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business Comment Retail Startups technology

Innovator Liz Bacelar on the intersection of fashion and technology

Thanks to Ruth O’Connor for permission to publish this piece, originally published in The Sunday Business Post, October 2019.

‘Pay attention. You’ll need to,” Liz Bacelar declares as she takes to the stage. “What I present to you here will not be the same as what I present to people next week. That’s how quickly this stuff moves.”

Inventor of the phrase “fashion tech”, Bacelar is an entrepreneur, journalist and a co-founder of Current Global, an innovation firm based in New York, London and Tokyo, which seeks to redefine how fashion and retail intersect with technology.

Established in 2013 with her co-founder Rachel Arthur, Current Global forges relationships between fashion retailers, the luxury sector, tech giants and start-ups. Put simply, Bacelar has put the tech intelligence into retail. She’s speaking today at Maven46’s ‘Be’ Summit 2019 at Dublin’s Richmond Education and Event Centre, and is offering a whirlwind trip through consumer beauty and fashion, augmented reality and the immersive reality of multiple platforms.

Prior to launching Current Global, Bacelar established Decoded Fashion – the world’s largest innovator community for consumer retail. The company launched in ten countries before she exited. “I wanted to be in the connection business, not the conference business,” she says.

She is also co-founder of Flow Journeys, which sees a handpicked group of thought leaders visit locations as diverse as Iceland and Cuba to build relationships and foster collaboration. It’s networking on another level.

She uses terms like “data-driven customer journeys”, “augmented worlds” and “a culture of purpose” – which sound like future jargon, but we’re already there. Think you’ve never used augmented reality? What about apps such as the Dulux Visualiser which allows you to try paint colours on your wall? Amazon App’s View in your Room function? Or the recent launch of Spark AR on Instagram allowing users to “try on” cosmetics or sunglasses from Nars Cosmetics and Ray-Ban?

Bacelar is frequently asked whether bricks-and-mortar stores are dead. She doesn’t believe so; she says that physical retail spaces remain important, but that innovative brands are leveraging those spaces differently and the customer has become more demanding.

“It’s about having a mixed-reality layer overlaid [on the mobile experience], so that when you go into a store today you know that there will be a mirror in which you can see the make-up on your face. In certain markets, this is becoming a consumer expectation. The customer does not want to have to try on the product physically – they want to try on the product virtually.”

Later when we talk, Bacelar says that we are living in an era of contradictory behaviours, a battle between the digital and the analogue. The desire for immediacy and convenience has become a way of life. “You can live in a rural setting and still want to receive things faster,” she says. “We all perceive that we have less time, yet we also have more things to do, so we need vendors to give us efficiency and speed. A lot of what’s driving implementation of these things is a chase for speed and free time.”

The more free time we have, however, the more we spend it in a digital vortex which sucks away our human experiences. “It’s a pendulum that keeps swinging from one side to the other,” Bacelar says. “Sometimes you do want to talk to somebody when you go to a store. So technology now is swinging towards personal connections.”

Think of when you first got a personalized email from a brand. It seemed cool and even intimate at the start, but not after the 300th time. “But what if the email is from Tanya, who you met at the store, and who logged you in to the loyalty system for the brand? It becomes harder to ignore that email when you know it was sent by a real person. Stores are rolling that out now, with the first touchpoint being a real person.”

Data-driven customer journeys can become skewed when those same customers supply incorrect information. Think of the child who uses a fake date of birth to set up a Gmail account in order set up an Instagram account because they’re under the age limit, or when you put in false details online for privacy reasons.

Liz Bacelar, co-founder & CEO of Current Global speaking at Maven46’s ‘Be’ Summit 2019

“The major platforms do have bad data,” says Bacelar. “A lot of brands over-rely on data from the social media giants and they don’t have their own way to create a deeper understanding of who their consumer is. There are a lot of start-ups that want brands to think outside of those major platforms by harnessing the data themselves to reach a place of accuracy.”

