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business Comment data e-commerce Editor's pick Retail Startups technology

Buy, build or partner: A new model of working with startups

Earlier this summer Nike announced it was acquiring AI startup, Celect, in order to “beef up its predictive analytics strengths”. It’s a smart move. A data move. Like all things artificial intelligence, this solution needs a lot of consumer or retail data to get smarter. And Nike, with its $36.4 billion in revenue last year, has a lot of data. 

A tech acquisition is a complicated beast that comes with as many challenges as it does advantages. And it should not be seen as an innovation silver bullet by most corporates. 

Take augmented reality by comparison for instance, an area where we’ve seen multiple acquisitions over the past couple of years. This space is changing so rapidly, the tech you buy is almost immediately obsolete. There is higher image quality every day, new capabilities in what it can read – like skin diagnostics and not just makeup in beauty for instance – and constant challenges to stay ahead in the market as a result. 

For a company that has pulled such startups in-house, there needs to be serious commitment to advance the technology. Unfortunately, what tends to happen is that a lot of the potential development work gets lost. A startup on the outside, by comparison, has to keep evolving in an aggressive way in order to survive. But how can an acquired startup remain competitive if they can’t seek out your competitors as clients? 

Another approach to innovation is building, where brands create solutions in-house, or with agency partners, from the get go. More often than not, this sort of work comes under the experiential header: a tech solution based on the creative. What we frequently see as a result, is big investments (six figures and above) for little return due to the fact the technology just doesn’t rise to the task. 

Not that there aren’t successes within all this – there are many examples of building solutions internally, especially foundational or backend tech – that do make sense. But in our experience with the companies we work with and have gotten to know, it often doesn’t work. Even for basic technology needs, building in-house can frequently be met with many of the same challenges as an acquisition does, namely the fact progress and development gets caught up in the politics and daily grind of everyday business. 

It doesn’t matter what size of organization you are in this case either. We work with large public companies that are leaders in the industry – and we see the same challenges time and again. Things don’t evolve quickly enough and objectives are not met. Eventually, no one is watching that investment any more and innovation gets a bad rep. 

So we believe in a third option. 

With the challenges presented by buying and building, not to mention a lack of progress in internal culture making room for innovation to be successful, we decided to create a platform for partnerships. This middle step is known as open innovation. 

Very simply, this is about setting objectives internally, creating a blueprint of what you want, and then searching exhaustively for the best external partners that fulfil that brief. 

One of the benefits of this tends to lie in the quality of output you receive. When working with an outside partner – particularly at the startup level – a new large corporate client could become the centrepiece to the startup’s growth. This often means the team will continue to update the product and guard its integration after launch. It becomes part of their story. Having the chance to work with an established brand or retailer is almost sacred to an entrepreneur, which is a very different mindset to what you may find in an employee. 

But startups struggle to deliver work ethic with a full understanding of execution needs, deadlines and ability to navigate the red tape in corporations that could hold back the project. That’s why we believe open innovation is most successful when it comes with an assigned partnership manager. Our ultimate role is about providing the framework that can lead to success. 

What we’re increasingly being asked for more recently however, and thus now offering, is essentially a hybrid model – one that is all about partnerships, but unique ones that more closely align with the optimal version of building. This is where we start talking about having your cake and eating it too. 

Many companies have figured out that working with curated top startups is the most cost-effective and efficient option. But then last year, we started to see a new conversation emerging around the fact that often what retail executives look for just doesn’t exist as yet. The kind of solution you have in mind is not what is being pitched to you. You look at all the possible startups in the space and all of them are missing that one thing. You don’t want an incomplete approach. You want the full package.

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 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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Campaigns Retail

Magnum partners with Benefit for interactive pop-up in Shanghai

Magnum hosted a temporary beauty store in partnership with Benefit offering products and experiential activities to celebrate the launch of its new premium flavor range.

Taking place at the Réel Mall in Shanghai the pop-up made use of augmented reality and an interactive LED wall to bring its “Release your Beast” theme to life. A lion, polar bear, leopard and tiger were viewable as 3D characters, which visitors could take pictures with in a photobooth and then share on social media.

At the Benefit Beauty Bar, guests could test the brand’s latest products and book make-up artists. The environment included life-sized Benefit eyebrow pens and giant customized ice-cream installations.

The pop-up had a total of seven zones with a variety of activities. It attracted around 25,000 guests during the time it was open (May 24 to June 9).

Magnum has used the concept of “Release the Beast” in a couple of campaigns. In 2017, it teamed-up with fashion brand Moschino for a film on the theme starring Cara Delevingne and Jeremy Scott. Before that, to launch the Magnum Double ice cream in Singapore, it asked guests to release the beast of their passions in fashion, art, music and taste.

