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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 sustainability Uncategorized

Patagonia is in the business to save the planet, says CEO Rose Marcario?

 

As climate change becomes real, Patagonia is striving to do more good, rather than just less harm, said its CEO, Rose Marcario, at NRF’s Big Show in New York yesterday.

“Patagonia is in the business to save our home planet,” reads the outerwear brand’s updated mission statement.

In the 90s the company’s strategy around sustainability was considered groundbreaking because supply chain wasn’t so much in the consumer’s mind, she adds. But with consumers being more informed than ever and climate change becoming increasingly tangible –  as the recent fires in California have shown – brands should strive to be much more proactive. 

The California-based company has been working on its activism for the past 35 years, but recently it has upped its efforts in speaking up for environmental issues, and supporting its consumers to do the same.

“The reality is we have been proportionally responding to what’s happening,” explains Marcario, rather than making a conscious effort to be louder. For example, it recently donated $10m from tax cuts it received from the Trump administration to environmental causes. It also openly backed two political candidates in Nevada and Montana who had sustainability at the core of their campaigns, and launched the Patagonia Action Works platform, enabling its community to give back locally. 

One could argue that being sustainable is a risky move. Marcario however believes the brand’s success has been a natural evolution, as it started as a catalog company in the 70s and therefore has always had a close relationship with the consumer. “For us it hasn’t been a big risk. We’ve been funding activism for three decades,” she adds, saying that so far the company has given over $100m dollars to grassroots environmental programs, partly because it knows how little funding goes towards environmental NGOs.

The future of the planet is not entirely bleak, however. Although some brands are still nervous to step out of their comfort zones, Marcario believes a lot of them recognize the importance of working together in order to address more transparent supply chains as well as wider activism. For example, Patagonia and 400 other companies recently participated in the Time to Vote campaign, which gave employees time off to vote on the midterm elections in the US. As for climate change, when President Trump pulled the country out of the Paris Climate Agreement, a lot of US companies vouched to remain in.

“Anybody who is running a business recognizes it is important to keep going, and the cautionary tale is: don’t just stop on the first level,” Marcario says. “Keep asking questions and go deeper.”

How are you thinking about sustainability? We’re all about finding you the perfect partners for your sustainability 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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Editor's pick Retail Uncategorized

The future of retail is collaboration, says Story’s Rachel Shechtman

If the future of retail could be summed up in one word, it is collaboration, says Story founder and Macy’s brand experience officer Rachel Schechtman. Speaking at a panel chaired by Macy’s CEO Jeff Gennette at NRF’s Big Show in New York today, Shechtman outlined how she is translating her successful retail concept to the American company 18 months into the new role, with a key focus on curation and scalability.

Working with such a large legacy retailer comes with a different set of challenges, but for Shechtman, it is important to retain the parameters that she applies to her successful NY-based concept, where its theme and product assortment changes every six weeks. Collaboration for her isn’t ever about simply merchandise, but rather strategic partnerships that become part of the storytelling Story has become known for.

When choosing a partner, she asks three questions: will this partner add authority and authenticity to the category in which they exist? Do they create a product that is relevant to a subset of men, women or children? And lastly, do they like them? The latter might sound simple, but when doing things that are pushing the envelope, it is important to have affinity with who you’re working with, she says.

There is no one-size-fits-all mentality to her approach, however, and the most important litmus test is: are customers receiving an experience the they cannot get on their couch? Focusing on strong staff training and visual merchandising allows the retailer to create a story around the product which will undoubtably lure the customer into the physical space, she says.

Shechtman has been attending the Macy’s university, she says, since beginning her new role, understanding how the brand’s culture and DNA affects the retail experience. Her in-house team is focused on three main strategies in order to translate the success that Story has achieved, but at a much wider scale. Firstly, they are looking at how to show up differently for their customers, presented within a Macy’s environment, both by testing and creating new processes. Secondly, engaging with 300+ colleagues within the organization and allowing them to become co-creators of this new experience in order to make it sustainable and scalable in the long run. Lastly is the important piece of partnerships, and how to maintain that value proposition when working with a company that has millions of social followers and store windows all over the country.

With internet democratisation and customer needs changing, collaboration and learning from what other businesses can offer is the way forward, concludes Shechtman. It’s about always thinking strategically about who you work with, and what the end result means for the customer experience.

How are you thinking about retail innovation? We’re all about finding you the perfect partners to do so. 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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Editor's pick Events sustainability Uncategorized

Eileen Fisher on sustainability being key to long-term customer loyalty

Customers care about fit and style, but sustainability is an important added bonus that leads to loyalty, said Amy Hall, VP of social consciousness at Eileen Fisher at NRF’s Big Show in New York yesterday.

“If it’s not beautiful and it doesn’t fit them well, we’re not going to make the sale,” adds Hall, who has been with the womenswear label for 25 years. For its clientele, finding out products are made with eco materials in ethical factories is the icing on the cake and helps them attach a much more long lasting value to the brand.

Hall was speaking on a panel about sustainability’s new surge in popularity alongside Eileen Mockus, president and CEO of sustainable home textiles brand Coyuchi and Jason Wachob, founder and CEO of wellness platform mindbodygreen. Mockus agrees that customers are still initially drawn to a great product, and if there is a good story attached to it, it creates a longer term relationship.

The panel also touched on the importance of helping customers create an emotional connection with environmental issues. Customers don’t respond emotionally to a big, abstract issue like climate change, for example, but rather operate from a ‘me first’ mentality, says Wachob. Showing how their consumption habits may impact other human beings down the supply chain, for example, can be much more effective, adds Hall.

Sustainability is having a moment because it not only creates very positive brand associations for the consumer, but from an innovation standpoint, it is leading the charge in the fashion industry. But there are plenty of pitfalls to this booming industry, the panel argues. Hall highlights the certification system, for example, wherein there is a lot of confusion and fraud, which she believes is leading to up to half of certifications being fake or inaccurate.

In an environment where a select group of players are making strides but a much larger group is simply making noise, it is important to know how to focus. Hall suggests that brands should start with one thing, such as changing how a product is shipped, and tick it off their list before working their way up. As consumers become increasingly informed on the issue, so will their demands on how every step of the journey can play an important part in ensuring a more sustainable future.

How are you thinking about sustainability? We’re all about finding you the perfect partners to do so. 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.