business Campaigns data digital snippets e-commerce Editor's pick product Retail social media Startups sustainability technology

Contactless payment adoption, US WeChat ban, beauty trends during Covid-19

A round-up of everything you might have missed in relevant fashion, retail and tech industry news over the past week.

  • Relationship goals: luxury retail and technology make a perfect combo for customer (Forbes)
  • Retailers on the store of the future: Uncertainty is the biggest challenge (Glossy)
  • Will COVID-19 change fashion shows forever? (BoF)
  • How the pandemic is hurting progressive manufacturing (Vogue Business)
  • The future of fashion is in biomaterials and circularity (Sustainable Brands)
  • Ecommerce is saving fashion but destroying the planet (BoF)
  • Covid-19 chaos or not, consumers want brands to have purpose (Sourcing Journal)
  • How convenience store chains like Circle K and 7-eleven are morphing in the COVID-19 era (Fast Company)
  • High-end fashion is finally joining the shift to digital (Digiday)
  • Covid-19 boosts contactless payment adoption (Retail Dive)
  • Virtual try-on is catching on among fashion consumers (Glossy)
  • The beauty trends customers are buying during Covid-19 (Vogue Business)
  • Animal Crossing creates live shopping experience with Klarna (WWD)
  • Spin Live launches shoppable video service in Shopify’s app store (Retail Dive)
  • Pinterest expands its skin tone search feature (TheIndustry.Fashion)
  • What does a US ban on Wechat mean for fashion? (BoF)
  • What fashion and beauty needs to know about Reels (Vogue Business)
  • Steph Curry is getting its own brand at Under Armour (Footwear News)
  • Edit+ mixes athleisure, sustainability (WWD)
  • Ganni launching rental denim collaboration with Levi’s (Fashion United)
  • Farfetch sales soared as online shopping took off during lockdowns (BoF)
  • Zalando see strong demand for logistics, fewer returns (Reuters)
  • Casper expands physical presence through tie-up with Sam’s Club (Retail Dive)
  • Luxury clobbered by Covid-19 (BoF)
  • John Lewis launches first ever virtual beauty tech department (TheIndustry.Fashion)
  • 3 key trends of China’s young luxury consumers (Vogue Business)
  • Why China will become the driving force of luxury (Jing Daily)
  • The future of the modelling industry (BoF)



e-commerce Editor's pick Retail Startups sustainability technology

What recent H&M investments in AI, recycling and payment tech mean


H&M has invested in several major startups in recent months indicating a direction of travel for the retailer that’s related to greater personalization, a circular economy and increased convenience for shoppers.

The group announced it is backing men’s personal styling service, Thread, this week through its venture arm, CO:LAB. It is putting $13m into the artificial intelligence-based startup, which has just closed a $22m Series B round.

The UK-based service offers recommendations for men on what to wear by combining data with a layer of human insight.

The team behind it said the funding will go towards “hiring data scientists and engineers to make the artificial intelligence much more powerful”, according to CEO and co-founder Kieran O’Neill. The site sells 536 brands, including Paul Smith, Diesel, Barbour and Hugo Boss, among others.

What Thread has alongside that, of course, is data into how men shop and what their tastes are. H&M says its interest lies in exactly that to strengthen the personalized shopping experience that it too can offer shoppers at a time when such expectations are only increasing.

With that same consideration comes the fact shoppers now demand better options around payments, it has also noted. Enter its $20m investment in Klarna, a Swedish fintech startup.

The funding, announced just last week, signals a global partnership that will see Klarna’s digital payments technology integrated into H&M’s physical and digital stores. The outcome will “provide an enhanced omnichannel customer payment offering [and] a streamlined post-purchase service in the H&M app”, according to the company.

What Klarna is particularly known for is its “try before you buy” service, which gives shoppers the flexibility to pay for their items later. That will be available eventually to H&M customers in 14 markets, starting with the UK and Sweden in 2019.

Karl-Johan Persson, CEO of the H&M group, referred to the move as part of a strategic and relentless focus on creating great customer experiences.

