On Thursday evening we held our first in a series of FashTech Talks at Shoreditch House. Discussing the subject of ‘Luxe in Flux’, the panel included Robin Derrick, Global Creative Director at Spring Studios, Zoe Patoff, Head of Digital at Karla Otto, and Karim Kanji, Omnichannel Retail Expert at Lightspeed. Moderated by our very own Alex Semenzato, the panel discussed the very hot topic of how luxury brands are adapting to the digital age.

FashTech Founder, Alex Semenzato, introducing the evening's talk

FashTech Founder, Alex Semenzato, introducing the evening's talk

Robin kicked off the discussion by taking a step back and asking “what is a luxury brand?”, saying that, in his opinion, it is a brand that is trying to add value to its product with a story, allowing yourself the ability to increase your price through storytelling around a product. He explained how the traditional system of the luxury brand has ended, with a very current tipping point occurring in which the power is shifting from the brand to the consumer. “Top photographers aren’t getting work now, because people are hiring Instagrammers with tens of thousands of followers instead.” In terms of which brands are embracing this new online era well, Robin cited Gucci and Farfetch, the latter seconded by Karim who explained how they are disrupting the old systems and acting as advocates of change. He also cited Frank and Oak as a great example of an aspirational luxury brand. They started by focusing on e-commerce first, leading with high quality content, and used a retail launchpad for bricks and mortar. Zoe Patoff, on the other hand, admitted that she believes “no one is doing omnichannel well”. A lot of people have been talking about Burberry recently, but she explained how, in reality, they are just very good at creating a PR buzz. Whilst they have screens in store with great content, it is not interactive; it doesn’t allow their customers to engage and play. Zoe cited Gucci as a very hot brand of the moment, enlisting unknown artists with impressive followings into campaigns to interpret their brand codes in new and innovative ways. Gucci are doing it so well that it has prompted a period of “copy cats”, but these brands aren’t thinking about what is best for their image and their consumers; there is no personalisation involved and that is what these brands are hugely lacking. Zoe explained how “what brands need to create is something that gives something back to the consumer. To create experiences and make shopping easier. Personalisation is the most important thing.”

Whilst Zoe cites personalisation as the key to luxury brands’ future success, Robin returned to his notion of storytelling, explaining how that has always been the main focus but it is just that they now have to approach it in a different way. Gucci is one luxury brand that is tapping into this idea brilliantly. Zoe said: “They are selling you a dream. They’re culturally relevant. They don’t have any tech in store but everyone’s hooked on Gucci because it is so beautifully portrayed.” They are thinking about their customer journey. She explained how it is clear to see that they have someone new and exciting at the helm, leading it from a 360 omnichannel approach. But going back to tech, and where it is leading, the panel discussed an optimism for the in-store experience, with developments like smart changing rooms (as used by Rebecca Minkoff) and augmented reality having the potential to hugely improve the customer experience. However, Karim stated that it is ultimately the backend technology that makes the big difference, especially for up and coming brands. “It’s things like your e-commerce platform, your point of sale and your social media that do the heavy lifting.”

Karim Kanji, Robin Derrick, Zoe Patoff and Alex Semenzato

Karim Kanji, Robin Derrick, Zoe Patoff and Alex Semenzato

Speaking on the subject of tech reticence from luxury brands, Robin explained how it’s not that they don’t want to be there, doing it, it’s just that their brand is everything and they don’t let anyone touch it unless there is known, proven quality. It also means spreading out their budget across a multitude of social media channels and they tend to be worried about the diminished production value devaluing their portrayal of luxury. Zoe added the very valid point that these luxury brands often don’t have the right teams in place with the necessary experience and resources. They often outsource the work to other agencies, delaying the inevitable of actually having to learn how this all works themselves. This lack of experience and know-how can be hugely detrimental, for example, picking the wrong social influencers to help promote a product just because they have a huge following. She explained how “Luxury brands don't want to go online or into e-commerce omnichannel because they want to retain control. That's crazy. They lost control the moment Instagram came along. A girl can buy a bag, pose for a photo with it and post it online and there is nothing the brand can do about it!” They need to learn to embrace this and work with it. But currently, “there is a major disconnect between the business owners in luxury and the channels they now use.” Karim explained that that is where a huge opportunity lies for small businesses, as there is a reticence from bigger brands to progress. More agile new comers that aren't technophobes can grow and compete where bigger brands fear to tread.

Something that all speakers were keen to convey to our audience was the importance (and excitement) of the democratisation of fashion. Technology is being made so accessible now and it is allowing the consumer to take the reigns more, and brands that tap into this are the ones who are going to be winning. For example, by using of Snapchat. It is by far the latest and greatest social media platform in terms of reaching and, more importantly, engaging with your consumers. Zoe lamented how Instagram is starting to lose everything that she used to love about it; a raw insight into your favourite brands’ worlds. Instead fashion accounts are starting to look like the advertising pages in Vogue, she said, which is far less interesting for the shopper. Snapchat on the other hand is raw, intimate and fun. It gives a far better insight into the ‘behind the scenes’ of the brands and thus makes the consumer excited about the products and the lifestyle associated with them. However, a lot of luxury brands are yet to join. Missing a trick there we think!

The panel addressing questions from the audience

The panel addressing questions from the audience

Alex closed the discussion by asking whether our speakers thought that tech might be the death of traditional shops, but Karim was confident in his belief that “If anything, technology will facilitate and perpetuate the growth of bricks and mortar stores.” A notion that Zoe concurred, but on the premise that brands start to learn how best to use their store and e-commerce real estate. They must engage their audience and create a personalised experience. Karim said that, despite the growing belief that high street is dying, he actually believes that there’s never been a better time to enter the high street. Robin’s dream though is that the future of retail is a high street full of independent, local brands. As Zoe said, that prospect is much more exciting than a high street full of chains!

Finally, when asked by Alex to give a parting few words on what they think is the most important focus for luxury brands now, Karim said accessible e-commerce, Zoe personalisation, and Robin: “content is key.” 
 

A message from our sponsor, Karim Kanji, Omnichannel Retail Expert at Lightspeed:

"What a privilege to join a panel of such distinguished speakers. I can only hope you found the debate as engaging and inspiring as I did. A major theme that emerged was the incredible opportunity emerging brands have to harness technology and exploit the hesitancy of the luxury giants. It’s essential to streamline the backend systems of your business in order to focus on delivering an unforgettable, cohesive brand experience across your store and ecommerce channels. 

I could talk about this all day so free to drop me a line if you’re curious: karim.kanji@lightspeedhq.com"