LVMH Innovation Award Ceremony

PARIS — The coronavirus crisis has everyone going digital full-throttle — including specialists in the realm. This year, following widespread store closures, it’s been all about bulking up e-commerce services — on the double. But next up, the focus will be on artificial intelligence, according to Ian Rogers, chief digital officer at LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton, who spoke to WWD through Zoom.

“We talk a lot about data and artificial intelligence, I think you’ll see us talk more about that — if we were at VivaTech this year, our theme would be artificial intelligence,” he said, referring to the French technology fair that was canceled this year.

The executive normally reveals winners of the annual LVMH Innovation Prize at the VivaTech fair, which is France’s equivalent to the Las Vegas Consumer Electronics Show, drawing industry heavyweights such as Alibaba chairman and cofounder Jack Ma and Microsoft chief executive officer Satya Nadella.

But this year, the prize was moved online, with bulked up content that included discussions on the French technology scene. Rogers was after a podcast-like format that would draw interest. 

“Doing it virtually with an audience online, you don’t have a captive audience — it’s not like you’re trapped in the room and can’t leave unless you’re rude — you can pretty easily click away,” he noted.

The subject of artificial intelligence — less of a focus as everyone scrambled to improve e-commerce systems — will return to the spotlight in the coming months, Rogers predicted.

“With what’s going on in the world, it’s not the moment, but we will probably talk more about that in the back half of the year because it’s a huge focus for us,” the executive said. 

“We were super busy trying to do lots of things that had been, maybe planned for later in a roadmap, sooner,” he said, referring to the past months when stores were shut amid coronavirus lockdowns.

“Whether it was just making the inventory that was in the stores available online or making your products available in countries that they weren’t previously available — we’re still a bit behind on the e-commerce geographic rollout and so everyone’s trying to open e-commerce stores and add new countries, and also just add services. Say Apple Pay and PayPal were on your roadmap for later this year — you tried to get it done in March,” he continued.

“It’s supply-side basics, in a way, but I would also say it’s a supply of not just products but also services, a service might be a payment service like buy-now-pay-later, or Apple Pay, but it could also be just the ability for a sales associate to sell really effectively from their phone,” he added, ticking off services like notifications at each stage of an online purchase.  

The focus on artificial intelligence is twofold, he explained.

“When we talk about data and artificial intelligence, what we’re really talking about is personalization and operational efficiency, that’s the kind of value that you’re getting from artificial intelligence — you’re building personalized experiences for customers, and then your adding efficiency to your back office,” he said. 

This year’s innovation prize went to Crobox, a start-up that introduces personalization on merchandise displayed on an e-commerce page — flagging certain attributes that might nudge a consumer to make a purchase, like ‘most viewed’ items or ecologically friendly attributes. 

“We’re at this moment in time when retailers are going from no personalization to some personalization — that’s s a big jump,” he said.

The group’s innovation prize serves as a scouting process for it — rather than leaving start-up entrepreneurs to reach out to various brands on their own, the prize system serves as an introduction to LVMH labels.

“We want it to be a real scouting process where it’s not just the loudest or the best salespeople, or the ones who have a friend on the Comex, you want it to be more of a meritocracy in terms of finding these start-ups,” he added. 

When setting up the prize, he and his team had consulted with LVMH fashion prize organizers, and sought to promote a similar system wherein all finalists benefit from building a relationship with the group. This year, for example, a list of more than 1,000 applicants was whittled down to 30 finalists, a “batch that gets introduced” to the LVMH group, he noted.

The group has other programs in the start-up realm, including its accelerator program at the French tech hub Station F.

“There’s no impetus from me to say ‘oh you must work with these guys because they were our finalist or part of the Station F program’ — not at all, all we do is say, ‘hey, wait you’re trying to do that? We know a company that’s trying to solve that problem, would you like to meet them?’” he said. 

“That’s really kind of it — but that is very, very valuable,” he continued. 

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