Both come at a time when H&M, which has been struggling in the market, has promised its shareholders that it will focus on improvements around not only inventory, but the shopping experience directly, based on understanding the changing retail and consumer landscape it sees before it.

“We know the industry is undergoing a huge shift – the catalyst for this transformation is technology. It’s not just one technology, but a set that includes artificial intelligence, augmented reality, robotics and more,” he said back in February at the company’s Capital Markets Day.

“There are changing consumer behaviours as a result – they are expecting more and more. They expect a more tailored offering in how we set up our stores, in how we communicate with [them]. They want a hassle free shopping experience, and the ability to shop anywhere and anytime. And they want even better designs at higher quality and better prices.”

Meanwhile, the company is also placing a big focus on sustainability. One of its other broad ambitions is to move to a 100% circular model by 2030, which means that everything it uses will go back into the system to be either recycled or reused.

Another, quieter investment it announced in August helps with this – it led a £5m round for polymer recycling technology startup, Worn Again Technologies. This is a business focused on how to drive circularity for the fashion industry by separating, decontaminating and extracting polyester polymers and cellulose from cotton to create new products as part of a repeatable process.

As Cyndi Rhoades, Worn Again Technologies’ CEO, said: “There are enough textiles and plastic bottles ‘above ground’ and in circulation today to meet our annual demand for raw materials to make new clothing and textiles. With our dual polymer recycling technology, there will be no need to use virgin oil by-products to make new polyester and the industry will be able to radically decrease the amount of virgin cotton going into clothing by displacing it with new cellulose fibres recaptured from existing clothing.”

At present, less than 1% of non-wearable textiles are turned back into new textiles due to technical and economic limitations of current recycling methods. This will therefore help with H&M’s goal.

As the group’s head of sustainability, Anna Gedda, explained on TheCurrent Innovators podcast recently: “We only have one planet, and the toll [the fashion industry] has on resources today is simply unsustainable.”

How are you thinking about innovation? 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.

business Campaigns digital snippets e-commerce product Retail Startups sustainability technology

ICYMI: Chinese moguls rebooting fashion, biotech shaping the industry, smart checkouts rising

China’s internet moguls are rebooting fashion
China’s internet moguls are rebooting fashion

A round-up of everything you might have missed in relevant fashion, retail and tech industry news over the past week.

  • How China’s internet moguls are rebooting fashion [BoF]
  • How biotechnology is reshaping fashion [BoF]
  • Smart checkouts will process $45B in transactions by 2023, study says [MobileMarketer]
  • 5 tech innovations we’re talking about from fashion week season [TheCurrentDaily]
  • When it comes to technology, fashion is still a laggard [BoF]
  • How Diageo is using Amazon Echo and Google Home [Digiday]
  • John Lewis invests in plastic reduction [Drapers]
  • Why does so much ethical fashion look the same? [Fashionista]
  • Express is the latest retailer to launch a clothing rental service [CNBC]
  • Fruit of the Loom celebrates Seek No Further with interactive shopping experience [FashionUnited]
  • Forever 21 invests in online styling service DailyLook [RetailDive]
  • Is the future of online deliveries allowing drivers access to your home? [TheIndustry]
  • Hollister partners with Sit With Us [WWD]
  • Why mainstream brands are embracing modest fashion [CNN]
  • Revolve officially files for IPO [Fashionista]
  • Walmart buys Eloquii for undisclosed amount [RetailDive]
  • Anya Hindmarch losses mount to £28.2m [Drapers]
  • Payments startup Klarna raises $20M from H&M, its second backer from the fashion world [TechCrunch]
  • The London Underground is getting vending machines to clean all your dirty clothes [Wired]
  • Meet the robotic museum guide that will turn art into sound for the visually impaired [FastCompany]

How are you thinking about innovation? 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.

