LONDON — Yoox Net-a-porter Group is giving a new meaning to office life with the unveiling today of its London Technology Hub, which aims to foster creativity and encourage employees to make themselves at home.
The 70,000-square-foot space designed by Sir Nicholas Grimshaw is located at the new White City development, a few minutes’ walk from YNAP’s headquarters at Westfield London.
Federico Marchetti, chief executive officer of YNAP, said he wants the hub to be the locus of luxury online retail innovation and a fountain of new ideas about mobile technology, artificial intelligence, big data and image recognition.
The hub is part of an investment of more than 500 million euros in technology and logistics across Yoox Net-a-porter Group to double the size of the business by 2020.
“One of my favorite movies is ‘2001: A Space Odyssey,’ and this looks kind of like a space shuttle,” said Marchetti during an exclusive interview ahead of the official opening.
“It’s very futuristic and, in the end, it projects us into the future,” he said, describing the sunny space with its private breakout areas, reclining chairs and footstools, iPad-powered kitchen appliances and showers for the 500 staff working there.
As reported, Marchetti wanted to unify YNAP’s U.K. technology teams in one location, and encourage easier contact between the London team and their 500 counterparts at YNAP’s tech hub in Bologna, Italy.
“I think the tech talents want to be in as beautiful a space as the luxury merchandisers. We wanted to give equal treatment to both teams, and also show the tech people that we are investing in beauty,” he said.
The space boasts videoconferencing rooms large and small, and more breakout areas than desk space to encourage collaboration.
There are smaller offices and pods dotted around the space, too, for private phone calls or meetings. Some of the furniture is mobile and project boards can be moved anywhere in the space. Windows open to let in fresh air (a rarity in any new office building) and there is much greenery throughout the space.
In the kitchens, employees can operate the coffee machines using iPads. Meanwhile, the main canteen area has a kitchen fit for a restaurant (Marchetti is Italian, and a foodie). The area around the main kitchen is furnished with teal velvet tufted sofas, tables and rocking chairs.
Marchetti said he specifically wanted the 77-year-old Grimshaw, who designed Heathrow Terminal 3; the Berlin Stock Exchange, and the Eden Project in Cornwall, England, among many other buildings, to work on the project.
“I think the challenge was to come up with an environment that was, first of all, about collaboration. We wanted a space that invites people to collaborate, not necessarily through WhatsApp and e-mail, but by talking to each other and sitting with each other,” he said.
Alongside the inauguration of the new space, YNAP plans to announce a partnership with Apple that will see the creation of in-house apps to help employees use the offices as efficiently as possible, work from home or from other YNAP offices.
Marchetti sees the many creature comforts as integral to all digital innovation, research and development and mobile technologies he’s hoping will spring forth from the hub.
The aim, he said, is for YNAP to boast “the most formidable tech platform in luxury.” Last year, as part of that goal, YNAP unveiled a major partnership with IBM to unite the newly merged Yoox and Net businesses on one platform; improve customer service and speed-to-market, and capture quality data.
Looking ahead, Marchetti said developers are working on image recognition technology for the YNAP sites and for Porter magazine, “to make readers’ shopping experience as seamless as possible.”
He’s also looking to develop more technologies around Next Era, an omnichannel business model that will launch with Valentino, and allow customers unprecedented online access to any product. Next Era is expected to launch early next year.
YNAP’s technology, combined with the Order Management System in partnership with IBM, will enable Valentino to have a single view of its inventory and a comprehensive profile of its customer base.
“This is integration and omnichannel to the ‘nth’ degree,” Marchetti told WWD in April when the project was announced. “Valentino customers will have access to the largest assortment of Valentino products. You will never go in a store and not find what you are looking for.”
Marchetti also wants his tech hub team to make the lives of personal shoppers easier, and ultimately facilitate sales among the top spenders at Net-a-porter and Mr Porter.
“We want to give them even more tools to serve the customers better. Artificial intelligence will help personal shoppers propose a selection of products that makes even more sense. It’s about giving them more power, more tools, more information to serve the customers,” he said.
YNAP, which has three-million-plus customers and notched 200 million visits in the first quarter, is also progressing rapidly on big data, he added.
As part of the opening, YNAP is partnering with Imperial College London, the public research university. It will pay for students to go into the state schools in the White City neighborhood and teach primary school children — and especially girls — to love technology.
“We think that we need to innovate, and invest in education for girls. We want more women in tech,” said Marchetti.
The hub is located at White City Place, a business district covering 17 acres in White City, west London, home of the Westfield shopping mall. The new space consists of three buildings — the MediaWorks, where the YNAP tech hub is located, the WestWorks and Garden House.
White City Place was the original home of the Franco-British Exhibition of 1908, which created a complex of white pavilions and pleasure parks in Wood Lane, hence the name White City. The site was also the home of the 1908 Olympics stadium during the first Olympic Games held in the U.K.