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From relevancy to regulation: Why SXSW 2019 was the year of the individual ?

There was undeniably a continued focus on culture at SXSW this year, as what was once the behemoth tech festival aligned itself with broader societal shifts as well as the consumer itself.

Author Brene Brown set the tone by opening the first day of the event with a discussion on empathy and the simple notion of belonging and connection in a digital age. Now, this as a concept isn’t new for SXSW – it was our top takeaway from 2018 off the back of rising concerns around the ethics of artificial intelligence. But this year, it wasn’t said in the context of how we should build technology to behave, but instead really on how we as individuals can live better lives.

On the simplest end of the scale, that of course meant experiences – evidenced by the brand activations that continued to pop up around the city of Austin. Offering opportunities for people to have a great time, isn’t going anywhere. But on top of that was everything from politicians fighting for what society deserves through to an increased focus on wellness.

Underpinning all of it? How we create greater than ever relevancy for individuals in a way that is both fair and meaningful.

Smart wellness
Current Global's co-founder and CEO Liz Bacelar and Calm founder Michael Acton Smith
Current Global’s co-founder and CEO Liz Bacelar and Calm founder Michael Acton Smith

It’s easy to say wellness was a trend at this year’s festival – its presence was felt more than ever, from the huge volume of cannabis-related programming (60 sessions to be precise) to the second year of the wellness expo, which featured everything from breathwork 101 to a conversation on Ayurveda and Traditional Chinese Medicine. There were also activations including the Real Self House, which offered free consultations with medical doctors and complementary treatments such as lasers and injectables.

Our Innovation Mansion also heavily focused on wellness, with speakers including Calm founder Michael Acton Smith, Dirty Lemon, Recess and Under Armour all playing a role. Where these conversations proved particularly interesting, was in the way connectivity played a role. This wasn’t so much about wearables, nor about that “quantified self” trend from years gone past – rather it was around how technology is more passively enabling me to find out more about myself to then achieve better results.

One key example was in L’Oréal’s announcement of its partnership with microbial genomics company, uBiome, which the Current Global’s Liz Bacelar explored with Guive Balooch, VP of L’Oréal’s technology incubator, on the SXSW main stage. This is about deepening its research into the skin’s bacterial ecosystem in order to develop more personalized skincare solutions for individuals. The end goal is quite literally prescribing products based on exactly what the science of our own bodies tell us we need. “When it comes to skincare, people often audition product after product to determine what works for their unique skin. At L’Oréal, our goal is to advance scientific research and leverage new technologies to change this relationship, by allowing deeper levels of personalization.”

Meanwhile, futurist Amy Webb dedicated a good portion of her trends talk to biometrics, not just for identification scanning, but predicting behaviors. “These are systems that take all biodata and are constantly learning from it in some way, she explained, referencing Pivot Yoga’s connected yoga pants, which monitor poses and correct users’ form while syncing the data to an app. It’s the first time behavioral biometrics made it into her trend report, she noted. She related such a trend to “Persistent Recognition Systems”, which are algorithms that use our unique features, like bone structure, posture, or facial expressions to recognize not only who we are, but our frame of mind in real-time and make personalized suggestions as a result.

In doing so, consumers often end up giving out more information than they realize, Webb added. At Walmart, a smart shopping cart could measure your temperature, heart rate, and grip strength. If the cart senses you’re angry, it can send a representative to help you out. Walmart is reportedly using this data to create a baseline of biometric information about individual users to drive better customer service.

Personalization
Atlantic Pacific for Amazon Fashion

Optimizing data about individuals is the million dollar question for brands. We hear this at every trade show, conference, festival and exhibition we go to around the world. We hear it from every client. How do I better get to know my customer? And how do I then ensure relevancy for them in order to drive my conversions upwards?

SXSW was no different. Amazon Fashion’s CTO, Tony Bacos, said relevancy is his number one goal. “We’re focused on helping connect people to the products that we know are going to delight them. Not just in their individual taste and style but in their bodies,” he explained. By that he meant thinking about how to drive personalized discovery when the challenge is the huge scale of Amazon’s catalog, and then how to solve fit and sizing issues. With the latter he referenced machine learning in order to map sizing from one brand to the next as well as understand the role consumer preference and buying history play. Virtual try-on, where users can visualize themselves in items, will play a role for Amazon in the future, he hinted.