Editor's pick mobile Retail technology

4 ways Asia is supercharging retail with tech-enabled physical experiences

Alibaba and Ford's car vending machine
Alibaba and Ford’s car vending machine

Much has been said about the death of the store at the hands of the digital era, but retailers and brands with physical footprints are increasingly harnessing technology to instil a sense of connectivity and immersion in their spaces.

Front and center within that is the Asia market, which is setting the standard by responding to consumers’ avid connected behavior and facilitating increasingly digitized physical journeys that perfectly blend both realities.

Here, we highlight four of our favorite recent brand examples.

Ford and Alibaba’s unstaffed car vending machine

Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba has partnered with automaker Ford on a cat-shaped car vending machine in China that allows potential buyers the chance to try-before-they-buy. The structure, located in Guangzhou, is completely self-directed and available only to Alibaba’s Super Members, the highest tier of membership in the retailer’s program.

Once users go through a background check on the Alibaba app, they can select their preferred vehicle and head to one of the Super Test-Drive Centers. Arriving at the location, they can use either facial recognition or a login code to trigger the test-drive experience, which they can do for up to three days.

Starbucks’ augmented coffee mecca
Starbucks Reserve Roastery AR experience
Starbucks Reserve Roastery AR experience

Starbucks meanwhile is focusing on augmented reality in its new Shanghai Reserve Roastery, where the coffee brand tapped into the Chinese consumer’s mobile-first behavior by creating a digital scavenger hunt.

Available through Taobao, consumers have to scan a code in-store and then proceed to scan coffee machines and brewers around the store to trigger content. Doing so with such physical objects activates animations on the mobile screen, and then offers the user more information on the coffee making process, such as how specific machines roast the coffee.

By offering consumers more branded storytelling through mobile, the company aligns with its Reserve Roastery concept ethos, which is to act as a mecca on all things coffee-making, and serve avid customers accordingly.

Shiseido’s smart diagnosis and brand content mirrors
Shiseido's smart mirror
Shiseido’s smart mirror

Smart mirrors might not be anything new within the ‘tech in-store’ discussion, but at Shiseido’s recently opened flagship in the Ginza Six shopping complex in Tokyo, the connected device offers more granular and personalized content than we’ve seen before, including around diagnosis.

Customers visiting the store can have their picture taken by a smart mirror, which results in a skin analysis and step-by-step guidance on screen on how to apply a curation of products. Afterwards, users can scan a QR code generated on the screen to put their counselling data on their own phone.

Additional features in Shiseido’s tech-enabled store, include screens that change visuals whenever someone is within two meters of them, as well as smart tables that recognize when a specific product has been picked up, and generate information on a smart screen accordingly.

Jack & Jones and Vero Moda’s facial recognition payments
Jack & Jones
Jack & Jones

You can’t talk about Asia without mentioning WeChat, and in this instance the future of payments. Danish fashion brands Jack & Jones and Vero Moda, part of the Bestseller group, have recently opened smart stores in two Chinese locations that are powered by Tencent’s facial recognition technology, allowing customers to pay with their face.

Located in Shenzhen and Guangzhou, the smart stores allow shoppers to shop without the need for cash or even their mobile phones. After completing the facial recognition registration at digital kiosks in-store, shoppers become members of the Tencent’s “AI Club”, which is powered by WeChat Pay. When checking out, they can then use the feature to complete the payment, which is debited through their WeChat wallets.

Beyond cashless (and mobile-less) payment capabilities, the entire store experiences can be automated. At the fitting room, the same technology is applied – once the shopper is recognized by a smart screen, they can receive recommendations based on past purchases.

business digital snippets e-commerce product Retail social media sustainability technology

ICYMI: embracing AR, Artefact accepts crypto payments, why AI for retail is all wrong

Ikea AR augmented reality

A round-up of everything you might have missed in relevant fashion, retail and tech industry news over the past fortnight.