How are you thinking about immersive experiences? Want to learn more about how we worked with Google? The Current Global is a consultancy transforming how fashion 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 hear more.

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business Editor's pick sustainability

Evian taps Virgil Abloh for sustainable innovation role

Virgil Abloh

Multi-faceted designer, Virgil Abloh, has a new gig; this time as a creative advisor for sustainable innovation design at mineral water company, Evian.

The American designer, who is the founder of Off-White and creative director of Louis Vuitton menswear, will be helping the brand make its design process more sustainable.

“Evian is an iconic brand with a strong heritage in fashion and creativity,” said Abloh in a statement. “Its sustainability ambitions align with my own. Together we can push boundaries and explore new areas of revolution, paving a better future for generations globally.”

The appointment is part of a wider sustainability initiative that the French company is pledging to achieve over the next few years, focusing on three main areas: water resource, carbon and plastic. This includes becoming a carbon neutral brand by 2020, and becoming a 100% circular company by 2025 by making all of its plastic bottles from 100% recycled plastics.

“We want to use the power of our global brand to take a leadership position and drive collaboration across the industry,” said Patricia Oliva, VP of marketing at Evian. “We’re committed to move the mindset of today’s generation from ‘we can’ to ‘we do’.”

Abloh’s involvement not only entails helping Evian design future products, but “use his wide-scale platform to engage his audience and raise awareness around the importance of innovation in design and sustainability”.

Aligning with the new approach, the partnership was announced on Instagram, a platform highly popular amongst Abloh’s younger fanbase, with Evian posting a business card using the designer’s now-staple quotation marks. The choice of teaming up with a name in fashion also reflects how the industry is increasingly being seen for its efforts in sustainability, encouraging other lifestyle brands to follow suit.

“Virgil is a creative innovator who has a degree in civil engineering and a CV that includes everything from creative direction to award-winning fashion design,” said Oliva. “Virgil is the embodiment of the next generation’s possibilities.”

The designer’s first project for the water company will be unveiled during fashion month in February and March.

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

Ikea unveils new collaborations with adidas, Lego and Sonos

A rug by IKEA x Virgil Abloh

Ikea has unveiled a series of upcoming collaborations that will further cement the Swedish brand in the realm of enabling a design-conscious, and in some instances more sustainable, lifestyle for its customers.

The collaborations, which will launch from now up to 2020, will include pioneering names such as toy giant Lego, sportswear brand Adidas and audio line Sonos, on top of the previously publicized collections with designer Virgil Abloh and fragrance label Byredo.

The announcement was made at this year’s Democratic Design Days, an annual event during which the brand talks through its design and product development goals to a group of 500+ journalists.

At the event, Marcus Engman, Ikea’s head designer, unveiled that the collaborations aim to highlight the company’s forward-thinkingness, saying: “They’re things that are not so familiar at Ikea, and I love that. It’s good to push the boundaries.”

Home and lifestyle

A collaboration with artist Olafur Eliasson and his company Little Sun, which provides solar-powered lights for people with no access to electricity, will develop solar products and also look to develop projects involving solar power and water consumption.

“We’re all sitting here consuming power. What would it feel like if we didn’t have it?” said Eliasson, explaining that the Ikea involvement is a great way to bring that problem to a larger audience. “It’s about getting people to understand these problems and to ask, ‘What can I do to take a more active step?’”

With audio brand Sonos, it is set to create a range of more affordable speakers that merge Sonos’ Wi-Fi-enabled devices with Ikea’s Trådfris range of smart devices, with a focus on bringing a more design-led audio experience to the home, which includes getting rid of unnecessary wires.

Meanwhile, launching summer 2019, Ikea’s party line with Stockholm-based software company Teenage Engineering, will see products ranging from speakers and light devices to glassware.

Following the 2017 Ikea Play Report which revealed 47% of children want more playtime with their parents, and that 90% of parents believe play is essential to wellbeing and happiness, the company is also teaming up with Lego. Although details are not available at this point, the companies highlight there is a strong synergy in their knowledge of the importance of encouraging fun and creativity.

IKEA x Teenage Engineering

Fashion and design

Beyond the Virgil Abloh collaboration, other fashion and design-focused partnerships include an upcoming Adidas collection that will explore exercising in the home, and how both brands can better support that behaviour; working with Byredo on a line of home fragrances launching in 2020; a partnership with African creative company Design Indaba and 10 African artists on a line of textiles and tabletop goods; and a collection with Saint Heron, a multidisciplinary cultural company founded by singer Solange Knowles, exploring art and design objects with multifunctional use.

