wwd style lounge sxsw data technology

Tech talk capped off the final day of WWD’s Style Lounge at the SXSW conference and festival this weekend, thanks to a Sunday segment titled “Curating Fashion Through Data.”

Style Lounge delved into an array of topics, ranging from brand storytelling and micro-influencers to augmented reality and the intersection between fashion, sports and technology. Following “The Journey of the Gen Z Shopper,” which shed light on young consumers and their focus on social issues, the closing session challenged attendees to consider their approach to data.

Stylitics’ Rohan Deuskar and MouthMedia’s Pavan Bahl mapped out today’s practical realities for fashion brands and retailers against some of the most hyped technology trends. Bahl, who runs a podcasting network, expressed excitement about emerging tech like augmented reality, virtual reality, connected homes and voice commerce. All retail businesses are tech companies, he said, or will have to be.

Deuskar, whose firm works with companies such as Under Armour and NPD Group, takes a measured approach to data. His view: Although data collection and analysis may seem like complex matters requiring deep investments, it doesn’t have to be that way. And oftentimes, the big conundrum isn’t even procuring the data. Plenty of retailers have loads of data, he said. They just don’t know what to do with it.

“Start from where you are,” he advised. He brought up the example of Narvar, a company that helps retail clients use receipts as customer engagement tools, among other things.

Consider that purchase confirmations, delivery messages or tracking notices are always opened, Deuskar said. And the details, like the delivery address, would be enough to identify weather — read: seasonality — in various regions. Shopping history can offer insight into taste and preferences. Those can be fed into baseline product recommendations that, to the customer, still feel personalized.

Beyond that, Deuskar looks to three fundamental pillars: “[Think,] ‘What is the experience I want to build?’” he said. “Once you have that vision, you can say, ’What data do I need to collect to do this?’ And then, ‘How do I organize it?’” There’s no shortage of tech companies willing and eager to help, he added. “It’s now remarkably easy for even small retailers and startup brands to start stitching together these pieces.”

But there’s also a word of warning. Customers have proven that they’re willing to provide data, but only if the experience is worthwhile. “The data you ask for, that you need, must be commensurate with the value you’re providing to them,” Deuskar said.

Privacy concerns are a crucial aspect for any consumer-facing business. Bahl explained that he sports a Near Field Communication chip physically embedded in his hand. “It’s always aggregating data about me,” he said. “But so is my Alexa; so is my Siri, which I am very suspicious of right now.”

His concern specifically has to do with always-on microphones. “Has anyone here experienced getting targeted for items that they literally have never searched for, but talked about in the living room?” Bahl asked, triggering a few ‘yeses’ from the audience. “It is the freakiest thing. It is more recent than it has been, in the last few months.”

As the tech and retail communities look for the balance between helpful and creepy, Deuskar offered another word of advice: “There are simple techniques, once you have little bits of data,” he said. “You have enough to do a lot more for your customers. Don’t get distracted by all the future tech that’s out there.”

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