Neil Cole isn’t going to wait for augmented reality to mature.
The serial entrepreneur wants to take consumers on a new, immersive shopping trip, with a new technology that will bring stores to life online. And he’s starting with Oscar de la Renta and Fred Segal.
De la Renta and Fred Segal will each launch virtual and context-rich versions of their real-world stores on their own web sites next week with the help NextRev Commerce, which sits under the umbrella of Next Retail Concepts, the nearly year-old company Cole heads as chairman and chief executive officer.
The technology plugs into the brands’ existing e-commerce system and is viewed via web browser or mobile device. It looks like a physical store and is built from thousands of pictures of an actual store.
A click or swipe let’s users navigate the space and view digital content that augments the physical experience it represents. The Oscar de la Renta store, for instance, features videos and other content that aren’t in the brick-and-mortar location and offer background on the brand, its designers and context for the shopper. The online store also has a kids’ section online that doesn’t exist in the real world, offering a broader brand presentation.
When a look is clicked on, users are taken to the brand’s own checkout.
Next Retail is starting with De la Renta and Fred Segal, but expects to continue adding new stores in the near future. It also is working on a catalogue using the same approach for Faherty, launching within a month. To create the new offering, the firm teamed with MasterCard, which worked on the payments process.
The digital stores don’t replace the brands’ current e-commerce offering, but augment it, giving shoppers a new way to connect and get to check out.
It shouldn’t be surprising that Cole is thinking about fashion e-commerce in new ways. He founded Iconix Brand Group Inc., which became an important acquirer of fashion brands and a pioneer of the house of brands licensor model.
Cole’s still looking at buying brands with his new company, but it’s the tech side that is foremost in his mind.
The digital stores are just a first step. Cole sees a future that is driven much more by augmented reality, but after months of testing out various high-tech glasses and approaches, he decided that the technology just wasn’t ready for prime time.
“Consumers will consume goods similar to the way consumers today consume music,” Cole told WWD. “I’m a believer that there’s going to be a cool, sleek pair of glasses and you’re going to put those on and you’re going to be in every home. I think screens will be over.”
Consumers will be able call up in an instant, virtual representations of designers’ latest looks and shop.
“You’ll be able to decide what’s in your world,” he said. “Shopping’s going to change dramatically, especially the e-com part of it. This next computing system is going to change and I think it’s going to be a major event, similar to what the Internet was once, similar to what the cell phone was once.”
That new age of computing is not ready yet. And while Cole said it’s still coming, it’s not coming as quickly as people thought just two or three years ago.
The new digital stores are a step in that direction, though, layering on a new and sophisticated look that luxury shoppers will find familiar while offering all the digital bells and whistles.
“It’s the best of e-com and brick-and-mortar,” Cole said. “It’s so hard for brands to be seen and break through [online] and show their value and tell their story. Storytelling is so important for a brand, to understand what a brand is, why it’s thinking this way, why it should get a premium price.”