Whether through forging a beauty empire, innovating the apparel supply chain or unearthing change in customer fit technology, retail needs innovative thinkers and doers — and women are stepping up to the challenge and leading the way.
Here, WWD asked women business leaders to share their insights on the biggest challenge facing retail and fashion today, and the solutions to address it.
Jackie Trebilcock is the managing director of the New York Fashion Tech Lab, founded in 2014 by the Partnership Fund of New York City and Springboard Enterprises and sponsored by 30-plus leading retailers and brands.
Managing retail’s greatest challenges with a head-on perspective, Trebilcock works directly with a selected cohort of fashion-focused technology companies and fashion retailers or brands under the nonprofit program.
“The main challenge, as we see it, is that consumer demands and expectations have far outpaced the speed of innovation of every industry today, including retail,” Trebilcock said. “The New York Fashion Tech Lab is helping connect retailers and brands with emerging tech companies that have accelerated solutions that would benefit them, and ultimately the consumer, in meeting these expedited requirements,” she continued.
And according to Trebilcock, the industry’s willingness to embrace innovation, new ideas and disruptive technologies enable success in program collaborations and partnerships under the New York Fashion Tech Lab.
As global chief marketing officer of digital business insights company iProspect, Misty Locke finds two areas of challenge: the decline of consumer trust and how brands can remain relevant in a time of constant change, as interlinked.
Customer expectations have shifted to an “instant, personalized and subscribed” model as a result of new technologies being inducted across retail, which “elevates the ethos of a brand through positive digitally driven experiences that truly embrace social awareness, community support initiatives, ethical supply chains and responsible use of data and AI.”
Locke sees the challenge is in “meeting these evolving expectations while balancing seamless online cross-device experiences with compelling in-store experiences.”
In order to rebuild the customer journey, winning brands “will not just rebuild consumer trust through transparency, but will also deliver unique, individualized experiences online and off-line by understanding that all consumers demand evolved and personalized journeys.”
Daniella Pierson is the 23-year-old founder and chief executive officer of The Newsette, a daily e-mail newsletter, web site and membership platform dedicated to empowering females through content and connections with more than 400,000 active subscribers and 3 million monthly views.
Along with covering daily fashion, tech and beauty news, The Newsette is also known for covering the routines, travel diaries and beauty regimens of woman leaders. The Newsette, which Pierson founded while a sophomore in college, has gone on to partner with some of the world’s leading brands including Bumble, LinkedIn and Twitter.
“Based on the countless fashion and tech news articles we’ve summarized in our daily e-mail newsletter, I believe the biggest problem facing fashion and retail in 2019 will be competing with direct-to-consumer start-ups,” Pierson said. Because of their leverage “building closer relationships with customers,” DTC brands are initiating a push for greater brand authenticity and resonance, more so than traditional retailers.
Noticing the same brand-first mentality consumers crave, Amy Vener, retail strategy lead at Pinterest, said, “Consumers will align themselves with brands that put them first, especially on mobile.”
Referencing a Boston Consulting Group survey from May 2017, Vener cites that brands using technology and data to offer customers personalized experiences are seeing 6 percent to 10 percent increases in revenue.
At Pinterest, Vener helps retailers embrace new digital tools, like those found on Pinterest, including visual search feature. These partnerships aim to inspire consumers with relevant shopping experiences, shortening the distance between inspiration and purchase.
Following the recent partnership announcement with “Project Runway,” offering a “shoppable runway” platform under Nineteenth Amendment, Amanda Curtis, the brand’s ceo and cofounder offers further insight into the fashion industry innovation.
“Until now, the majority of the fashion and retail industry has operated under a cloaked system that hasn’t significantly changed operationally in close to 100 years,” Curtis said.
As a former fashion designer turned tech entrepreneur, Curtis has worked with more than 1,000 fashion brands across 30 countries through Nineteenth Amendment’s “fashion-as-experience” and has created creative retail partnerships with companies such as Disney, Macy’s and Microsoft. Nineteenth Amendment is a venture-backed platform for sustainable, on-demand manufacturing and inventory-free retailing for brands of all sizes.
Curtis believes opportunity lies in implementing “transparency and authenticity at scale,” aided by technology and creative business approaches.
As ceo and founder of Coresight Research, a research and advisory firm specializing in disruptive technologies reshaping today’s retail landscape, Deborah Weinswig speaks of the retail and fashion industry’s slowness to innovate resulting in a “talent vacuum.”
“For fashion to leverage the potential of technology, companies need to invest in their staff, to train them in artificial intelligence, 3-D modeling, augmented reality, e-commerce and supply chain transparency. Retail can still win the talent war, it just needs to look beyond traditional hiring sources,” Weinswig said.
Weinswig serves on the board of directors for Goodwill Industries NY/NJ, Guess Inc., Kiabi, Street Soccer USA and Xcel Brands Inc. She is on the advisory board of the World Retail Congress and Retail Analytics Council and a mentor for several accelerators.
Michelle Lam founded True & Co. in 2012, which was acquired by PVH Corp. Lam continues to innovate: creating the first Fit Quiz, launching the Try-On Truck, an online-off-line personal retail experience, and engineering bestsellers like True Body based on consumer data from 7 million women.
Recognized as one of Fast Company’s “Most Creative People,” and National Retail Federation’s “List of People Shaping Retail’s Future,” Lam sees the next great wave of digital warranting predictive sizing and in-store try-on to decrease returns while collecting consumer data.
At True Fit, a data-driven personalization platform for apparel and footwear retailers, Jessica Murphy, cofounder and cco of True Fit, has advanced every aspect of the company’s development, including its patented data science and methodologies to its award-winning products. Her thought-leadership has garnered attention from media outlets such as Forbes, WWD and CNBC.
Murphy sees customer centricity as pivotal for retail ahead, saying; “The only way to truly know and serve your customer is by connecting their data across devices, experiences and beyond a retailer’s four walls.” Consumer centricity is dependent on single-user records and data connectivity across consumer actions.
“Brands need to communicate with the consumer in a clear, intuitive and authentic way,” noted Sarah Engel, vice president of marketing and creative communications at Lilly Pulitzer.
Previously at DynamicAction, an advanced analytics solution specifically built for e-commerce, store and omnichannel retail, Engel has helped brands in recognizing their unique value purpose, connecting customers at the core of organizational decision-making through thousands of data points.
Innovation exists with “true alignment around the customer” reiterated Engel.
The Lip Bar’s founder and ceo, Melissa Butler, had to ditch Wall Street to keep pace with her bustling beauty brand, which originally started out as a side business. Moving back to her home city of Detroit, she now anticipates the opening of her flagship storefront at the end of February. Currently, The Lip Bar products are carried online and in-store, available in more than 500 Target stores nationwide.
In order to truly innovate beauty retailing, Butler believes the key is to “create a lifestyle experience in-store that surpasses online convenience.” This starts with knowing the customer and creating “vitality” in their storefronts.
Sonia Summers, ceo and founder of Beauty Barrage, understands the value in brand loyalty and awareness. Her team of more than 300 “brand ambassadors” are also microinfluencers, which serve to foster interaction between customers, providing educational and engaging experiences.
When asked about the biggest challenge in retail today, Summers provided the following advice; “The more you set yourself apart, the more memorable you will be at retail.”
With “signature consultations for the customer,” Beauty Barrage aims to challenge the archaic retail sales support model with a modern sales force that stays and plays with the customer to increase sales.