Igloo delivery

PARIS – Edouard Remise always has his elevator pitch ready.

The 31-year-old is co-founder of Igloo, an app-based service that delivers clothes by bicycle so that shoppers can try them on at home at night.

According to Remise, the service fills an important niche for clients who are too busy to visit brick-and-mortar stores, but don’t want to purchase items without trying them on.

For retailers, “Igloo extends your hours of operation from 8 to 11 at night without you actually having to be open,” he said.

A selection of items from the stockroom of Galeries Lafayette’s Paris Montparnasse store will be available through the Igloo app starting in December. If the pilot goes well, Galeries Lafayette could integrate the try-at-home service as an option on its Web site, like the women’s wear brands FRNCH and Héroïnes have already done.

The upstart Deliveroo-for-clothes might seem an odd bedfellow for Galeries Lafayette, which has been bastion of brick-and-mortar retail since the department store group was founded in 1893.  But for Edoardo Manitto, Galeries Lafayette’s director for development and innovation, testing new technologies and finding ways to work with start-ups is a key element of the group’s strategy.

“Physical retail still has a major card to play,” but department stores in the future will need to “merge and converge” with e-commerce elements to bring in the advantages of the Web for clients, Manitto said.

Igloo is one of 10 retail and e-commerce start-ups selected by Galeries Lafayette for the first edition of its accelerator program created in partnership with the Silicon Valley-based Plug and Play center.

Lafayette Plug and Play aims to speed up growth for innovative retail start-ups by providing coaching as well as a forum to connect investors and corporate clients.  The start-ups set up shop in the accelerator’s space in the 10th arrondissement for the length of the three-month program, bridging the gap between large institutions like Galeries Lafayette and start-ups whose products are just now hitting the market.

“Big companies like ours have scale, but not as much speed—while these start-ups have speed but are not always equipped to handle the scale,” Manitto explained.

In addition to the Igloo app, start-ups in the accelerator’s first round include Smartzer, a technology that makes video content shoppable; Easy Size, which analyzes big data on purchase behavior to help online shoppers choose the right clothing size; and Alcmeon, a tool for customer care through social networks.

While Galeries Lafayette has made plans to test some of the start-ups in its own stores, they were not selected to solve the department store’s own operational challenges—but rather for their potential to disrupt the retail industry more broadly.

“We need to think about what retail is going to be tomorrow,” said Charlotte Dieutre, director of the Lafayette Plug and Play accelerator. “We are open to helping the entire ecosystem figure that out.”.

Since launching in September, the accelerator has brought in executives from a spectrum of brands to meet with the start-ups—from French electronics and appliances retailer Darty and Lacoste to Chanel.

“Recently we had the digital chiefs from Richemont and FNAC on the same day,” Dieutre marveled. “Normally it could take months for a start-up to get in touch with either of these people.”

The Lafayette Plug and Play accelerator comes as Galeries Lafayette and other brick-and-mortar retailers adopt new technologies to head off challengers in e-commerce and fast fashion. Department stores are exploring a number of ways they could bring the benefits of online shopping into physical outlets in order to better serve shoppers and boost their value for brands.

Manitto identifies augmented reality as one technology with potential. These applications that rely on GPS data and the smartphone camera to create a modified image of one’s surroundings could help customers navigate a store in a targeted way.  Instead of relying on physical signage, customers could be taken directly to the products that interest them via pointers on their screens.

In addition, augmented reality mirrors are being developed that could help shoppers virtually test different styles and colors. These mirrors digitally take a person’s measurements and project the clothes onto his or her frame.

Galeries Lafayette has already partnered with the start-up Sky Boy to create an augmented reality element for this year’s holiday installation. The smartphone app tells an animated story about polar bears threatened by climate change by superimposing it on the surroundings of visitors as they walk through the store.

While the application doesn’t include any practical element to assist shoppers, Manitto said it could help future augmented reality initiatives by exposing shoppers to the technology in an exciting way.

“We aren’t talking about science fiction,” said Manitto. “Augmented reality is real and it’s coming soon.”

Yet shoppers will ultimately decide which technologies to embrace.

“It’s is about testing and learning all the time,” said Dieutre. “The technology has to stay in line with preferences and expectations. If the client doesn’t respond, then it doesn’t make sense to get too far ahead.”