“We’re operating under the thesis that billion dollar brands will not exist in the future,” says Zak Normandin, founder and CEO of Iris Nova, the company behind wellness drink brand, Dirty Lemon, on the latest episode of the Innovators podcast by the Current Global.
“I know Dirty Lemon isn’t going to be popular in a few years. And I want to already have three type of products in the pipeline that we’re launching right now, because consumers are very transient in their decisions to buy products,” he explains.
Dirty Lemon launched in 2015 and quickly gained the type of cult following that only brands born online manage to achieve. It did so through a mixture of being at the right place, at the right time – in this case, right in the middle of the wellness boom – and carefully crafted branding that positioned it as a lifestyle offering, rather than just a product.
But Normandin, a CPG entrepreneur at heart, has much bigger plans than creating fleeting frenzy around a single product line. From inception, his Instagrammable bottles could only be bought online, with purchase being completed via text message. In 2018, it launched the Drug Store, an unmanned retail concept where customers could pick up a Dirty Lemon drink and simply walk out, texting to complete their purchase as they did so. This innovative retail model, alongside a stream of new product launches happening over the next few months, demonstrates Normandin’s ambitions to keep reacting to customer needs and behaviors before they move onto the next hot thing.
During this conversation, recorded at this year’s SXSW at the Current Global’s Innovation Mansion, Normandin also share with Liz Bacelar the new products launching under the Iris Nova family, what the retail experience is doing to inform future product development, and how Coca Cola is not only one of the brand’s biggest investors, but also its competitor.
There’s a big difference today between the role of commerce, and that of shopping, says Tim Weingarten, head of shopping product at Pinterest, on the latest episode of the Innovators podcast by the Current Global.
“Commerce has this implication of pushing for the transaction – about reducing friction in the conversion. Whereas shopping is one of joy. It’s one of serendipity, it’s one of discovering something you didn’t know existed,” he explains.
It’s that mentality that underpins everything his team does at the company, focusing primarily on how to better the user experience with discovery and personalization at its core. This includes the introduction of a series of tools that filter and predict needs – from Pinterest Lens, which allows customers to find items from the database by photographing similar ones, to the newly announced Catalogs feature, where brands can upload their entire product catalog as shoppable pins.
What makes Pinterest stand out among its competitors, is that its users navigate the platform for entirely personal reasons, such as renovating their kitchens or achieving the perfect hairstyle, as opposed to pushing aspirational content to followers, Weingarten comments. Being able to capitalize on that then comes down to having the right algorithms in place.
“The more data you have, the more you can personalize. But on an e commerce site, the only data they have is based on prior transactions. That’s a very sparse dataset and it happens very infrequently. If you switch gears to Pinterest, what you have is someone visiting every day doing this authentic thing – saving things for particular use cases. This engagement signal can be applied to all products… And because we have this authentic form of engagement, we’re able to understand what you’re trying to accomplish, and actually personalize it to your tastes,” he says.
Pinterest has been around for nearly a decade with a quiet yet steady climb to the top. As of 2018, users on the platform had pinned 175 billion items on three billion virtual boards. The company is now on track to top $1bn in revenue, and is rumored to be moving forward with an IPO this summer at a valuation of $12bn.
During this conversation recorded at Shoptalk with the Current Global’s Rachel Arthur, Weingarten dissects how Pinterest is only getting better at predicting consumer needs before they’re voiced; shares how the platform balances being commercial with keeping the joy of inspiration alive, and hints at the types of technologies he’s looking at to further personalize the shopping experience.
Successful retail decisions are made when physical space is seen as another media channel, says Ross Bailey, founder and CEO of Appear Here, the online marketplace for short retail leases on the latest episode of the Innovators podcast by the Current Global.
Retail is failing when it’s not thinking about audience first, Ross insists. The industry doesn’t think twice about spending huge budgets on Google Ads, but customer acquisition can prove increasingly more valuable through spend on physical footprint, he explains. It’s for that reason, Appear Here increasingly sees the likes of Google or Instagram as greater competition than other brokers.
“[If you’re playing] the audience game that means that as a brand, what’s the best most authentic, great return on investment medium, that I can reach an audience at for that moment in time, for that campaign, for that product, for that season. And if that happens to be retail, you’re going to be making that decision over what you’re spending on AdWords or over what you’re spending anywhere else,” he comments.