Sustainability goals

The event also emphasised Ikea’s pledge to further push its sustainability goals by 2030, as previously hinted by Joanna Yarrow, head of sustainable and healthy living at Ikea on a recent episode of TheCurrent Innovators podcast.

This means all Ikea products will be designed with new circular principals, with the goal to use only renewable and recycled materials, as well as from a retail perspective, offering services that make it easier for customers to take care of and pass on Ikea products.

Videos on each specific collaboration announcement can be found on IKEA’s YouTube channel here.

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data e-commerce Editor's pick Retail technology

Chanel and Farfetch team up for Store of the Future partnership

Chanel & Farfetch announce partnership
Chanel & Farfetch announce partnership

Chanel and Farfetch have signed a multiyear innovation partnership that will see the companies collaborate to develop a series of digital initiatives in-store and online.

The companies have been working together for several months on merging Farfetch’s expertise in digital innovation with Chanel’s expertise in luxury retailing to create enhanced customer experiences in this Store of the Future bid.

José Neves, founder and CEO of Farfetch, calls the company’s future vision “Augmented Retail”, in which the physical boutique experience and the advantages of online and digital competitor come together. Speaking of the Chanel partnership, he says: “It is truly an honour to be partnering with Chanel to accelerate the development of technology-driven initiatives which will ensure they remain at the forefront of retail excellence and elevate the already unparalleled level of luxury experience for its clients that Chanel is renowned for.”

The vision provides in-store experiences that are personalized to the customer with the use of data and other digital initiatives. Farfetch’s launch of its Store of the Future division in early 2017 promised to enable the “offline cookie” for retailers, by connecting customers in the physical space with data relevant to their own behaviors thanks to a universal login system. It has been working in beta with Browns East since, and is soon to launch in Thom Browne in New York also.

With this partnership, Chanel will customise their own version of the Farfetch Store of the Future operating system, the specific terms and details of which are undisclosed. The first example of it will launch in a France-based boutique later in 2018.

Bruno Pavlovsky, Chanel’s fashion president, says: “We are very enthusiastic about this Innovation Partnership and look forward to implementing the first steps of our projects together. We want to offer our clients the opportunity to further experience the brand values and to feel something which is authentic and unique to Chanel. We strongly believe that digital will never replace the feeling of being in a fitting room and trying on a Chanel piece. We are confident that Farfetch’s innovative technology will help us develop an even more outstanding customer journey by combining a great e-service offering with a genuine Chanel boutique experience.”

As part of the partnership Chanel has invested in Farfetch, joining its existing list of shareholders.

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business e-commerce Editor's pick

Style.com folds as Condé Nast takes e-commerce to Farfetch

Style.com now automatically redirects to Farfetch after the announced partnership with Condé Nast
Style.com now automatically redirects to Farfetch after the announced partnership with Condé Nast

The big news on the content and commerce front today comes from Condé Nast and Farfetch, who have announced a strategic partnership to create a seamless editorial shopping experience.

The result will see Style.com discontinue operations effective immediately and redirect instead to Farfetch.com. There is no news as to what will happen to the 75 employees working for the site currently, nor details revealed on the terms of the deal, though Farfetch has acquired Style.com’s trademark, intellectual property and customer database.

The partnership comes following challenges for the Style.com brand to make headway as a serious e-commerce contender. It launched in the UK last autumn after several delays, and never made it to the US market. Now, Condé Nast aims to commercialise its content in a different way, by linking directly to Farfetch’s brands and boutiques around the world.

“As an early investor in Farfetch, this partnership is the next step in our evolving business relationship. It further unites two leaders in their respective sectors, combining best-in-class content with the world’s leading online luxury shopping destination,” said Jonathan Newhouse, chairman and chief executive of Condé Nast International and newly appointed board member of Farfetch.

Natalie Massenet, co-chairman of Farfetch, added: “Since 1999 I have believed in the importance of combining content and commerce in order to elevate the digital shopping experience. Content educates, entertains, and inspires purchases, which is crucial in the customer journey of discovery. We have long admired the depth, breath and sophistication of Condé Nast’s international reach and are excited for Farfetch to partner closely with Condé Nast. For the consumer this will be a joy to move from inspiration to transaction at any time and any place. And for the brands and international boutiques that have always partnered with Condé Nast this will further enhance their presence in Conde Nast’s media.”

The content-to-commerce experience will see shopping guides created by Condé Nast publications as well as the distribution of shoppable content across Condé Nast digital and social platforms. It will start with Vogue and GQ in the US, with plans for further expansion throughout the Condé Nast portfolio thereafter.