“No one has nailed these things in fashion yet – both the opportunity to create better and personalized experiences online and to solve the fit challenge,” he said. “That’s why it’s an exciting category.”

Kerry Liu, CEO of artificial intelligence software company, Rubikloud, agreed the future of retail really is about relevancy, and about using AI behind the scenes to facilitate it. In the words of Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon, it’s about using tech to “quietly but meaningfully improve core operations”, he said. But more than that, it’s about optimizing decision making, which increasingly humans alone cannot do.

Walmart CTO Jeremy King, said it’s about efficiency, which ultimately means giving humans the tools to make better use of their time. As Marie Gulin Merle, CMO of Calvin Klein, reminded everyone: “Fashion is an emotional business; you still need people to shake the hearts of the consumers.”

Data regulation
Dennis Crowley from Foursquare

With a focus on data, of course comes conversation around privacy and increasingly, regulation. When the programming suggestions were submitted to SXSW last summer for inclusion in this year’s content line-up, top of mind were two major subjects within this: the GDPR regulations in Europe, and the Cambridge Analytica scandal with Facebook. Cue such continued debate come March.

Roger McNamee, early Facebook investor and one-time advisor to Facebook founder and CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, spoke about the importance around regulation. “Users and society have not had a chance to debate whether companies should gather information and profit from people’s financial transactions, health data, or location,” he noted. An avid critic of Facebook today, he nonetheless understands the problem is endemic to a world where the most profitable business model is tracking people, using data to predict their behavior, and steering them toward the companies’ desired outcomes.

One company keeping a close eye on regulation is Foursquare, whose co-founder Dennis Crowley explained the company’s evolution from hyperlocal advertising to a business-to-business data play. “Now, Foursquare offers a base map of the world,” he said. But it refuses to sell data on individual customers in the process.

For Facebook, by comparison, the pressure around data privacy continues to heat up. Just before SXSW, Zuckerberg announced the platform will shift its focus away from public posts to encrypted, ephemeral communications on its trio of messaging apps. To McNamee, this supposed commitment to encryption and privacy reads like a stunt. “They’re not getting out of the tracking business. My problem with Facebook is not whether it’s end-to end-encrypted. It’s what are they doing with the tracking, what are they doing to invade my private spaces. I don’t want them buying my credit card history. I do not want them doing business with health and wellness apps to get all that data. I do not want them buying my location data from my cellular carrier.”

Senator Elizabeth Warren also took to the SXSW stage to address her tech regulatory proposal, announced the day before. This seeks to undo massive tech mergers that exist and introduce legislation that would prohibit marketplace owners from developing products for sale on their own platforms. “Amazon has a platform to sell you a coffee maker, but that company also sucks out an incredible amount of information about every buyer and seller. Then they can make a decision to go start a competing coffee making-selling outfit, and drive out of business everyone else in that space,” she said. McNamee revealed he’s now advising Warren as a presidential candidate for 2020, on her data regulation agenda.

For global brands, the role of data privacy is only going to continue apace. Regulation looks inevitable in the US, as it has been in Europe. The question is, how to balance that pressing consumer demand for personalization with the protection they equally expect.

Additional reporting by Larissa Gomes.

How are you thinking about 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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data Editor's pick Podcast

Facebook’s data scandal: Amnesty International on the future of regulation

Amnesty International's Sherif Elsayed-Ali - Facebook
Amnesty International’s Sherif Elsayed-Ali

According to Amnesty International’s Sherif Elsayed-Ali, brand transparency and regulation are key in light of the recent Facebook and Cambridge Analytica news, which saw over 87 million individual user accounts improperly shared.

Speaking on the latest episode of TheCurrent Innovators, which was guest hosted by Rosanna Falconer at a live FashMash Pioneers event in London, Elsayed-Ali, the human rights organization’s director of global issues and research, said data protection and privacy have never been more pertinent topics.

