but data and technology are now being deployed in order to better value these products and provide an unforeseen level of transparency and fairness to both sellers and buyers. Inspired by how the traditional stock market works, the platform tracks product demand and pricing across the web in order to sell it in real time. This, as well as a tool that displays an itemized history of transactions of a product, balances the power dynamic between sellers and buyer, which historically sided with the seller and how much they wanted to sell their product for.

Liz Bacelar and StockX’s Josh Luber

StockX’s success is also hugely indicative of how a one-time underground industry that was powered by its community and word-of-mouth access, is becoming increasingly structured in order to cater to more mature and educated consumers. In other words, the larger it becomes, the more it needs the infrastructure to support it.

During this conversation with TheCurrent Global’s Liz Bacelar, Luber explains how his background as an entrepreneur and IBM consultant, led him to StockX, how the platform’s customer is evolving, and why discovery is playing such a huge role in its future plans.

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 Editor's pick Events product

ComplexCon: key takeaways from the streetwear mecca

Takashi Murakami at ComplexCon
Takashi Murakami at ComplexCon 2018

Now in its third year, Complexcon, a consumer-focused event targeting streetwear fanatics, took place to much expected hype last weekend in Long Beach, California.

The event, which is a spin-off of media company Complex, focused on feeding its Gen Z and Millennial community through a series of retail experiences, activations and panel discussions. Here we highlight the key takeaways of the weekend:

Retail frenzy

An adidas cube at ComplexCon
An adidas cube at ComplexCon 2018

For the consumer, the biggest goal of the two-day event was to shop, plain and simple. But for an audience that is prone to forming lines outside of stores for days before a drop, brands had to think creatively on how to create shopping experiences that blended that thrill of the chase with physical and digital tools.

Adidas was arguably the biggest name on the floor, hosting two experiences – one which involved a physical booth and another which took visitors on a wild goose chase for physical cubes that unlocked a new sneaker drop every hour. These gigantic cubes were seen throughout the venue, and on the hour, the user had to stand under the cube to scan it using the Complexcon app to unlock the ability to shop for the specific style. Unsurprisingly, Adidas fanatics were seen standing under the cube for hours before their preferred drop would take place.

Gradual product drops kept the customer engaged and most importantly, wanting to attend both days of the Con for fear of missing out. Reebok’s booth featured perspex cubes filled with fog, while timers underneath each individual plinth counted down the hours until the content inside the cube (a sneaker) was revealed.

The festival also teamed up with Frenzy, a location-based drop app, to allow consumers to shop for exclusive collabs through their phones while at the venue. The fulfilment of that experience left room for improvement, however, as shoppers could only pick up their goods four hours after purchase, a wait which for many stretched to 24 hours.

Experiential moments

HBO's The Shop
HBO’s The Shop at ComplexCon 2018

In such a noisy environment of endless queues and product drops, independent brands worked hard to stand out with booths that encouraged discovery and social sharing. Cult streetwear label Lotas, for example, chose to spend its budget not on an attractive booth, but by casting a group of The Sopranos lookalikes to play poker throughout, creating an unusual opportunity for visitors to snap and share.

The Pangaia, a global collective investigating the future of sustainable clothing, showcased its inaugural collection among a floor of empty plastic bottles, encouraging visitors to dispose of the same as they walked past. On Sunday, the collective also co-hosted a beach clean-up nearby with the support of ComplexCon.

Meanwhile beyond fashion, brands across food, automotive and media were on hand to talk about the bigger lifestyle that this community is a part of. Cadillac created a booth that showcased one of its models amid a digital jungle of screens and a photo backdrop; similar to SXSW, HBO recreated the classic barbershop experience to promote the launch of LeBron James’s new unscripted series, The Shop, featuring free haircuts and sneaker cleaning; and to promote the release of Creed II, guests could join in a VR experience, as well as watch boxing matches taking place in a life-sized ring.

Finally, McDonald’s quickly became a fan favorite as it hosted a customization station with special guests and, most importantly, free hamburgers for all.

Practical conversations

Issa Rae at ComplexCon 2018
Issa Rae at ComplexCon 2018

Conversations on the floor flip-flopped between who ‘copped’ the latest drop and what new endeavor someone may have been working on, from promoting their new podcast to monetizing their photography work. As a result, ComplexCon worked hard to promote conversations that had an underlying entrepreneurial spirit and was particularly relevant to the younger generation that is multifaceted in their goals.