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business digital snippets e-commerce film social media Startups technology

What you missed: Snapchat’s spectacles, driving see-now buy-now sales, Cartier’s sponsored content

Snapchat spectacles
Snapchat spectacles

It might have been Milan Fashion Week, but the majority of musing worth knowing about in the digital space this past week surrounds the launch of Snapchat’s (now Snap Inc’s) new camera glasses. On top of that has been everything from whether see-now, buy-now fashion week shows are actually driving sales, the fact McQueen and Chanel top a new CoolBrands list, and why LVMH’s digital drive is taking time despite its big Apple hire. Read on for a breakdown of everything you need to know…


TOP STORIES
  • Why Snapchat’s spectacles can succeed where Google Glass failed [AdAge]
  • Are ‘see now, buy now’ shows driving sales? [BoF]
  • Neiman Marcus is encouraging brands to adopt ‘see-now, buy-now’ strategy [Fashionista]
  • Alexander McQueen and Chanel make top 20 global CoolBrands list [The Industry]
  • Inside Cartier’s sponsored content strategy [Glossy]

BUSINESS
  • LVMH’s digital drive takes time despite Apple hire [Reuters]
  • Adidas and Under Armour are challenging Nike like never before [Business Insider]
  • Tiffany proposes growth through engagement in the digital age [BrandChannel]

SOCIAL MEDIA
  • YSL Beauté reveals first ever UK Snapchat lens [The Industry]
  • Adidas claims retention on Snapchat is ‘insane’ compared to YouTube [The Drum]
  • Teens talk Instagram beauty influencers and what makes them buy [Racked]
  • Here’s how much engagement brands got from back-to-school social posts [AdWeek]
  • Google launches messaging app with chatbot [Campaign]
  • Branded emojis coming to messaging apps [WSJ]

MARKETING
  • Gap teams up with Mr Black to raise awareness for denim care [Fashion United]
  • Bobbi Brown initiates mobile makeovers with Uber [WWD]

RETAIL
  • How designer Rebecca Minkoff uses technology to create a better shopping experience [The Street]
  • BHS to launch online a month after last store closed [Guardian]
  • Zara fashions an expanded online growth strategy [BrandChannel]

TECHNOLOGY
  • The secret lab where Nike invented the power-lacing shoe of our dreams [Wired]
  • No. 21 Sends shoes that glow in the dark down the Milan Fashion Week runway [Footwear News]

START-UPS
  • Carmen Busquets, fashion e-commerce’s fairy godmother [NY Times]
  • Where is the Uber of fashion? [Forbes]
Categories
e-commerce social media

Tod’s aims to rejuvenate iconic Gommino shoes with Dots to Life blogger campaign

todsgommino

Avid fashion blog followers may have noticed several high-calibre bloggers have simultaneously started wearing and drawing attention to Tod’s footwear of late. This is not down to coincidence – earlier this month the quintessential Italian brand launched a social influencer campaign to create buzz around its signature Gommino shoes.

On the campaign website, customers can check out the various style leaders who have been coveting the style, as well as submit their own photos.

Bloggers from all over the world have taken part in the so-called ‘Dots to Life’ campaign, including Italy’s Chiara Ferragni of The Blonde Salad, Switzerland’s Kristina Bazan of Kayture, and Shanghai-based Han Huohuo.

And it’s not just bloggers that have jumped on board – industry heavyweights such as Anna Dello Russo are also featured on site. The result: a showcase of the worldwide popularity of the Gommino, highlighting the shoe’s versatility and serving as outfit styling inspiration alongside.

kayture_todsgommino

The move for Tod’s to predominantly use bloggers over celebrities is a smart one in today’s online world. These stars – many of them now enjoying a level of celebrity status themselves – serve as influencers through their connection to existing customers and those highly engaged in fashion, but also yield influence over a much younger crowd who may not be as aware of the understated brand.

The endorsement should emphasise the brand’s heritage, reduce the ‘old person’s shoe’ stigma around the Gomminos, and boost its popularity among potential future customers. It’s helping the brand get it’s ‘cool’ back among the younger, digitally-savvy generation, effectively.

Tod’s is making the blogger campaign all the more social by inviting its Facebook fans to upload their own images to the campaign website. The post on its Facebook page has received over 22,800 likes so far. Participation through Instagram is also possible – with the tags #todsgommino and #dotsoflife.

This is a great example of an influencer campaign leveraging the power of social media as a means of inspiration and conversation. As with many campaigns, the site is curated and not all fan images are published. As with Burberry’s Art of the Trench, this creates a more exclusive feel and may inspire fans to put more creative thought into their snaps.

Tod’s is also pushing content over social related to the FIFA World Cup – recent posts have referenced the theme, I Cheer For My Colors. Working with bloggers seems to have yielded positive results for the brand in the past too. In February, for instance, it partnered with Ferragni of The Blonde Salad to promote its Touch handbag.

By Anna Abrell