  • Brands are finally embracing augmented reality, but not without speed bumps [AdWeek]
  • Artefact London becomes world’s first tailor to accept crypto payments [TheIndustry]
  • Why retail’s artificial intelligence bet is all wrong [QZ]
  • Who is most vulnerable to Amazon’s inexorable rise? [BoF]
  • Hubert de Givenchy dies at 91; Fashion pillar of romantic elegance [NY Times]
  • Macy’s advancing mobile checkout in innovation agenda [WWD]
  • Bose’s augmented reality glasses use sound instead of sight [TheVerge]
  • Nordstrom is investing in technology to support personalization and customer service [Glossy]
  • ‘People are never going to want to buy something via voice’: Alexa hasn’t caught on for fashion brands [Glossy]
  • Buying stuff with Bitcoin could get way easier courtesy of PayPal [TrustedReviews]
  • H&M on why collective industry ambition is crucial for a sustainable fashion future [Forbes]
  • Sustainability is not about designing less, but designing better [Wallpaper]
  • John Lewis CIO: forget incremental updates, retailers need a total tech reset to survive [Campaign]
  • Harvey Nichols joins Farfetch in a first for both companies [WWD]
  • Instagram could soon be launching voice and video calling [DigitalTrends]
  • The world’s first digital supermodel has arrived, here’s what you need to know [HighSnobiety]
  • This designer bag is made from Burberry’s leftover leather scraps [Wired]
  • The soles of these shoes are made from recycled gum [Fast Company]
  • Allbirds wants your next sneaker to come from eucalyptus trees [BoF]
  • Prada sees growth ahead despite profit drop [Reuters]
  • The running list of 2018 retail bankruptcies [RetailDive]
  • Is Dior ready for a revolution? [BoF]
  • Tommy Hilfiger’s bet on instant gratification is paying off [Bloomberg]
e-commerce Editor's pick mobile Retail technology

Zara launches tech-enabled pop-up ahead of new London flagship

Zara's new tech-enabled pop-up store
Zara’s new tech-enabled pop-up store

Zara is launching a tech-enabled pop-up store in London designed for click and collect purchases ahead of a new permanent flagship space.

The Westfield Stratford City pop-up, opening today, offers a small edit of men’s and women’s clothing that shoppers can purchase online while there in person. Doing so enables delivery same day if placed before 2pm, or the next day if placed in the afternoon. They can also access the full catalogue of the collections to choose from online.

Staff are on hand to assist with mobile devices, while an easy payment system operated by Bluetooth is also aiming to facilitate a frictionless experience. Meanwhile, a product recommendation system based on RFID technology means customers are able to use mirrors to scan items to get more information about them, as well as see other suggested coordinating pieces.

The pop-up will be open until May while the retailer’s flagship is refurbished and seriously upgraded. The new space to follow will then be 48,000 sq ft and similarly focus on placing technology at its heart.

Zara's new flagship due to open in May
Zara’s new flagship due to open in May

It will feature four sections: women’s, men’s, kid’s and click and collect. The latter will see automated collection points where an optical barcode reader can scan QR codes or PINs received by customers. Orders are then delivered to a mailbox manned by a robot behind-the-scenes for customers to then collect items at their convenience. The robot has the capacity to handle 2,400 packages simultaneously.

Further tech features include mobile payments either through the Zara app or the Inditex group app, InWallet, and a self-checkout area that sits alongside the regular associate-serviced desks.

Meanwhile, the two-storey store will feature sensors on the top floor that project images on the windows when shoppers approach them.

Pablo Isla, the chairman and CEO of parent company Inditex, said: “[Both stores] mark another milestone in our strategy of integrating our stores with the online world, which defines our identity as a business.”

The move comes after Inditex rolled out in-store mobile payments through all its stores in Spain, and the trial of interactive fitting rooms and self-service checkouts in Spain, Germany and the US in 2016.

business data digital snippets e-commerce film social media Startups sustainability technology

What you missed: Browns’ new tech store, Gucci’s millennial advisors, Amazon’s fashion gap

The new Browns concept store in east London
The new Browns concept store in east London

A round-up of everything you might have missed in relevant fashion business, digital comms and tech industry news over the past fortnight.