Since we spoke in Dublin, I’ve been anticipating the new Ken Loach and Paul Laverty film Sorry We Missed You, due for release in November. It’s a stark look at the zero-hour-contract gig economy and the appalling conditions in which the people who deliver our online shopping work because we demand immediacy through e-commerce. It raises the question of where the humanity lies in all of this.

Bacelar believes that the next big retail trend is the “trend of purpose”. Thanks to the “Greta effect” she believes that young people are becoming less interested in shopping from brands that lack purpose. “Kids are bouncing from digital to analogue at a very interesting pace and the way they are aggregating communities is very interesting. The sustainability and climate change effort does not belong to any specific social platform,” she says. “It is a globalization of mobilization – the ability to mobilize communities and groups from anywhere without being in one specific place.”

Bacelar says that we are living an “offline moment” through global climate change protests and that we are also living in an “exponential curve” – a period of change on a large scale at an accelerated pace. “The level of change we’ve seen in the past six months has been greater than in the past ten years when it comes to the subjects of sustainability, technology and data awareness. Change is happening very fast.”

If people in general are resistant to change, this is also the case in the corporate environment where she says many executives believe that innovation is gimmicky rather than “doing something in a new way to get different results”.

Bacelar adds that we, as consumers, have the power to shape the conversation. “I know of companies today who are only doing sustainability because you must show that you care,” she says.

“Companies like the Eileen Fisher womenswear brand have been doing this for many years and no one listened. It once looked stupid to take old clothes and remanufacture them. Now it sounds invigorating and inspiring to a consumer.

“If I were a luxury executive, I would be terrified of the ten-year-old kids today. Their futures depend on these executives and they are not aligned. These kids walking the streets with Greta Thunberg care about localization, activism, inclusivity, empowerment – everything that luxury hasn’t been.

“Luxury is trying to catch up. In eight years, these kids will be their consumers. They have eight years to change their ways.”

Ruth O’Connor is a journalist writing for Ireland’s top publications on fashion, design, craft, trends and business for the past 13 years. She graduated from University College Dublin in 1998 with a first class honours degree in English. She then studied pattern cutting and fashion design later going on to obtain a first class honours degree in journalism from Dublin City University in 2006 where her final thesis was an exploration of fashion in Ireland. @ruthoconnorsays

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Retail technology

GU showcase store introduces personalized avatars for virtual try-on

GU Style Studio
GU Style Studio

Fast Retailing’s GU, is connecting online and offline retail with a new store in Tokyo’s Harajuku district, that allows shoppers to see sample products in real-life and then try them on using virtual tools.

The GU Style Studio, as it’s called, is designed to showcase garments and provide a sense of convenience by enabling customer to then order them through their mobile phones for delivery at home later.

Visitors are encouraged to create their own digital avatar through a photo taken at the GU Style Creator Stand, then scan QR codes on individual items via the GU Style Creator App to see how they would look wearing each piece. They can then continue to play with a combination of different looks digitally while they move through the store.

According to Osamu Yunoki, GU’s chief executive officer, a benefit from this technology is the data collected from shoppers at the store. Yunoki told Bloomberg that information on app usage and styling combinations can help GU learn more about how people shop and what’s in style.

After purchasing items, customers can choose to have them shipped to their home, or they can pick them up at a nearby GU store or designated 7-11 location. GU has almost 400 stores across Asia, primarily in Japan, Taiwan and China.

GU Style Studio
GU Style Studio

“We’re fusing the in-store experience and e-commerce to offer a fun and convenient experience. Harajuku isn’t just for shopping. It’s also a place where fashion is created. We’d like to use our customer’s creations as a stimulus for developing new types of fashion,” he said.

It’s not the first time Fast Retailing, Asia’s biggest clothing retailer, and also the parent company of Uniqlo, has chosen GU as a testbed for new technology: it was the first brand in the portfolio to introduce RFID tags and self-checkout back in 2015. Two years later, Fast Retailing announced they would be using the technology in 3,000 Uniqlo stores worldwide.

The industry is increasingly seeing examples of more seamless shopping opportunities – from unmanned stores, to overtly interactive ones. This idea of walking out empty-handed, meanwhile, combines the idea of a convenient shopping experience, while encouraging customers to share more data.

