MILAN — Integrating brick-and-mortar stores with digital technology, engaging customers with personalized online communications and using data analysis to anticipate the needs of all shoppers emerged as the key themes at Decoded Fashion Milan’s second edition. Promoted by Pitti Immagine’s e-Pitti digital arm, the event, created to connect emerging technologies with fashion, beauty and retail leaders, took place Wednesday at La Pelota venue in Milan’s Brera District. 

“Luxury thanks to digital can offer a unique experience that provides extra pleasure by flattering all senses at once,” said Federico Barbieri, Kering’s senior vice president of digital and e-business.  “To deliver a luxury experience, the secret is in the details, in the small data,” he added, stressing the importance of focusing on consumers as individuals. And according to Barbieri, delivering a luxury experience online is possible only through a more personal human filter, which can interpret technological data.

The human and the digital can be perfectly integrated to create exclusive and satisfying experiences for customers, according to Google retail director Martijn Bertisen. “The concept that high street is dead is absolutely not true,” he said. “Technology is enabling us to get the best of both worlds.” However, to be relevant to consumers, content must be customized, Bertisen added.

“It’s criminal if a company send a single message to all its customers,” he said, citing some examples of brands with highly customized services, such as Burberry, which allows online shoppers to decorate bottles of the My Burberry fragrance with their names, and L’Oreal, which through five questions about skin type recommends specific foundations to its e-shoppers.

Thinking in digital terms is the main challenge for luxury brands, said Versace group director of global marketing Dennis Valle. “We need to be digital masters building digital capabilities inside the company,” he said, emphasizing the need to build a strong experience through storytelling before selling products, and to engage consumers in an ongoing conversation.

Adapting to the digital business world has never been a problem for Kenzo, said the company’s visual identity developer Massimiliano Pipolo. “We always worked in a digital environment, so our goal has mostly been to translate Internet content and the DNA of the company to our stores,” he said, citing screens, high-tech displays and interactive totems as tools to create a sort of “digitalization of humanity.”

Social networks also emerged as key for fashion companies to reach their customers. For example, during the most recent women’s fashion shows, Twitter saw its conversations rise 42 percent compared to the same period last year. According to Salvatore Ippolito, country manager of Twitter Italia, in Italy 30 percent of Twitter’s users follow fashion brands. Ippolito said that to monetize this connection with their followers, brands must go beyond storytelling and make sure they are reaching people at precisely the right moment: for example, most conversations with the #shopping hashtag take place on Saturday.

According to Rebecca Minkoff chief executive officer Uri Minkoff, the fashion industry’s retail scenario is witnessing more extreme consumer patterns. On one hand, there are extremely informed, independent shoppers who don’t need shopping assistants, and on the other, there are those who demand celebrity treatment. “Technology can help align human desires,” said Minkoff, noting that high-tech devices can speed up the search for specific items in a store.

A company’s Web site and social network accounts impact not only the brand’s communication and retail activities, but also its product development, said Minkoff. He explained that twice a year, Rebecca Minkoff collects feedback from customers to create products based on their preferences.

More traditional brands can also benefit from digital initiatives. Valextra, which, as the company’s general manager Marco Scarpella highlighted, doesn’t advertise offline, is re-launching its Web platform. He underscored the importance of well-crafted stories in connecting consumers to brand identity.

Tod’s favors a different approach, investing heavily in print advertising campaigns, but also in its Web strategy. “We think of digital and print as a single thing,” said Tod’s global digital PR manager Jarvis Macchi, noting that integration between the online and the off-line is at the core of all the brand’s campaign or PR initiatives. As an example, Macchi cited “Dots of life,” a project celebrating the company’s signature Gommino shoe, which was launched on Instagram and then involved Tod’s stores with various activities. While embracing the most important social networks, Macchi explained that Tod’s is not on Twitter. “It doesn’t fit our tone of voice,” he said. “Companies have to be careful to scale the message to the platform.”  

The importance of tailoring digital communications to customers is also critical for international retailers, because they allow stores to “actually understand [customers’] needs in advance and create a ‘surprise effect’ in the store through data analysis,” said Monica Gagliardi, manager for e-commerce, partnerships and CRM at Italian retail giant Oviesse. She said predictive analysis systems can also create loyalty in customers.

But excessive data can be dangerous for brands, added Michael Scatigna, chief executive officer of e-commerce service provider Triboo Digitale.  “We give our partners easy-to-use dashboards and they can send five or six newsletters per week, but they have to be well customized to avoid being perceived as spam,” he said. In addition, Scatigna stressed the importance of respecting customers’ privacy and informing them of the reasons why companies collect their information.

In closing, a jury of experts named the winners of Fashion Pitch, a competition for start-ups organized by Decoded Fashion. “Modist,” an iPad tool created by Andrea Foster, Janila Jamani and Khalid Meniri to allow retailers to present products by selecting content from editorial shoots and street style pictures, won first prize, and an induction session with executives from Diesel. An online personal styling project called “Sartorias” and an online clothing rental service called “Rentez Vous” won the chance to participate to StartUp Initiative’s Bootcamp and to present their projects at the upcoming editions of Pitti Uomo and Pitti W, respectively.   

OTB chief executive officer Stefano Rosso, who led the Fashion Pitch jury and is on the board of directors of H-Farm, a venture capital group specializing in techno-savvy start-ups, also discussed the importance for Italian start-ups of opening up to international environments.

“My suggestion to Italian start-ups is to not get stuck to Italy, because in Italy we see more the box than the contents and there is a lack of strong business models,” he said. Rosso also cited the UK and Israel as the most interesting markets for digital ventures. In addition, Rosso, who is an investor through Red Circle, advised young digital entrepreneurs not to get too attached to their ideas.

“You have to think what people need and make it simple. Take a concrete need, try to fill it and make it as easier as you can,” he said.

Rosso also expressed skepticism about both wearable and beacon technology, and revealed that Diesel is working with Yoox on the creation of a new Web site, which will integrate contents and e-commerce.