  • Browns opens a nomadic concept (tech) store in London’s Shoreditch [Wallpaper]
  • Gucci has a “shadow committee” of millennial advisors [QZ]
  • Amazon ‘still has a long way to go’ in conquering fashion market, says report [BoF]
  • Alibaba’s 11.11 shopping festival is ready for its biggest global event [BrandChannel]
  • Opinion: What’s wrong with fashion’s sustainability strategy [Glossy]
  • ‘Terry Richardson is just the tip of the iceberg’ [NY Times]

  • Hilfiger says making clothes in America remains unrealistic [Bloomberg]
  • H&M denies burning good, unsold product [Racked]
  • Greenpeace on why fashion is at a crossroads [FashionUnited]
  • Vogue and Vice are starting a new website together [Jezebel]

  • You can now PayPal friends in Messenger and get help via chat [TechCrunch]
  • WeChat is becoming a sales tool for luxury brand sales associates [Jing Daily]
  • Snap’s misfire on Spectacles [The Information]

  • Sephora cast its own store employees for its most diverse campaign yet [Racked]
  • Selena Gomez is party-ready in Coach’s glitzy holiday ad campaign [Fashionista]
  • Net-a-Porter and Mr Porter unveil “Party with the Porters” holiday campaign [TheIndustry]
  • The land of Fenty: The Rihanna masterclass in brand-building [BrandChannel]
  • Why visceral storytelling is the next brand-building territory [LeanLuxe]

  • Take a look at Apple’s first ‘Town Square,’ its most beautiful retail store yet [TechCrunch]
  • Now Amazon wants to leave a package inside your house [Marketplace]
  • The most successful e-commerce brands build for mainstream America, not Silicon Valley [Recode]
  • Hudson’s Bay to sell Lord & Taylor Fifth Avenue store to WeWork [RetailDive]

  • rolls out augmented reality experience for smartphones [StarTribune]
  • The Under Armour ArmourBox: Subscription gear handpicked by an AI [BrandChannel]
  • Walmart’s Store No. 8 showcases the future of VR [RetailDive]
  • Nike’s focus on robotics threatens Asia’s low-cost workforce [CNBC]
  • Wal-Mart’s new robots scan shelves to restock items faster [Reuters]

  • How Stitch Fix’s data-driven styling could boost its IPO value [Bloomberg]
  • Harvey Nichols partners with Bink on “Payment Linked Loyalty” [TheIndustry]
e-commerce mobile

Rebecca Minkoff partners with Alipay for NYFW

Alipay on display in the Rebecca Minkoff store
Alipay on display in the Rebecca Minkoff store

Rebecca Minkoff is paying attention to her Chinese fan base this New York Fashion Week, introducing in-store mobile payments via Alipay.

The initiative enables China shoppers to use their Alipay Mobile Wallet to make purchases at any Rebecca Minkoff store in the US, as well as at home when visiting the brand’s e-commerce site. Alipay is China’s leading online payment provider, with more than 520 million active users, and the primary means of online and mobile payment for Chinese consumers.

The partnership was announced ahead of Minkoff’s show, which took place in New York on Saturday, September 9.

“Chinese travelers represent an important and growing audience for Rebecca Minkoff,” said Uri Minkoff, CEO and co-founder of the brand. “By offering Alipay, we are ensuring that Chinese shoppers visiting any of our US stores or our website are met with an exceptional experience which includes the easiest and most familiar payment method for them. We are excited to be able to offer Alipay.”

Souheil Badran, president of Alipay North America, added: “By accepting Alipay, Rebecca Minkoff is able to target the right shopper through our Discover platform to ensure that the Chinese consumers can enjoy the best experience in-store or online without any language or payments barriers.”

The number of Chinese consumers visiting North America is predicted to grow to four million this year. Alipay first expanded its mobile payment service into the US in late 2016.

business data digital snippets e-commerce film social media Startups technology

What you missed: debating tech at retail, the role of AI in fashion, Massenet joins Farfetch

Natalie Massenet announced her move to Farfetch as co-chairman
Natalie Massenet announced her move to Farfetch as co-chairman

All eyes might have been on the Milan collections, but the big business news this week is back in London where Natalie Massenet announced her move to Farfetch as co-chairman. An Instagram Story featuring Massenet with José Neves answering a Q&A followed – do watch it via @Farfetch before it disappears.

