MILAN — Italian brands are exploring digital opportunities for their companies. On Wednesday, the first CEO Roundtable on digital fashion took place at the Four Seasons Hotel in Milan, featuring the two roundtables “Luxury & Digital” and “Fashion & Ecommerce.”

“Fashion is one of the first carriers of e-commerce channels and this is a development opportunity for all market participants, even in [business-to-business],” said Claudio Marenzi, president of Italy’s textile and clothing association Sistema Moda Italia during his introduction of the event.

He noted that Italian companies were mainly focused on wholesale in the past and believed that online sale could penalize multibrand stores, but that it’s now clear that this is not the case. Marenzi, who is also the president of outerwear label Herno admitted laughing that the brand doesn’t have e-commerce at this point. “Not because we don’t believe in it, but because we want to do it more appropriately,” he said.

Roberto Liscia, president of Consorzio Netcomm, stressed the need for online business. “The Italian customer is hungry for e-commerce. Companies must keep up,” he said. “At this point it is clear that if you don’t speak the digital language, you are not likely to exist,” he added, pointing out that in 2014 Italy only had a 3.1 percent share of the European e-commerce market.

During the first roundtable focusing on digital opportunities for the luxury industry, participants agreed that the customer is the protagonist that dictates the strategies that should be pursued by a company.

“Why we are successful is because of the customer,” said Michael Kliger, president of German luxury e-tailer He noted that Mytheresa’s female customer doesn’t have time to do extensive offline shopping. “She wants to buy online. And over half of our traffic is via smartphone, so people out there want to buy luxury items on the small screen, which may be surprising,” he said.

For Kliger, the luxury market is the one global market. “Everybody in the world wants Valentino, wants Prada, wants Gucci and everybody understands it. So the Italian luxury industry has a unique global opportunity to sell to those customers,” he said.

Eraldo Poletto, chief executive officer of Italian accessories firm Furla was on the same wavelength. “The customer is always the way to do what you want,” he said, adding that digital and social media must be an integral part of a company. “It’s not easy, but you have to learn to do it,” he said.

Also Anton Magnani, chief executive officer of Italian footwear brand Sutor Mantellassi believes in the digital chances. “It’s not just the future, but already the present,” he said, adding that the 103-year old brand is set to debut its new e-commerce site by the beginning of the next year.

The second round of discussions on “Fashion & E-commerce” was kicked off with a presentation by David Schneider, chief executive officer of German e-tail giant Zalando that just launched its new “Share Your Sexy” campaign.

“Seven years ago when we founded the company, we were running around at trade fairs trying to convince brands that the Internet was not entirely evil,” he said, adding that today everybody has its own e-commerce and social media strategies, but that the game was again at a turning point.

“The whole customer behavior is changing entirely. People no longer surf the Internet for content, but stay in their personalized feeds, which combines content, social aspects, music, etc. via the app,” he said. For Schneider, the dissolving borders on the Internet means endless possibilities, since everything is intertwined through Google and Facebook.

“We have much information about the consumer, about his behavior, on the products he loves, so why not give him the opportunity to follow the brands and products he loves, give him a personal stylist,” he asked.

Zalando has already been taking the first steps in this direction with the integration of “Your Zalando” into the mobile app, which aims to enhance the customer experience with product recommendations, based on the customers buying behavior and street-style outfits, curated by the firm’s editorial team.

During the second roundtable, the challenges and difficulties for companies to comply with the consumer’s need for multichannels and multidevices were discussed.

“The real obstacle that is often found in businesses is the resistance to change,” said Maurizio Albert, managing director of Teradata Marketing Applications. “The trend is to eliminate the risk of repeating old patterns,” he added.

“Feeling scared is normal,” said Enrico Roselli, chief executive officer of preppy brand La Martina Europe. “The digital world removes the security, it especially lifts the curtain of the brand,” he noted, adding that a company has to force itself to do an analysis of business processes, internal defects and distribution in order to manage problems instead of suffering from them.

Enrico Moretti Polegato, chief executive officer of Italian clothing and accessories manufacturer Diadora believes that wholesale, retail and e-commerce don’t have to be competitors, but can complement each other. “Often a visit on the Internet will lead to an offline purchase, or a new sign on the street can lead you to go on the Web to find out more,” he said.

“If we think that some giants, such as VF [Corp.], are realizing 30 to 50 percent of their turnover online, we can realize the opportunities that you cannot miss if you decide to take the field,” commented Schneider.

Fabio Candido, president of Fenicia, which owns shirt company Camicissima, believes being digital is imperative, but questions the modality. “It’s fundamental, especially in the case of small to medium size enterprises, to rely on specialists or on a platform,” he said. “It is interesting to note that 10 percent of our online turnover comes from France, a country where we have no physical store,” he concluded.


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