How are you thinking about retail 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.

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Retail Uncategorized

Are China’s Retail Pop-ups a Bubble That’s Ready to Burst?

Coco Game Center by Chanel
Coco Game Center by Chanel

With racing games and a claw machine, it looks more like an arcade than a boutique. But the Coco Game Center housed in trendy Shanghai mall K11 from April 14 to 23 is actually a pop-up shop created by French luxury house Chanel. The racing game, for instance, has a double C logo steering wheel, and the prizes captured by the claw machine are Chanel cosmetics samples.

Chanel’s first game-themed pop-up took place in Tokyo in March this year, and excitement about it spilled over to Chinese fans on social media. When Chanel announced it was bringing the pop-up to China, reservations were booked out a week before it arrived.

The concept of pop-up stores was popularized by Japanese fashion label Comme des Garçons. Its founder, Rei Kawakubo, opened the label’s first pop-up store in Berlin in 2004. Since then, the fashion label has been making its mark around the world through pop-up stores.

The compound annual growth rate of pop-up retailing has been over 100 percent since 2015. By 2020, over 3,000 pop-up stores will have launched in China.

Coco Game Center by Chanel / Source: timegonemay/instagram
Coco Game Center by Chanel / Source: timegonemay/instagram

Beyond Traditional Retail

Pop-up stores’ spike in popularity can be attributed in part to the shifting tides of real estate. Traditional retail space is becoming more and more expensive but can feel outdated, making pop-up stores a more exciting alternative.

They allow luxury brands to unleash their creativity, building a branded world that consumers can fully inhabit. Impressive details stimulate fans to record their experiences and post them on social media. Done well, pop-up stores provide authentic social media exposure that money can’t buy.

Last year, Chanel launched its Chanel Café, inviting fans to taste branded dessert and coffee after first trying out some of their products. Around the same time, YSL invited fans to a yacht party, providing them with free makeovers. At both events, brands offered exclusive products for consumers to purchase.

Combining exclusive products and limited durations, pop-up stores are a textbook example of hunger marketing, which is particularly effective in China. Queues often generate excitement, rather than a sense of inconvenience.

Digital Pop-ups Are Now a Thing

Pop-ups are no longer limited to brands entering shopping malls. E-commerce sites are also hosting pop-ups both online and offline.

Luxury E-commerce platform Secoo opened a pop-up store with lingerie brand La Perla last year in Beijing’s popular Sanlitun shopping district. Similarly, MyMM, a content-driven e-commerce platform,  launched a ‘Trend hunter’ themed pop-up store in Shanghai, allowing visitors to touch the merchandise listed on the site. MyMM said the pop-up store benefits lesser-known brands on the platform, giving them a chance to test consumer response before investing in a physical store.

“About one and a half years ago, more and more e-commerce sites started to think about opening an offline pop-up shop. It has reached a near-explosive state this year,” Vincent Tan, the founder of a pop-up agency POPEX told Chinese media Netease Tech.

He argued that it’s become harder for e-commerce platforms to acquire new users online, and shopping malls have been struggling to attract foot traffic. Pop-ups are seen as a solution to both problems, leading online and offline retailers to increasingly working together.

Another recent development is e-commerce sites hosting virtual pop-ups on their platforms. Luxury brands concerned about cheapening their brand by selling online can experiment with e-commerce platforms by first trying a limited collaboration. On April 10 this year, for instance, luxury watchmaker Audemars Piguet announced its first online pop-up boutique in partnership with JD.com, which marks the 143-year-old Swiss manufacturer’s first foray into e-commerce. That gives them the opportunity to evaluate sales performance and consumer feedback before committing to a deeper, more ongoing relationship.

What’s the Future of Pop-ups?

While pop-up shops can be a useful testing ground for some brands, for others they may already be too cost-prohibitive.

Pop-up stores are meant to make young consumers excited, but as they become more commonplace, it’s getting harder to generate that engagement. Simultaneously, the cost of launching a successful pop-up has gone up as more PR and marketing staff are needed, and hiring a space is becoming more expensive.