Otherwise, some interesting stories this week debating retail tech – what consumers do and don’t want on the one hand, versus why the industry hasn’t adopted artificial intelligence faster, on the other. Both are worth digging in to and digesting. Beyond that, there are new campaigns from Calvin Klein and Converse, as well as a scathing (but amusing) piece over on Digiday about just why fashion advertising is all out of (terrible) ideas. And if you’re still not sure about your video strategy, you might want to pay attention to the fact YouTube users now watch one billion hours per day.

  • Consumers don’t want Amazon or Google to help them shop [Bloomberg]
  • AI can make us all dress better, so why isn’t the fashion industry using it more? [Fast Company]
  • How Neiman Marcus is turning technology innovation into a ‘core value’ [Retail Dive]
  • Tommy Hilfiger looks to technology as it combats Macy’s decline [Bloomberg]
  • The trouble with all those t-shirt slogans about diversity on fashion’s runways [Quartz]

  • Natalie Massenet joins Farfetch as co-chairman [BoF]
  • How teen retailer Aerie is thriving while its competitors flounder [CNBC]
  • Céline names new CEO, joins Instagram, announces plans to launch e-commerce [The Fashion Law]
  • John Lewis to cut hundreds of jobs [Campaign]
  • Menswear e-commerce startup JackThreads hanging by a thread [Retail Dive]

  • People now watch one billion hours of YouTube per day [TechCrunch]
  • Instagram users can now share up to 10 photos and videos in a single post [AdWeek]

  • Fashion advertising is out of ideas [Digiday]
  • Calvin Klein debuts new campaign featuring the men of Moonlight the morning after the Oscars [AdWeek]
  • #ForeverChuck: Converse throws a party as Chuck Taylor turns 100 [BrandChannel]
  • Did Walmart’s high-concept short films on the Oscars work? [AdWeek]
  • Why data targeting was a natural fit for cotton marketers [AdAge]

  • The future of shopping is more discrimination [The Atlantic]
  • Ebay is tapping into the under-24 demographic by partnering with Snupps [Fashionista]

  • Retailers invest in chatbots, but consumers remain ambivalent [BrandChannel]
  • Why chatbots are dangerous territory for retailers [Forbes]
  • Why payment companies are flocking to messaging apps [Fast Company]
  • Your clothes could soon create and store their own electricity [Wired]
  • Grow your own clothes: three concepts for the fashion for the future [DW]

  • VC Eurie Kim: ‘Most fashion businesses don’t make good investments’ [Glossy]
business e-commerce Editor's pick mobile technology

The automated future of the fashion store: where self-checkouts and human touch collide

Rebecca Minkoff's new self-checkout
Rebecca Minkoff’s new self-checkout

There was a media frenzy when Amazon Go was announced in December 2016. A grocery store based initially in Seattle, it enables shoppers to literally just walk out with whatever items they choose thanks to sensors recording what they pick up and charging back to their Amazon Prime accounts. Facilitated by first swiping the Amazon app on your smartphone, it nods to the automated future of retail, but more than that the growing potential ahead for the phone to control the entire commerce experience.

A wake-up call to retail execs around the world, the question on many people’s lips is whether that concept is equally applicable to other verticals? From a value proposition, not to mention strategic business perspective, it’s something that makes a great deal of sense for grocery, where both the barrier to entry and level of associated risk, is low. But for the sake of this argument, can it work for fashion? Will we all soon be able to pick up new clothes in-store and just walk out too, or will we always expect to have a level of human interaction with such tactile purchases?

The fact is, we live in an evermore-demanding society. Consumers today expect instant access to everything – from cars to food – at the touch of a screen. Patience has gone down. Convenience is key. Even in fashion, new businesses keep popping up offering us clothes for rent, clothes through our mailboxes, clothes tailored to our exact needs.