Appear Here launched in 2013 hoping to disrupt a long-established market that no longer corresponded to how customers shopped. While commercial landlords demanded an average five-year commitment from brands, customers were dispersing from the high street and shopping in a much more flexible, non-committal way. Today, AppearHere’s short-term rental model – often referred to as the “Airbnb of retail” – sees the company operate an average of 350 stores in London alone at any given time, making it the largest retailer currently operating in the city.
Bailey hopes the model gives brands and retailers much more flexibility to appear and disappear whenever they see fit, rather than wait for the consumer to do so first. For brands across the spectrum, of which he has 180,000 on his platform, there are different approaches however. For luxury names like Chanel, Nike or Netflix, all Appear Here clients, it’s about reaching a new audience or promoting a particular product or campaign; for more independent brands, it’s about creating awareness outside their online bubble where competition is too high without enormous ad budgets, he suggests.
During this conversation Bailey also explains why he sees no problem with an in-store ballpit as a popular experiential idea as long as it is authentic to the brand; how Selfridges’ early retail days inspires him to think about how to bring back showmanship; and why technology, much like children, he says, should be seen but not heard.
Technology can enable us to do great things, says Warby Parker co-founder and CEO, Neil Blumenthal, with regards to the brand’s meteoric rise in the direct-to-consumer space, on the latest episode of the Innovators podcast by the Current Global.
Speaking to Liz Bacelar at this year’s NRF Big Show in New York, Blumenthal explains how technology is critical to making customers’ lives easier.
Warby Parker sees itself sitting at the intersection of three communities – tech, fashion, and social enterprise, he notes. It’s both a tech company and a retailer focused on creating products and services that tangibly impact consumers every day.
Warby Parker is one of Silicon Valley’s first so-called unicorns, a special group of startups that exceed expectations to pioneer within their own category by hitting over $1bn in valuation – including Airbnb, Uber and WeWork.
The nine-year-old company has paved the way to creating a great retail experience that transverses seamlessly between online and offline, and as a result, inspired the business model of many single-product focused startups known to consumers today – from suitcases at Away, to footwear at Allbirds.
But from its scrappy beginnings hosting a showroom at Blumenthal’s New York apartment, to being one of the first DTC brands to launch a brick-and-mortar retail space, the eyewear company has had a razor sharp focus on treating the whole experience of buying glasses as a single product – from trial to wear.
From its successful at-home trial program to digital eye tests, Warby Parker works with a team of in-house technologists to constantly iterate its approach to better serving the customer. For example, after receiving feedback that it was inconvenient for customers to take time off work to get an eye exam, it developed a prescription app that pairs an iPhone to a second screen to test the user’s vision. Recently, it then deployed Apple’s new AR technology to launch a virtual try-on feature.
During this conversation, Blumenthal also shares how the brand has been built to resonate with multiple consumer segments, the importance of the social aspect of the company, and why he sees Amazon more as inspiration, rather than threat.
You have to be bold and brave to do meaningful innovation, says Fiona Fairhurst, VP of innovation at underwear brand, Heist Studios, on the latest episode of the Innovators podcast by TheCurrent Global.
“We’re trying to make better products that make people’s lives better,” she explains.
The first product under the newly-appointed designer’s remit at Heist is shapewear that not only looks more aesthetically pleasing than existing alternatives in the market, but removes any stigma for women wearing it. Fairhurst’s background is in sport, a world built around product innovation focused on the importance of performance.
She rose to fame during the Sydney Olympic Games in 2000 where, while working at Speedo, she introduced a bodysuit using biomimetic sharkskin technology that went on to help 13 out of 15 swimming world records achieved during the competition. It was also eventually banned from the sport because it gave competitors an unfair advantage.
Her background has enabled her to strike the balance between the emotional side of design and the material innovation that leads to better product performance. Much like getting swimmers to swap their small Speedos for full bodysuits, for Heist it is about getting women to trust their expertise. “We very much want to base everything on science, technology and the innovation – and also what the consumer wants, which for Heist is about women.”
During this conversation with Rachel Arthur at a FashMash event in London, Fairhurst also explains what excites her for the future of material innovation, the challenge of scaling sustainability, and what game-changing product Heist is working on next.