“How to make it in America”, saw entrepreneur and social media star Gary Vaynerchuk talking about how to avoid the pitfalls and be part of the small percentage that does succeed in the country. Meanwhile actresses Issa Rae and Yara Shahidi, joined a conversation on females in media and how to overcome hurdles and balance public and personal life. And Louis Vuitton and Off White designer, Virgil Abloh, brought on stage three designers he believes are the next generation of fashion.

The spirit of giving visitors the tools to succeed and thrive also permeated throughout the festival booths. Entrepreneur Karen Civil was on hand at the Simple Mobile stand to offer one-to-one career advice, while the festival’s creative director, Japanese artist Takashi Murakami, worked with six relatively unknown footwear designers to reimagine his artwork on limited edition sneakers, which were being auctioned off on eBay.

How are you thinking about innovation? We’re all about helping you build innovative integrations and experiences. TheCurrent is a consultancy transforming how fashion, beauty and consumer retail brands intersect with technology, powered by a network of top startups. Get in touch to learn more.

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product Retail

Justin Timberlake pop-up cements the mass appeal of hipster tour merch

Justin Timberlake and Heston Preston at the pop-up
Justin Timberlake and Heston Preston at the pop-up

To promote the launch of his fifth album titled “Man of the Woods”, pop singer Justin Timberlake has hosted a NYC pop-up offering products developed through several brand collaborations.

Inside the Wooster St, Soho space, visitors encountered a hipster and nostalgically American aesthetic, similar to Timberlake’s personal style reinvention. Walls were framed with branches, while burgundy rugs and comfortable chairs lined the space. Products were then displayed against a white wall on hooks, plinths and shelves, accompanied by museum-like plaques.

Customers could only order items on display by filling out a paper form, thus giving the shopping experience a more exclusive touch.

Available to buy were one item per song in the album, which included: a Lucchese workman’s boot inspired by “Young Man”, a letter to the singer’s son; a Levi’s flannel jacket inspired by “Montana”; a Moleskine notepad inspired by “Say Something”; and a Pendleton blanket inspired by “Morning Light”.

Also on display was a Nike Air Jordan 3s collaboration with legendary Nike designer Tinker Hatfield, inspired by the fifth track, “Higher, Higher”. The shoe was first available for purchase on Nike’s SNKRS app during Timberlake’s Super Bowl LII half-time show on February 4, and it will go back on sale once the singer’s tour commences.

Adding to the momentum, the singer also worked with Heston Preston, a designer who consulted on early seasons of Kanye West’s Yeezy and has worked with the likes of Nike and Nasa, to design the tour’s apparel (such as t-shirts and hoodies).

Over the last couple of years, artists such as Jay Z, Frank Ocean and Justin Bieber have leveraged hype beast culture to stimulate similar buzz with temporary retail environments promoting their upcoming tours or album releases. Launched in 2016, Kanye West’s “Life of Pablo” album pop-ups across multiple cities elevated the artist’s merchandise to cult-like status, and ignited a much-needed refresh of artist merchandise.

Justin Timberlake’s “Man of the Woods” pop-up

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Comment Editor's pick technology

Is technology going out of fashion? Why it’s quieter than ever on this season’s catwalks

Gigi Hadid in Tommy Hilfiger's LA fashion week show  - technology innovation
Gigi Hadid in Tommy Hilfiger’s LA fashion week show

Despite some connected clothing here, a spot of mixed reality there, there’s largely been little in the way of technology in action this fashion week season. Not literally of course – behind the scenes, tech is working harder than ever to push the latest shows out to a widening consumer audience – but the role of innovation has made a serious shift away from big tech hits in recent times.

Over the past few years, tech has been the way to grab attention – we’ve seen everything from drones, holograms, virtual reality, wearables and more making their way down the New York, London, Milan and Paris runways. Who could forget Google Glass at Diane von Furstenberg, virtual reality windows at Topshop or the holographic Polo Ralph Lauren show? And that’s before you think about the likes of Burberry pioneering the way with endless partnerships with tech giants Apple, Google, Facebook and Twitter.

Such a focus wasn’t brand new (the infamous robotic spray-paint scene from Alexander McQueen takes us back to before today’s connected age – nearly 20 years ago to spring/summer 1999), but it exploded in the social media era, becoming the defacto way to draw headlines, whether it was for the first live streams or indeed those big budget campaigns.