For all of these retailers, it’s a race to the bottom (led by Amazon no less) to offer faster than ever fulfilment to meet our expectations. The same goes in the store space, where standing in line to pay for something is as far removed as can be from the ease of the on-demand mobile era we otherwise inhabit, even at a luxury level.

This was part of the premise behind the launch of New York designer Rebecca Minkoff’s self-checkout in her Soho store at the end of 2016 too. Partnering with QueueHop to provide the technology, the aim was to ease the shopping experience for the millennial consumer the brand is targeted at. Unlike Amazon Go, there is still a checkout to contend with, but one the shopper can do for herself.

“More and more we are seeing millennials want to be in complete control of any and all of their shopping, and that includes payment. Long gone are the days where you needed to depend fully on a sales assistant to request new sizes or to ring you up,” said Uri Minkoff, CEO at Rebecca Minkoff. Part of his point is that there’s an inherent burden that comes with shopping in stores when the line is long. “If we could shave off time, would that spur consumers to go into stores more? Could that spur a return to retail?” he asked.

The other piece for the Rebecca Minkoff team was about reducing the “social friction” of a luxury shopping experience, or as Minkoff referred to it, removing the “Pretty Woman moment”. This means enabling shoppers to no longer feel judged by staff for what they look like and instead being left to enjoy the experience. “If we use technology to take that [bias] out of the equation, then we become blind to what a person looks like, meaning ultimately we can create a better relationship between the store associate and consumer,” he explains.

Katie Baron, head of retail, innovation and insights at trends service Stylus, agrees: “I think there’s a need to look at the wider implications of automation beyond the desire only for speed and convenience – understanding the mileage these concepts also have because of the sense of control they present to the consumer, who doesn’t always want to be steered or cajoled into line or, particularly in the case of luxury brands, have to contend with a rather intimidating experience.”

The QueueHop system comes with an RFID tag that brings the item up for payment on an iPad and an anti-theft device that only unlocks after that exchange is made. That means there is literally no need to speak to or deal with a sales associate at all if so desired, much like the online shopping experience feels.

Uri Minkoff in front of the new Rebecca Minkoff self-checkout
Uri Minkoff in front of the new Rebecca Minkoff self-checkout

Central to all of this is the fact the technology is only today fit for purpose, Minkoff said, emphasizing that he’s been working on this concept for two years. With stores (and products) today now evermore connected, the possibilities for this ahead are, of course, only going to improve. Rebecca Minkoff also has a connected fitting room experience for instance, while others including Ralph Lauren and Nordstrom are also playing in the space. As highlighted in this 2017 tech trends for retail list, it’s about the Internet of Things having a useful consumer impact by enabling a more frictionless mode of shopping.

As Uwe Hennig, CEO of retail software vendor, Detego, which works with other retail brands to help connect their clothing and their physical spaces, says: “We’re already starting to see a change in the way stores are being designed, with conventional [checkouts] being replaced by mobile terminals. […] In the not too distant future, you can expect to see retailers putting self-checkout systems directly into the fitting room, in combination with smart fitting rooms. These will allow consumers to try on clothes, but also browse and choose other accessories, styles or sizes and request sales staff bring them directly to the fitting room, as well as checkout themselves.”

He sees getting point of sale (POS) queues under control as of particular benefit to fast fashion retailers, over luxury – a boon to high traffic sites and particularly time-starved shoppers. For the more premium store by comparison, there’s somewhat of a gap between the values of automation, and a remaining focus on personalized service and interaction with the customer.

As Ana Andjelic, SVP and global strategy director at Havas Lux Hub, notes: “Self-checkouts are firmly going to set apart the mass/fast fashion from the premium/luxury fashion. They make more sense for the former, where it’s all about speed and volume versus the latter, when it’s about the quality of experience, of service and feeling being taken care of.” Indeed you can imagine automated purchases in H&M more so than Louis Vuitton.

