TUCSON, Ariz. — What does it take to ignite the customer experience? A strong mix of technology and a human touch, according to retail, e-commerce and technology executives from Macy’s Inc., Nike, Blue Nile, Whole Foods, Intel, Westfield and Home Depot, who gathered at the 10th-annual Global Retailing Conference at the Loews Ventana Canyon resort here last week.
As the economy shifts into recovery and growth, speakers at the conference, held in conjunction with the Terry J. Lundgren Center for Retailing at the University of Arizona, probed ways in which to capture the Millennial consumer now and for the future, using a combination of data, technology and face-to-face interaction.
“If you are not listening to Millennials, you will totally miss the boat,” warned Terry J. Lundgren, chairman and chief executive officer of Macy’s Inc. “We do it through product first.”
Lundgren said Macy’s has picked up market share and earnings have been improving, but “last year was tough and we only gained 2.8 percent in same-store sales, the weakest in the last four years. That’s not good; we have to respond very quickly to change for us all to succeed.”
He added, “It’s OK to admit that we aren’t the best in all categories, engage someone who is, and bring them under our umbrella.” He cited Sunglass Hut, Finish Line and Lids as three retailers he rolled out in Macy’s to help capture the Millennial customer.
Ever wonder what it would be like if your clothes could tweet messages to you? Or to other clothes in your closet or stores? Apparently, some Millennials have. Brian David Johnson, author and futurist for Intel Corp., looks 10 to 15 years ahead to see how consumers will react to ever-shrinking and ever-advancing technology that will soon make it possible to have computers in your clothes, hologram stores, 3-D printing to make seasonal store displays, and mobile delivery via drone.
“Science and technology have progressed to the point where what we build is only constrained by our imaginations,” Johnson said. “Think about sentient stores, that can understand who is in store, what is going on, increase efficiencies. The store itself becomes an extension of who you are and who your business is.”
For Hointer founder and chief executive officer Nadia Shouraboura, stores can use technology now to improve the consumer experience and capture more sales. Prior to founding her software solutions company, Shouraboura worked on Wall Street, then at Amazon and also opened three of her own apparel stores to closely study the consumer experience (during this time, she also worked as a sales associate at Levi’s and Nordstrom to glean further insights).
“The stores were beautiful but some things kill experience: waiting, trying on clothes, finding sizes. How could I use tech to quietly make the shopping more pleasant?” she asked. Shouraboura implemented technology in “experience areas” in her stores that delivered items to dressing rooms and used mobile checkout and delivery. “The cost of running the store goes down because I use a lot less floor space, no clutter in front, all items in back. My associates are not busy with repetitive tasks like folding; they are talking to customers and adding items. Inventory costs get lower because when they mobile shop they can see where items are and know they will get them the next day.” The experience will be launched in a London department store and a high-end shoe store this summer, as well as a fast-fashion chain in Singapore.
After the presentation, Lundgren approached her about trying it in Macy’s as well. “I have spent time in your shoe department in Herald Square,” she told him. “I was waiting too long. Just give me a small section of your store and we can try.” Said Lundgren, “I want to focus on my stores and I’ve been taking a lot of notes. I’m open to working with the presenters here as well as some attendees. I’m keeping my mind open because I’d rather try and fail than not try at all.”
Michael P. Kercheval, president and chief executive officer of International Council of Shopping Centers, called shopping centers the place where people spend the most time after work and home. “The Internet does not provide that, but it is a tool that helps facilitate that,” he said. He spoke with Westfield’s global chief digital officer Kevin McKenzie about how to integrate technology into shopping centers to drive traffic to retailers.
“We are doing a bunch of pilots around the world to make experience in our retail partners really great for the consumer. They can plan a trip before they come — search inventory, get real-time information about products. There’s also way-finding and mapping, hands-free shopping, delivery to car or home, improved food-court experiences,” said McKenzie.
“If retailers are selling less in the mall stores and they are becoming more showcases, it’s hard for a landlord to know what sales are. How do you envision rents for the future?” Kercheval asked him. “If you aggregate an audience and facilitate commerce, that entity needs to get paid. In digital space that is reach, frequency and transactions. Every program we create to connect the dots — if it creates commerce before, during and after — we should get credit for,” said McKenzie.