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

“In the atmosphere we are in, where this is this kind of diminishing trust in technology, creating transparency adds to the trust that people will have in any company or brand in a way that can be very positive… There’s something about empowering people, empowering consumers, to be able to say ‘I know what’s happening to my data, I know how it’s used, and I know how it’s protected’,” he explains.

For that to happen, there needs to be regulations in place for brands however, he added. By building a basic framework of minimum requirements, it will level the playing field, which is essential.

The advent of GDPR in Europe – the General Data Protection Regulation proposed by the European Commission and due to kickstart in May 2018 – will help facilitate this, he notes, explaining exactly what it means for marketers within the fashion and retail industries still looking to drive microtargeting and increasingly personalized campaigns.

Consent is a crucial focus he said, but so is removing lengthy jargon that makes it difficult for users to understand what they’re signing up for.

During the episode, Elsayed-Ali, who established Amnesty’s technology and human rights program, also talks to what artificial intelligence means for the future of the fashion industry – exploring the role of automation in manufacturing for instance, and just when we can expect this to become a reality. “We’re not talking decades, we’re talking just years,” he notes.

Catch up with all of our episodes of TheCurrent Innovators here. The series is a weekly conversation with visionaries, executives and entrepreneurs. It’s backed by TheCurrent, 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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data technology

Looking back at SXSW: wearables, privacy and avoiding bandwagons

This article first appeared on The Business of Fashion 

Rachel Arthur recaps the highlights of this year’s SXSW Interactive conference and identifies key takeaways for the fashion industry.

Valencia_ONeal_IMAGETHINK_SXSWi14-656x371

AUSTIN, United States — The marketing and tech crowd hit Austin, Texas, once again this week for the annual SXSW Interactive conference, bringing with them more members of the fashion industry than ever before. There were representatives from long-time attendees like Burberry and Bergdorf Goodman, alongside a flurry of first timers from Parisian fashion houses and UK department stores alike, a sure sign of technology’s increasingly pervasive impact on fashion retail.Thought of as an incubator for tech-enabled creativity which aims to provide a “view on the future,” the annual event is overloaded with keynotes, panel discussions and pop-up events, not to mention a trade show floor. But, as usual, much of the action also happened off-piste, in spontaneous conversations at hundreds of events and parties.

Here, we’ve compiled some key takeaways, on themes ranging from wearable technology to consumer privacy.

The State of Wearables

It was clear wearables — an emerging category of personal accessories with embedded sensors, displays and other digital technology (such as Nike’s FuelBand, Google Glass and Apple’s rumoured iWatch) — were going to be a key topic even before SXSW began. They’d dominated the scene at the International Consumer Electronics Show (CES) held in Las Vegas each January and over 60 sessions addressed the topic, up from a mere handful last year.

Speakers unanimously agreed that the category is advancing rapidly. American basketball star Shaquille O’Neal even made an appearance to discuss his new interest in wearable technology with Rick Valencia of Qualcomm. Yet despite predictions that the market for wearables could reach $30-$50 billion over the next 3 to 5 years, the growing consensus was that mass adoption was still a ways off. On Google Glass, Robert Scoble (author and startup liason officer of Rackspace) said: “This is one of those products you know is the future, but it’s so unfinished at this point that it’s frustrating. It’s three to five years away before it’s really useful.”

And indeed, it was the word ‘useful,’ more than design or aesthetics — which the current crop of wearables are widely thought to lack — that came up the most. Jennifer Darmour, user experience design director at Artefact, said she has a drawer full of wearables that she had worn for just a week or two each before abandoning them. There was too much focus on novelty, she said, rather than on creating real functional value. “We’ve been taking a technology and trying to find a problem for that technology, instead of the other way round,” she added. “We need a more human-centric approach.”

Q Manning, chief executive of app design company Rocksauce Studios, agreed: “We need to solve problems. Just because we can build it, doesn’t mean we should. We need to pinpoint will this actually be useful? Is it beneficial? Will it help me live my life better?”

