Federico Marchetti, CEO of Yoox Net-a-Porter, calls the group’s new tech hub in White City, west London, its “space shuttle”.
“This is our temple of innovation that’s going to take YNAP into the future,” he explained at the opening this morning.
The 70,000 sq ft space comes as part of an investment of more than €500m in technology and logistics across the group in a bid to double the size of the business by 2020. It houses all of YNAP’s UK tech teams under one roof – a total of 500 employees, in addition to the further 500 based in Bologna, Italy.
The big focus in terms of the work they’re doing today is around artificial intelligence (AI) and the next wave of mobile technologies, the team explained. Demonstrations at the opening for instance included an AI-enabled virtual personal stylist tool that could recommend items based on image recognition, personalised preferences and contextual data like location and weather forecast.
Another AI tool in the works can suggest different options for complete outfit looks – taking the professionally styled shots that the e-commerce sites currently show and providing unlimited variations of mix and match pieces for users alongside. This level of machine learning and neural networks learn as they go, making them only better for users over time, the team explained.
Alex Alexander, CIO at the company, referred to everything they’re doing as being about making the experience more personalised for shoppers. “We’re using our own data in a smarter and more detailed way in order to tailor the customer experience to every individual customer,” he explained.
Marchetti added: “What innovation means for us is not innovation for the sake of it, but innovation for the customer.”
On the mobile side however, that starts internally. Every employee at the company is being given an iPhone equipped with new apps designed in collaboration with Apple and IBM in a bid to enable them to think not only mobile-first, but eventually mobile-only.
“Our focus on mobile starts with our employees. If we don’t think mobile-first for them, how can we expect to get it right for our customers?” Alexander asked.
The tech team is therefore meeting with every department within the business to understand their mobile needs. The personal shopping team was on hand today, for instance, exploring how they can use mobile as an opportunity to spend more time with their top customers, known as EIPs (extremely important people). The idea is to give them greater tools and capabilities so they can scale their interactions. AI will inform that too.
From a customer perspective, some further examples for mobile include leaning heavily on Apple’s iOS 11 update, which is due to roll out in September (though is available in beta now). Centre to that is the camera, which will come with in-built augmented reality opportunities as well as a QR reader.
Users can use it to take pictures of outfits they like and through an AI algorithm using visual recognition, find similar options to purchase, for instance. Meanwhile, the team will also deploy QR codes in some of the windows of the physical stores it powers so that the looks on display (each tagged with RFID labels) can be brought up on the relevant e-commerce site for purchase immediately.
If the QR code still sounds like a questionable option, YNAP is convinced both by behavior witnessed from Chinese shoppers and Apple’s integration of the technology as a sure sign for the future.
The company also announced a new partnership today with Imperial College London, to support an initiative that teaches local children from underprivileged backgrounds the basics of coding. The project, named Imperial Codelab powered by Yoox Net-a-Porter, is particularly focusing on increasing the number of young girls who have access to such classes. “We know there are not enough women in tech and we want to help that for the future,” Marchetti noted.