Ken Langone, cofounder of Home Depot, said “I’m all for technology, but I’m fearful we will lose sight of the human touch and its true value. Nothing will ever replace it.”
He needn’t worry. T-shirt retailer Life Is Good stressed the human connection as the key to its success. Cofounder Bert Jacobs, who began selling T-shirts in parking lots 20 years ago, traced the company’s growth to the customer’s reaction to the feel-good message of their graphic tees. He built the relationships organically through festivals and philanthropy. Today, the company gives 10 percent of its $100 million volume to charity. “Love is the greatest currency,” he said.
Bobbi Brown, who closed out the conference, said she used both in equal measure. As the newly appointed editor in chief of Yahoo Beauty, she plans to offer master classes via video and share women’s stories through a host of guest writers. “I built my brand wanting women to feel and look good. I make it happen in my office, in stores and online.”
“These collections continue to build on that vision, empowering differently abled adults to express themselves through fashion,” said @tommyhilfiger of his line of adaptive apparel, which launches today. The line consists of 37 men’s and 34 women’s styles based upon the pieces from the spring Tommy Hilfiger sportswear collection. #wwdnews
“Stranger Things” is getting a new cast member for season 2. Meet @sadiesink_, the 15-year-old who will be joining the Netflix series for its new season. You may recognize her from “The Glass Castle” with Brie Larson and Woody Harrelson, but the Texas native’s next role goes in an entirely different direction. She describes her character, Max, as “a rough and tumble skater girl [who] becomes friends with the boys at school.” The second season debuts on October 27. (📷: @jgreenery) #wwdeye
Amid the Harvey Weinstein controversy, there’s another sector that’s being put under the spotlight for sexual abuse: the modeling industry. While rumors about abuse and sexual harassment of female and male models — and the photographers, agents and others who perpetrated it — have circulated within the fashion world for years, model @cameronrussell started posting stories from models on Instagram last week about abusive situations they’ve encountered — from sexual harassment and molestation to attempted rape. Over 75 have weighed in so far. Read more on WWD.com. Link in bio. #wwdnews
To celebrate its 16th anniversary, @dylanscandybar tapped designers and celebrities to create mosaics out of candy. The mosaics will be auctioned off to support the philanthropic cause of each participant’s choice. Pictured here is the mural created by @aliceandolivia's Stacey Bendet. For a first look at some of the other artwork being unveiled tonight, go to WWD.com. #wwdeye
The annual Veuve Clicquot Polo Classic in Pacific Palisades this weekend drew Kate Hudson, Tracee Ellis Ross, Laura Dern and more. See pictures of the star-studded event on WWD.com. (📷: @chelsealaurenla) #wwdeye
In his new book “Hollywood Royale,” Andy Warhol’s Protégé Matthew Rolston celebrates the Eighties revival of Hollywood glamour. Featuring more than 100 portraits taken by Rolston from 1977 to 1993, the book contains photos of icons like Michael Jackson, Cyndi Lauper, and @drewbarrymore, pictured here in 1991. “Hollywood Royale,” out today, will be accompanied by an exhibition opening at Los Angeles’ Fahey/Klein Gallery on March 1. #wwdeye
"Nowadays when life is not so happy with everything going on in the world, I think people come to me for a little bit of whimsy and color and fun." - Designer Rebecca De Ravenel on her cult-favorite jewelry line. (📸 : @vsteves) #wwd40
“Everyone is talking about how the retail industry is struggling, but I think it’s an incredible time because brands who are doing something different and innovative are setting themselves up for the future,” said @adamgoldston, who founded the luxury athletic brand @apl with his brother @ryangoldsten. The Goldston’s are part of WWD’s 40 under 40: a group of industry notables. See the rest of the list on WWD.com. (📷: @vsteves) #wwd40
@eyeswoon blogger Athena Calderone debuted her first-ever cookbook, “Cook Beautiful,” which is heavily centered on the presentation and visual expression of food. Pictured here are her miso glazed carrots from the book. Get the recipe on WWD.com. (📷: @johnny_miller_) #wwdeye