But in the centre of all that, in some instances because of it, the very notion of fashion week has changed. Today, the industry is battling with an event series that has become consumer facing while it’s still set up to deliver primarily to a trade (wholesale) model. What appears on the catwalks is generally speaking six-months ahead of it hitting stores. The result is supposed consumer fatigue, greater fast fashion copycats and more pressure than ever on turnover, margins and more. The big question now is not only whether that should change, but how. Enter the “see-now, buy-now” movement from those able to be more agile in their production timelines, including Burberry, Tommy Hilfiger, Tom Ford, Rebecca Minkoff, Topshop Unique and more.

Burberry's February 2017 LFW show  - innovation technology
Burberry’s February 2017 LFW show

But the follow-up question that then brings, is if we start selling to consumers now what does that mean for how things are marketed in real-time?

The simple answer, really, is to step away from the tech-for-tech’s-sake stuff; the attention grabbing initiatives without any substance behind them. That concept can still be achieved in other ways – with set designs, with political statements, with genuinely incredible collections. Today’s focus instead seems to be moving to conversion rates – to selling. And importantly, less on gimmicks.

It’s still very early days with this consumer-facing movement, and we’re just bedding in with the first iterations of it, let alone have any true measurement to compare. But, as one big British brand told me off the record this London Fashion Week: “If you have a line to push immediately, your efforts and budgets are going to go to that – to directing consumers into how to shop, not in something else that’s merely a brand move.”

What we did see in technology this season was accordingly driven by what would indeed impact the end shopper. There were chatbots once more from the likes of Burberry and Tommy Hilfiger. There was also an immediately shoppable initiative on Instagram from Rebecca Minkoff in partnership with LiketoKnow.it.

“Our customers love when we create unique experiences for them. More than just shopping, they get to be a part of our brand and we get to know them in a more meaningful way,” said Minkoff. “Collaborating with LiketoKnow.it empowers us to take that to a global audience by giving them immediate access to the same content and products that those attending in person are seeing, and that’s a very powerful opportunity.” She also introduced connected handbags to draw in certain shoppers to a unique experience of the show via a digital ticket.

The new connected #AlwaysOn Midnighter handbag from Rebecca Minkoff - innovation technology
The new connected handbag from Rebecca Minkoff

Tommy Hilfiger then introduced a visual search tool with Slyce – an app called Tommyland Snap:Shop that enabled users to take pictures of the models to pull up the e-commerce link to that item.

Both Minkoff and Hilfiger, who each showed in LA this season, otherwise focused heavily on the idea of full consumer entertainment as well as a significant influencer plug-in. The recognition here is that it’s about getting in front of the right consumers, and spending money to do it.

And this isn’t just a fashion week move. You can see the same with social media. It’s not about gimmicky campaigns anymore – when was the last time you called something on Facebook an innovation? It’s more about integration. It’s about decent budgets and shifting the needle on ROI.

It’s a similar story at retail, with fewer campaigns focused on technology in the store. That doesn’t mean there’s actually less tech in-store – but there’s a redirection towards the sort of tech that matters.

Speaking at the recent Commerce 2020 summit in London, Malcolm Pinkerton, VP of e-commerce and digital retail insights at Kantar Retail, said: “[In recent years] we’ve seen stores flooded with technology hoping it would digitise the experience, but it was hard to do and expensive to maintain. Now we’ve realised we can build solutions around what people bring in with them – mobile.”

Sabinna's LFW show was shot for mixed reality - technology innovation
Sabinna’s LFW show was shot for mixed reality

Innovation today is happening in that somewhat quieter fashion. Chatbots might still be nascent, but it makes sense they’re being experimented with – forget drones on the catwalk, why not offer personalised access to it through an AI-enabled smartphone experience? It’s for that same reason we’re seeing virtual reality and mixed reality content continuing during the shows – dipping a toe into where the future of interactive (and shoppable) content is moving.

The fact is, technology shouldn’t be a “brand move” anymore. It needs to work for who your customer is, where she is, and when. On that basis, it shifts from a headline, to a standard part of what you do. All year round.

That’s not to say there’s no place for innovation anymore. Far from it. It’s perhaps more necessary today, than ever. In this sort of market, the question increasingly becomes how do you stand out – especially if you don’t have Tommy Hilfiger-size budgets? And even if you do, how is that sustainable? On that basis, it’s about shifting the very fundamental underpinning of the business, not just the press release topline.

It’s about truly keeping ahead of the curve by disrupting the way you’ve always operated. Innovation today isn’t necessarily about the flashiest moves, but the smartest. Innovating in the supply chain, in the personalised customer experience via mobile, even eventually more and more through the fabrications themselves, is where we’ll start seeing real movements.

So is tech going out of fashion? No, but the thing to remember is that innovation is no longer just a marketing play; it’s an entire business mentality.