Zalando’s "Vizions“ conference gathered digital platform experts to discuss the business model.

BERLIN — Smart platform strategies are the business model of the future, digital innovators at Europe’s first platform conference “Vizions” by Zalando echoed.

The digital fashion player gathered 35 international experts on platform thinking in a full-day conference at Berlin’s Kühlhaus on Thursday. Speakers included executives from companies such as eBay, Morgan Stanley and Telekom, as well as founders from tech start-ups, and Zalando board members and vice presidents.

“Six out of the 10 largest companies on the globe are digital platforms, including Apple, Google, Facebook,” noted Rubin Ritter, member of the management board at Zalando. “We’ve seen clearly structured supply chains changing into two-sided and multi-sided networks.”

“There has been a fundamental shift in business models. The largest companies in the world are not dealing with a linear production process anymore. Instead, they connect people so they can communicate and, hence, enable transactions,” said Benoit Reillier, cofounder of London-based platform consultancy Launchworks and coauthor of “Platform Strategy: How to Unlock the Power of Networks and Communities to Grow Your Business.”

“The challenge is to connect all the different layers: You can use a platform as your core business like Uber or Airbnb. But the companies that are really successful are mixing different models to what we call platform-powered ecosystems. If you look at Apple, 80 percent of the business is the hardware, about 20 percent is the ecosystem, like the app store. People buy the product for the latter,” he continued.

Added Laure Claire Reillier, his codirector at Launchworks and coauthor: “Amazon was online, but at the beginning, it was a traditional linear retail business. Then they added a platform capability so they could invite merchants. Today, 65 percent of all transactions are made on the marketplace and 96 percent of the products are stocked with the individual shops.”

Within the context of platforms, the discussions highlighted the necessity of platforms in order to target an increasingly complex consumer, and new technologies influencing them, in particular artificial intelligence that works with big data.

“The market and the consumers have become fluid. Consumers know who they are, they know what they don’t want, but they don’t know what they want. In that sense they are liquid and oscillate between ideas of what fashion should be like; they change constantly. And the biggest challenge here is within the brand, their internal beliefs and politics. There’s a core to a brand, but it’s also about adapting to remain relevant. In times of change, redefinition is sometimes the most important thing,” commented Vanessa Belleau, head of consultancy for the EMEA at WGSN.

“Artificial intelligence that can process and utilize big data is the new big technology that could disrupt the whole fashion industry. If you look at Google, they’re not known for high fashion. But interestingly, Google Image Search will give you suggestions that work fairly well. Who would have thought that you could take a photo or look at a bag and get an outfit from it? And AI tools capturing the transformation of the market are already extremely efficient. It has become easy to build a machine-learning model that can go and find trends. The bit that we can’t do yet is creating new fashion, but I suspect that might start soon because it’s already happening with music synthesizers,” said Geoff Watts, chief executive officer and cofounder at Edited, a U.K. real-time data analytics provider for the apparel industry with roster of international fashion clients..

“If you can build a network that suggests which prints or shapes are selling and it’s better than a human — how disruptive would that be to fashion and retail? And it’s conceivable within the next ten years. AI can affect design, buying, merchandising, trading, it can affect delivery, digital marketing and anything except for production.”

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