For smaller brands, hosting a pop-up doesn’t necessarily help them survive and thrive. Guo Wanyi, a manager of a Chinese brand called Debrand said, “It’s not like a physical store where you can count on sales. Often times the purpose of opening a pop-up is not to generate sales, so you can’t necessarily get back the cost.”

For luxury brands, while pop-ups can help reach younger consumers, hosting too many can eat away at their uniqueness. Like online marketing, not ever retail pop-up retail store can go viral.

By Ruonan Zheng 

This article was originally published on Jing Daily, a content partner of TheCurrentDaily: Are China’s Retail Pop-ups a Bubble That’s Ready to Burst?

Categories
data digital snippets e-commerce social media technology

Digital snippets: Apple, Michael Kors, Chiara Ferragni, Crocs, Snapchat, Neiman Marcus, Gap

A round-up of the latest stories to know about surrounding all things fashion and tech…

AppleVogue3

  • Apple runs first watch ads: 12 pages in Vogue [AdAge]
  • Michael Kors is getting into wearable tech [Bloomberg]
  • 10 things we learned about the business of blogging from Chiara Ferragni’s Harvard Study [StyleCaster]
  • Drones to fetch orders at Tokyo Crocs store [WSJ]
  • Luxury brands on Snapchat? Why Michael Kors is taking the plunge [Digiday]
  • Asos plots further Snapchat activity despite admitting it provides ‘virtually no data at all’ [The Drum]
  • Neiman Marcus integrates interactive tables for unbridled selection [PSFK]
  • Gap launches Instagram soap opera with Jenny Slate, Paul Dano [Mashable]
  • Nordstrom shrinks Innovation Lab, reassigns employees in shakeup of tech initiatives [Geekwire]
  • Apple stores will implement jewellery store practices to help sell the Apple Watch [TechCrunch]
  • I wore a Fitbit during fashion week [Fashionista]
  • What the tech world doesn’t understand about fashion [Racked]
  • The future of retail is the end of wholesale [BoF]
  • Will drones fly in retail? [Stores Magazine]
  • Jeff Bezos makes another push for Amazon Fashion. Will it work? [Bloomberg]
  • How Code and Theory’s Brandon Ralph gained the trust of everyone from Anna Wintour to Burger King [Fashionista]
  • Victoria’s Secret ads warm up People Magazine’s Snapchat Stories [AdAge]
  • Adidas app lets sneakerheads wait in virtual lines for limited editions [Bloomberg]
  • River Island moving IT ‘out of the back room’ with tech hub collaboration [The Drum]
  • ‘Lucky’ launches LuckyShops.com [MediaPost]
  • Face hacking: transforming our future visages with digital make-up [Motherboard]
  • How start-ups are beating Burberry to DIY fashion [Marketing Magazine]
  • How Line is turning Instagram into an e-commerce app in Thailand [TechInAsia]
  • First digital measuring tape to make online shopping less risky [PSFK]
Categories
technology

Innovating the humble hanger: flashback from Japan

I discovered this video when writing a story about the future of shopping this week, and thought it worth resurfacing.

It’s a simple premise: the  shopper removes items from the rail and as they do so they activate content on nearby video screens. It’s not the garment that holds the sensors, but the hanger it is hung on – recognising unique details, from the fabric it is made of, to shots of models wearing it.

It was a concept from a company called teamLab in Tokyo – featured as part of an exhibition called We Are the Future, and then later in retail store Vanquish around 2010-2012.

But it’s also one you can imagine working very effectively in a luxury store today, in part similar to the connected fitting rooms we’ve seen at the likes of Burberry with RFID tagged garments, or reportedly in pilot from Microsoft and Accenture with Kohl’s. But it’s also reminiscent of the Mother’s Day campaign run by C&A Brazil two years ago, which saw hangers embedded with real-time counters for Facebook Likes.

There’s a lot to be said for the humble hanger it would seem…

teamlab_hanger4 teamlab_hanger1 teamlab2 teamlab_hanger3