MILAN Big data analytics, appealing and authentic storytelling and customization are the main tools to create a successful engagement between fashion brands and customers. These were among the key takeaways from Decoded Fashion Milan, the two-day summit, organized in collaboration with e-Pitti, which closed here on Wednesday.

“We have the power of prediction through digital technology,” said Angelo Liverani, head of automotive and fashion luxury brands at Google Italy, highlighting that 100 petabyte of data are currently at disposal of companies. “But only 6 percent of them are used by brands to take decisions.”

“Getting the insight from data is crucial to define strategies and develop projects,” said Luca De Fino, head of content at Ogilvy & Mather Italy. “Data are definitely useful to deliver…great storytelling that must be based on the value of authenticity.”

“For us, the online store offers the chance to test all the products since we are able to show the whole collection. This allows us to test our customers’ behavior,” said Lisa Calatroni, Timberland EMEA e-commerce customer experience manager, who highlighted that online customers tend to buy in-season, full-price products, not carryovers.

According to Bastian Gerhard, head of innovation and enablement at Zalando, testing products is key for the German e-tailer, which uses different techniques to understand customers’ desires. “We observe their behavior online, but we also conduct interviews in the streets and visit customers at their homes,” he said. “In addition, we firstly launch products internally testing them among our colleagues.”

Highlighting that the company’s mission is “to connect fashion with people and people with fashion,” Gerhard said it’s crucial to engage customers in the shopping experience. For example, Zalando recently launched the Zalon App, enabling users to get in touch with a professional stylist who prepares personalized outfits delivered to customers’ houses. “You can also exchange pictures and ask your stylist for advice via WhatsApp,” he added, highlighting that the messaging app represents at the moment the easiest way to communicate with users. “You don’t have to educate them to use it,” he said.

“WhatsApp is growing fast,” said Facebook Italy country manager Luca Colombo, pointing that the messaging system is currently used by 900 million people in the world. “The world is definitely moving toward mobile, and it’s crucial to create an integration across the channels in order to engage customers.”

According to Xavier Court, Vente-privee associate and co-founder in charge of business development and president of the business entertainment unit, 75 percent of the Web site’s sales are made using mobile devices. He also pointed out that online doesn’t cannibalize the business of the brick-and-mortar but it stimulates the desire in customers. “42 percent of the people who didn’t manage to buy the products they want during our temporary online sales within three weeks go to buy them full-price in the boutiques,” Court said.

The online boom is generating a risk of overexposure for luxury brands, said Diego di San Giuliano, board member of Salvatore Ferragamo. “There are two aspects we have to consider — overexposure in communication and in distribution,” he said.

According to di San Giuliano, the biggest challenge in communication is to understand how to be able to talk to customers only if they want to be reached by the brand.

On the distribution side, he pointed that in the next few years the wholesale business for luxury firms will dramatically shift since it’s becoming crucial to control the presence of products in multibrand stores in different markets.

Among the tools used by Salvatore Ferragamo to create better engagement with customers, di San Giuliano highlighted the importance of the customization service.

Putting the customer at the center of the creative process is key also for niche brands, Cecilia Bringheli, chief executive officer and creative director of luxury shoe firm CB Made In Italy, pointed out. “Our customers are able to select among 100 different fabrics we have in stock,” Bringheli said, putting the focus on the fact that the customization service is available also for retailers. “At the end of the month, we are hosting a trunk show at Harrods in London, where we will collect orders which we will be able to ship in 20 days, just in time for Christmas,” explained Bringheli.

Niche brands don’t necessarily need to have a strong presence online and on social media to be successful, said Roberta Benaglia, chief executive officer of investment fund Style Capital SGR, which controls Golden Goose Deluxe Brand, among others. “Golden Goose has always adopted a countertrend communication strategy and, despite this, the brand’s business increased 40 percent in three years,” Benaglia added. “I truly think that there is not a single business model which actually works, but the most important thing is that brands must be coherent….If you are niche, you have to stay niche, you have to embrace a cohesive strategy.”

According to Decoded Fashion founder and president Liz Bacelar, better engagement with customers can be also created integrating technology within brick-and-mortar.

In particular, she highlighted that there are currently two ways of creating deeper and more stimulating shopping experiences — by adding hardware to existing stores, including smart mirrors, for example, or by creating shopping destinations which actually don’t look like stores. Giving customers the chance to personalize the products through easy, accessible technologies is also a smart way to stimulate their relationships with brands, Bacelar said.

In order to support the business of young entrepreneurs developing high-tech solutions, Decoded Fashion Milan hosted the Fashion Pitch competition, which was won by Swiss-based Prodibi, a start-up that offers Web sites the opportunity to show full-resolution images without size limits. Prodibi won a cash prize of 10,000 euros, or $10,729 at current exchange,  as well as a mentoring program offered by Hogan.

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