PARIS — Looking to frame discussion on the effects of digital technology on the fast-changing retail landscape, Microsoft brought executives from a range of participants in the sector to the French capital’s start-up hub Station F to recount their experiences.
As consumers and businesses struggle to adapt, technology giants are under pressure to address the public’s wariness of privacy and ethics-related issues, so they can make the case for people to sign on for their services.
Actors offered their takes on how digital technology is helping businesses including French start-up Heuritech, which analyzes photos on social networks, as well as L’Oréal, which showed images of state-of-the art logistics centers, with robots shuffling packages around at breakneck speed. Natasha Franck, chief executive officer of Eon Group Holdings, explained how she is trying to draw up a digital identity system for clothing to develop a circular economy for the industry.
China was also on many people’s minds, given the country’s lead in terms of digital commerce. Digital Luxury Group ceo David Sadigh offered an example of how watch retailer Bucherer launched its first store in the country with JD.com, accompanied by a flurry of social media activity and participation of influencer Li Bing Bing.
If anyone thought influencers were on the out, just look at their popularity in China, noted Edoardo Zegna of Ermenegildo Zegna. The executive expects they will be around for a while, noting the importance of content, geared to digital channels.
Gabriele Tazzari, director of research and development at Yoox Net-a-porter, stressed the importance of leaning on diverse teams in order to keep development projects “inclusive” to allow ideas to be built on one another rather than compete with each other.
Other examples spanned from manufacturing to customer interaction and delivery, with a view to the future.
“We’re beginning to drift toward capturing humans to a very realistic quality and that evolution toward digital humans is inevitable,” said Matthew Drinkwater, director of London College of Fashion’s Innovation Agency. “In fact, within a year or so, you’ll begin to see some really very compelling examples of digital humans,” he predicted.
Drinkwater suggested that could serve as an even more “compelling selling tool,” while the prospect has its own issues.
“What philosophical questions does that throw into the world where you’re talking to someone who is digital, but looks completely realistic?”
Europe has been leading the charge on regulating the technology industry, and the continent’s privacy rules, General Data Protection Regulation, known as GDPR, also came up.
Kavitha Babu, director and regional attorney for Microsoft in Europe, suggested that rather than considering the restrictions as hindering business, they should be seen as providing a framework for consumers to interact confidently with brands and retailers.
“Developing an environment where privacy is considered a human right is beneficial. It actually helps consumers engage more freely and more openly because they trust that measures are being implemented in the technologies they are using to actually respect the various tenets of these laws, whether it’s obtaining consent, and using the data in a minimized fashion and for the purpose it was intended for, and being able to control what these brands are doing with my data, and that third parties don’t have access to that data or the underlying data in these systems unless I’ve actually consented to it,” she said.
Taking the example of an Airbus airplane flying to New York from Paris, Nina Lund, who leads Microsoft’s consumer goods and retail industry activities in Europe, noted huge amounts of data that are constantly generated, but not put to use.
“That airplane has collected between a half and full terabyte of data, it’s a flying computer. When that touchdown has taken place, and the pilot has gone through his checklist and everything is OK, everything is on green and everything has gone well, the airline actually throws away 85 percent of that data,” she said.
“I suddenly realized that ‘ah, that explains why I’m still so miserable when I fly. They’re not helping me at all to improve my customer experience!’” she added, prompting chuckles while driving home her point.