Jay Morgan, digital creative director of Havas Worldwide, added: “When wearable tech becomes [part of our] normal clothes and we don’t have to [actively] interact with it, it’s not then going to be about whether people care about it, it’s just going to be a part of your life. That’s what brands need to think about it now.”

Managing Privacy

Privacy was another key topic at SXSW this year, perhaps unsurprisingly as whistleblower Edward Snowden gave one of the headline talks. Appearing via Google Hangout from an undisclosed location in Russia, Snowden called on the technology community to help protect privacy rights by building them into technical standards. “There is a policy response that needs to occur, but there is also a technical response that needs to occur,” he said. “It is the development community that can really craft the solutions and make sure we are safe.”

Christopher Soghoian, principle technologist at the American Civil Liberties Union, added: “I really think that consumers need to rethink their relationship with many of the companies to whom they entrust their private data. I really think what this comes down to is if you are getting the service for free, the company isn’t going to be optimising your experience with your best interests in mind.”

While Soghoian was referring to Internet services like Facebook, the issue of consumer privacy should be of concern to retailers as well, as they increasingly collect and leverage personal data.

“The bottom line is data should not be collected without people’s knowledge and consent,” said Snowden. “If data is being clandestinely acquired and the public doesn’t have any way to review it and it is not legislatively authorised, it is not reviewed by courts, it is not consonant with our constitution — that is a problem.”

For others, the issue of privacy and personal data was seen in the context of a value exchange, with consumers increasingly willing to reveal information in return for benefit. “The more utility you get, the more you’re going to have to give away your privacy,” said Scoble, adding he’d happily do so himself in return for more useful and personalised experiences. Sir Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the World Wide Web, agreed: “I’m excited about data being about me. The marketer gets a certain amount of value in the stats on my demographic, but the real value is for me.”

Daniela Rus, director of the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab at MIT, said the way forward was giving consumers control of their data. “We are now developing technologies to give people control over who manages their data and how. We are ensuring privacy, so it will be very easy and very comfortable for them to give their data over and get something out of it.”

Avoiding Bandwagons

Elsewhere at SXSW, conversation swirled around everything from “embeddables” (technology emebedded in the world around us, such that “virtually any human activity we can think of is going to be modified and amplified with an invisible mesh of data and processing that we will drift through obliviously,” according to one panel) to bioengineering. But ultimately, “good technology is no excuse for a bad idea,” said Paul Kemp-Robertson, co-founder and editorial director of marketing consultancy and magazine, Contagious. “It’s easy to jump onto bandwagons just because a new technology looks cool. Everyone enjoys feeling like that little kid chasing after the bright, shiny tool in the distance. But in this age of service design and living data, if a marketing idea is not useful, relevant or entertaining, then really there’s very little point in letting it loose on the world.”

Kristina Simmons, a partner at leading Silicon Valley venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz, agreed. Wearable technology, for example, should not be a priority just because everyone is talking about it. “It needs to be something that makes sense for your business. It’s about thinking about your top five priorities, versus saying I want to do something with wearables.”

“Innovation isn’t just giant leaps and bounds and the sexy stuff — it’s also about the basics and thinking about how we do things better. Incremental changes can make a big difference too,” said Will Young, director of Zappos Labs.

“Being first has always been a big thing,” said Ben Malbon, Google’s head of creative partnerships. “But the future is here already. We should use the existing tools we have on the table. Innovation doesn’t need invention.”

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digital snippets e-commerce social media Startups

Digital snippets: Burberry, Calvin Klein, Moschino, Saks, M&S, Primark

A round-up of all the latest stories surrounding fashion and tech…

 

  • Burberry reveals ‘digital innovation’ partnership with WeChat to strengthen social presence in China [The Drum]
  • Calvin Klein asks fans to snap selfies in their skivvies for #MyCalvins campaign [BrandChannel]
  • Fast-fashion: Moschino offers fans the ability to shop its McDonald’s-themed show live [Dazed Digital]
  • Saks recreates in-store beauty tutorials with six-second videos on Vine [LuxuryDaily]
  • Marks & Spencer launches new website to replace Amazon platform, after three years in the making [The Telegraph]
  • How Primark achieved 1.7m Facebook Likes in just six months [Econsultancy]
  • Former GQ editor Lauren Bans comes out as @CondeElevator Tweeter [Fashionista]
  • New privacy website lets you opt out of tracking in retail stores [AdAge]
  • Ebay buys virtual fitting room start-up PhiSix Fashion Labs [PC Mag]
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data digital snippets e-commerce mobile social media