Minkoff admits the feedback he’s received from the industry has been mixed: “Some brands have said ‘that’s amazing and we love it’, and others say ‘we don’t think it’s right for us’, and that’s totally cool.”

Of course, there were many brands who also believed e-commerce wasn’t going to impact the industry at one stage of its development, yet it’s now expected to be worth €70 billion annually for luxury goods by 2025, according to McKinsey.

The answer at this point, therefore, is about balance. José Neves, founder and CEO of online marketplace Farfetch, which also owns London boutique Browns, recently told the Guardian: “I’m a believer in physical retail experiences; I always say ‘fashion isn’t downloadable’. You need the human element – a program or piece of technology won’t provide the full level of care, attention and assistance that a shop assistant or customer service team will give. This interaction and engagement is an essential component of providing a luxury experience. On the other hand, you can’t ignore technology. To succeed we need to strike a balance between the online and offline experience.”

To achieve this Sucharita Mulpuru, chief retail strategist at Shoptalk, recommends thinking about high touch and low touch interactions with consumers in different ways. “Paying for your transaction needn’t be high touch. Even high-end hotels let you check out on your own, so self-checkout in stores shouldn’t be a foreign concept. That said, luxury will still need people in stores to greet people, to share the stories of the brand and the products, to manage exceptions and problems with transactions, etc. but for straightforward transactions, there is no reason that self-checkout shouldn’t be an option.”

Part of the issue, is that what a self-checkout looks like itself isn’t overly luxurious. “The form factor and execution will be critical. It would be silly to have a kiosk that looks like something you’d find at an airport, but if customers can check out on their own phones (like the Apple Stores allow), that could be the right approach,” Mulpuru adds.

Amazon Go operates on the basis of turnstiles similar to those found in the subway, which permit entry into the space once your Amazon app has been swiped. Uri Minkoff doesn’t imagine this will translate overly well to a high-end fashion store, but he does see the idea of more seamless automated transactions enabled in other ways in the future, so customers can similarly just walk out. “We’re already working on a next iteration that would make it even more seamless than it already is,” he explains. “I still think when dealing with items that are hundreds or thousands of dollars, then there’s got to be a security element to it. In a grocery setting, where an item, is a dollar or two, it’s different, but maybe through technology like facial recognition we will get there.”

Indeed, there’s no reason down the line why a luxury retail experience shouldn’t also include automatically identifying consumers (through facial recognition, or their phones, on an opt-in basis) when they enter the store in order to tailor service personally to them.

Andjelic suggests a layer of artificial intelligence is what will then make all the difference for luxury retailers adopting some level of automation at the checkout stage. “There’s tons that AI can do for luxury fashion when it comes to luxury stores as POS, and is all going to revolve around low-value interactions (like filling out one’s billing address) being outsourced to AI and high-value interactions (like white-glove customer service) belonging to humans. High-end fashion stores would definitely want to make the checkout process as seamless, efficient and convenient as possible, and AI will have a big role in that but more on the back-end side… What can we outsource to technology that is going to help us to have a better one-on-one personal relationship with our customers?”

John Vary, head of innovation at UK department store John Lewis, similarly imagines a future where in fact what we have is automation alongside human interaction to maintain a sense of luxury as far as fashion is concerned. He believes the result will be an enhancement of the customer experience, thanks to technology.

“We are moving to ‘intelligence amplification’ through the creation of intelligent artificial systems resulting in humans having extended ability to provide better services and solutions for customers,” he explains. “The rapid evolution of technology, such as computer vision and machine learning is enabling retailers to curate end-to-end customer journeys built for convenience and connectivity. Having a hybrid model is essential, and the next natural step in the adoption and evolution of these behaviors and the successful convergence of digital and human centered experiences.”

As Minkoff concludes: “We’re in a period of radical change, and the old way over the last 100 years of going to market, being based on a busy street and having good product, no longer cuts it alone. Some brands are slow to adopt, for some [such new technology] just doesn’t work, but either way, change is inevitable and we prefer to be at front of the pack than the back.”

This post first appeared on Forbes