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NRF Turns Focus to Digital

The third day of the National Retail Federation’s Big Show served up a look at what brands are doing now and what the world of tomorrow might look like.

NEW YORK — The third day of the National Retail Federation’s Big Show served up a look at what brands are doing now and what the world of tomorrow might look like.

Most of the emphasis was on the digital world — how companies can better use the massive amounts of data they collect, how they can use technology to improve the shopping experience, even how technology can be not just used, but worn. But there was also a sense that digital is not the answer to everything, with online brands branching into the real world. Here, a look at the NRF’s view of the marketplace.

UNDERSTANDING BIG DATA

Fashion companies are growing increasingly techy and turning to new tools to make sense of the customer data at their fingertips.

The topic — which is top of mind for many retailers — was explored in a session entitled “What Do Handbags and Diamonds Have in Common? Applying Big Data and Analytics to Fashion.”

Scott Steever, senior director for strategic initiatives at Vera Bradley, said, “Our going public has changed our mind-set. We are now data-driven.”

He told attendees that big data for Vera Bradley means understanding what the customer wants and who she is.

The company no longer sends the exact same e-mail to everyone. By looking at what customers have bought, the company can now target e-mails and promotions and align them with an individual customer’s preferences.

Steever said there has been a 63 percent decrease in the number of e-mails sent, and an increase of 101 percent in click-throughs with the targeted e-mail approach, and a corresponding 275 percent increase in the conversion rate.

Vera Bradley also uses data compiled from surveys, e-mails and testing to figure out what patterns on the fabrics used would resonate well with consumers, as well as how much they would pay.

Nathan Gray, vice president for planning and allocation at Helzberg Diamonds, said his firm collects data and uses it to analyze how much consumers say they would pay for certain products, how they rate products and what their sentiment rating is on an item.

Sometimes prices consumers are willing to pay match the suggested price, but often a product will get high marks because customers love its styling, but rank low on sentiment because they’re not willing to pay beyond a certain price.

In that example, Gray said the company will take the information and tweak the product to get it within a certain price range and keep the essential styling of the item that consumers said they liked.

By adapting data to product styling and pricing, Gray said, the company has doubled the number of its winners. “We’ve increased our batting average from 35 percent to 65 percent,” giving the company gross margins worth more than $7 million a year, he said.

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FUTURE TRENDS

Convenience might be the name of the game when it comes to retail’s future.

Piers Fawkes of PSFK and Scott Lachut of PSFK Labs highlighted technological advances that can help make the customer shopping experience more convenient and enjoyable.

One such concept is Beacon, which uses Bluetooth technology and allows retailers to personalize a customer’s trip to the store. Anyone who is logged in via a tablet or smartphone device can receive information on specials tailored specifically to the user’s interests. The feature helps retailers encourage certain behaviors in a brick-and-mortar store in a way that engages the shopper.

At Boston Proper, there are technology tables that enable customers to log in and retrieve their preferences. Or a store associate can see those preferences ahead of time and pull items that may be of interest to the customer before her arrival at the store.

Kate Spade Saturday was also highlighted as one of the brands that has teamed up with eBay. The one-month test featured a physical storefront showcasing 30 items that could be bought via an oversize touchscreen on the store window. The 24-hour shoppable windows were accessible to anyone passing by, and items ordered could be delivered the same day in an hour on average.

WEARABLE WATCH

In “Up Close and Personal with Retail’s Greatest, Coolest, Newest Products,” wearables were a focal point. Consumers are seeking data — and while Google Glass might be among the earliest iterations of wearable technology, a slew of additional products are popping up. Pebble’s smart watch is gaining traction, as is virtual reality 3-D headset Oculus Rift, whose new “Crystal Cove” prototype won the Best of CES Award for 2014 at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas this month. Garmin’s Head-Up Display uses a device that sits on one’s dashboard and a corresponding mobile app to simplify the GPS process.

THE WARBY WAY

Warby Parker co-chief executive officer David Gilboa sat down with Noah Robischon, Fast Company executive editor, to talk about the eyewear company’s merging of physical and digital retail. The company — which was founded as an e-commerce play in 2010 and hit its first year’s sales target in three weeks — now boasts 350 employees and retail stores with sales per square foot that are on par with Tiffany & Co. and 20 to 40 percent higher than industry benchmarks.

Gilboa recalled the time that Mickey Drexler, who now sits on Warby Parker’s board, stressed the need to open a physical store — quite early on. “I brushed it off at first because the business model was predicated on selling online,” Gilboa said. Now, Warby Parker stores offer eye exams and even has photo booths that let consumers take photos of them in prospective frames to share with friends or family to get feedback.

He also spoke to the massive advantage that being a vertical retailer has given the company. For him, owning the customer relationship is invaluable, and he has no intentions of venturing into the wholesale business.