Digital snippets: adidas, Louis Vuitton, Neiman Marcus, Bitcoin, American Apparel

Here’s a highlight of the best stories in the fashion and tech space over the past couple of weeks…

adidas_Stan_Smith_Popup

  • adidas launches Stan Smith pop-up store, includes 3D-printing station (as pictured) [Dexigner]
  • Louis Vuitton debuts spring campaign on Instagram [Refinery29]
  • Neiman Marcus CEO apologises for data breach, offers free credit monitoring [The Verge]
  • Overstock CEO: Why we’re accepting Bitcoins [CNBC]
  • Five reasons why American Apparel is bullish on Twitter [AdWeek]
  • Aerie’s unretouched ads ‘challenge supermodel standards’ for young women [Huffington Post]
  • Warby Parker launches interactive 2013 annual report [Laughing Squid]
  • Wet Seal hires 16-year-old to build its following on Snapchat [AdAge]
  • François-Henri Pinault puts his money where his mobile is via Square, hints at future for luxury world buying into tech [FT Material World]
  • Show business: are fashion shows still relevant? [BoF]
  • Beacons: what they are, how they work, and why Apple’s iBeacon technology is ahead of the pack [Business Insider]
  • Personalisation is key for beauty omnichannel strategy: L’Oréal Luxe exec [Luxury Daily]
  • Try on virtual make-up and pay with your hand with retail tech at CES 2014 [BrandChannel]
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digital snippets e-commerce social media technology

Digital snippets: H&M, Instagram, Uniqlo, Ferragamo, Urban Outfitters, Nike

Happy new year all and welcome to 2014!

It’s straight to Vegas for me and headfirst into CES for what’s looking set to be a week heavy on the wearables front. More of that to follow, but for now, here’s a highlight of some of the fashion and tech stories you may have missed over the past couple of weeks…

david-beckham-underwear_HM

  • H&M and Beckham return to The Super Bowl with ground-breaking shoppable TV ad campaign [WGSN]
  • Instagram reveals ‘promising’ results of Levi’s and Ben & Jerry’s ad trial [Marketing Magazine]
  • Ferragamo weaves founder’s history into fairy tale film [Luxury Daily]
  • Nike, MTV are top global brands on Instagram in 2013 [BrandChannel]
  • How in-store analytics is changing the way you shop [Fashionista]
  • Beacons: What they are, how they work, and why Apple’s iBeacon technology is ahead of the pack [Business Insider]
  • What fashion adds to the tech world: Vanessa Friedman on wearables [FT]
  • Smart eyelashes and fingernails: the next wave of wearable tech [Mashable]
  • Can Apple’s Angela Agrendts spark a retail revolution? [Fast Company]
Categories
data digital snippets e-commerce social media

Digital snippets: social media rankings, Topshop, Hermès, Free People, Asos

Here’s a highlight of stories from around the web surrounding all things fashion and digital over the past week:

BOF_Top10

  • Do the digital and social media rankings that have flooded the fashion industry really mean anything? [BoF]
  • Topshop, iTunes team up, web users able to sample and download music as they shop [WWD]
  • Hermès promotes silver jewellery collection with ‘symphony of silver’ video [PSFK]
  • Free People gets 10% of its online sales from app in first week [Mashable]
  • Attention, shoppers: store is tracking your cell [NY Times]
  • Analysing online department store SEO: ASOS gets the basics right [Econsultancy]
  • Meet the other woman behind Net-a-Porter, president Alison Loehnis [Fashionista]
  • Announcing Divvy: the app that won the Co.Labs and Target Retail Accelerator [Co.Labs]
  • With Cinematique’s ‘touch-enabled’, shoppable videos, product placement might not be so bad [TechCrunch]