Prism Pathmaps

When Cadillac and the Council of Fashion Designers of America opened the doors on their 800-square-feet Retail Lab this July, the idea was to give burgeoning American fashion designers a kick-start in physical retail. And a significant part of that equation was high-tech tools that even prominent, deep-pocketed retailers are still trying to adopt and navigate.

The latest tech element at Retail Lab is Prism, which uses in-store cameras to provide the kinds of analytics and tracking that are more familiar to e-commerce retailers: how many people visit, where they go, how much time they spend there, and how much they engage with the merchandise, for example. The company compiles the data into “heat-maps” that can be married with sales reports and compared to e-commerce traffic to reveal strengths and weaknesses in the designer’s merchandising.

“If you have a sweater that is number one online, but is not selling in your own store, well what’s the problem? It’s a reliable crewneck,” said Ashley Sandall, senior manager of strategic partnerships at the CFDA. “It could be in the wrong place. When you look at the heat-mapping and the cameras, no one is walking over there, and that’s why it’s not selling.”

In addition to insights such as how many entered the store, turned to the right and spent 30 seconds at the lipsticks, said Prism’s David Morin, who is director of retail insights, the technology allows for remote visual access that allows retailers to conduct “virtual” store audits.

Prism works with approximately 350 clients in more than 80 countries, he said, but he’s found that often, older retailers are happy with the way they do business.

“Teaching new ways to do business takes a lot of time, but the CFDA opportunity allows us to have that analytical conversation at the very beginning,” said Morin, who added that similar data provided by e-commerce analytics has allowed online retailers to grow rapidly. “That data has enabled e-commerce retailers to better target their customers.”

The lab also uses point-of-sale products from KWI, which equips salespeople with an iPad to ring up sales right next to the customer; there is no cash register in the lab. At the same time, Sandall said that new partners can beta test new technologies or new business models in the lab, so that the partnership becomes mutually beneficial.

“We’ve told designers that the purpose is to be a learning experience,” Sandall said. “It’s a chance to take some risks and do something that you wouldn’t be able to do if you had your own store to worry about.”

Mark Beckham, who is business director of Fashion Week for the CFDA, said that data is one of the most important resources for an emerging brand. “By partnering with Prism, we’re making sure that our designers have the tools that they need to understand their growing businesses, and to be able to react and make changes when necessary.”

Timo Weiland is the first designer to occupy the lab for the three-month residency, which is in the ground floor of Cadillac’s SoHo-based headquarters. Sandall said that Weiland has been able to apply learnings from the bricks-and-mortar space that end up improving the numbers in the online business. In September, when the residency is complete, Weiland will be able to more completely “piece together the lineage” of the customer data, Sandall said.

Similarly to the CFDA’s Retail Lab, San Francisco’s Fashion Incubator San Francisco installed a pop-up shop for its designers in Westfield San Francisco Centre. The 1,400-square-foot space is among the mall’s existing stores, and is part of Westfield Labs’ Bespoke project, which opened last May to foster fashion-tech companies.

In addition to helping new brands learn about traditional brick-and-mortar retail behavior, the space is also equipped with technology like that of RetailNext which, similar to Prism, can detect shopper metrics and demographics. At a time when the shopper is so-called “platform agnostic,” and might buy something online that she found in the store two weeks ago, it only makes sense to connect the dots.

The CFDA’s Retail Lab is a three-year program with Cadillac that mentors young designers for three months, including a $75,000 grant. Sandall said that in designing the structure of the Retail Lab program, the advisory board really tried to think about what “omnichannel” really means. “The CFDA is seeing there is still a need for bricks-and-mortar and they are still a very important part of a designer’s business and growth. But what does that look like? It may not be the traditional way that retailers have done things,” Sandall said.

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