“If you’re dealing with finite supply, then you need to understand demand to figure out what it is people are willing to pay,” says Josh Luber, founder of streetwear online marketplace, StockX, on the latest episode of the Innovators podcast by TheCurrent Global.
“What brands have historically relied on is the concept of mass chaos and taking advantage of that hype (…) But having a pair of Off-White Jordans that retail for $490 but resell for $2400 and just relying on bots and chaos in order to distribute it is an illogical and broken system,” he explains.
Luber’s platform, which in 2018 took on $44m in investment from Google, among others, launched in 2016 to level the playing field between buyers and sellers in a retail landscape that seems to enjoy feeding off an endless cycle of streetwear FOMO and having the latest, hottest sneaker on the market.
The re-sale market used to be a Wild West, Luber explains, but data and technology are now being deployed in order to better value these products and provide an unforeseen level of transparency and fairness to both sellers and buyers. Inspired by how the traditional stock market works, the platform tracks product demand and pricing across the web in order to sell it in real time. This, as well as a tool that displays an itemized history of transactions of a product, balances the power dynamic between sellers and buyer, which historically sided with the seller and how much they wanted to sell their product for.
StockX’s success is also hugely indicative of how a one-time underground industry that was powered by its community and word-of-mouth access, is becoming increasingly structured in order to cater to more mature and educated consumers. In other words, the larger it becomes, the more it needs the infrastructure to support it.
During this conversation with TheCurrent Global’s Liz Bacelar, Luber explains how his background as an entrepreneur and IBM consultant, led him to StockX, how the platform’s customer is evolving, and why discovery is playing such a huge role in its future plans.
Big issues such as sustainability, rising technologies and the changing role of the consumer were major topics of conversation in 2018, as evidenced by the top shows on TheCurrent Global’s weekly Innovators podcast.
Throughout the year, we explored far and wide what those leading the industry are doing to tackle some of the most pressing issues it faces today. Here, we highlight 10 of the most interesting conversations had as we look forward to 2019 and providing even more food for thought for our listeners.
Ian Rogers, chief digital officer, LVMH
Speaking to co-host Liz Bacelar at The New York Times International Luxury Conference in November, LVMH’s Ian Rogers rang the death knell for the chief digital officer, a role he himself holds. The title, he argued, is merely a transitional one as brands become accustomed to a future where there is a digital layer to every consumer interaction. He also talked about how it makes sense that luxury took so long to jump into e-commerce; why CEOs don’t need to know technology intrinsically; and what he’s driving at LVMH to keep up with the level of experience the customer expects online.
“We only have one planet, and the toll [the fashion industry] has on resources today is simply unsustainable,” H&M’s Anna Gedda told co-host Rachel Arthur. With that in mind, the Swedish group is pushing towards an ambitious goal of being 100% circular by 2030. The sustainability expert also talked about how collaboration in the industry is critical and the important role artificial intelligence will play in this field.
A leading woman in the STEM industries, Laurence Haziot, global MD at IBM, believes blockchain will have the same long-term impact that the internet has had on commerce. During this conversation, she broke down what this technology means for fashion, why she is bullish on the efficiencies it could drive throughout the supply chain, and how it’ll play a major role in sustainability and transparency.
“When you’re trying to do something that really creates an impact and is somewhat revolutionary, then you’ve got to put all the chips on the table,” said Tommy Hilfiger’s Avery Baker. For the chief brand officer, who has been with the company for 20 years, risk, authenticity and understanding your consumer are the keys to innovation. She also talked about how the brand has translated its American roots and values to a global audience, how it overcame the unexpected lull, and why magic and logic need to work together.
Lego seeks feedback from six year-olds, and often breaks into moments of play in order to shift siloed thinking. That, believes Martin Urrutia, is how the company remains focused on the relationship between the user and the brick. In this passionate chat, the head of retail innovation also spoke about the importance that technology and a knowledgeable staff both play in creating elevated retail experiences.
Direct-to-consumer luggage brand, Away, received its first round of funding without even having a product, which is a testament of how clear its vision was from the get-go. Co-founder Jen Rubio talks about how she built a brand based on making travel more seamless, how they overcame their first major hurdle, and why listening to customer feedback and constantly iterating is key to innovation.
The future of e-commerce may not be about a traditional website at all, but about existing on multiple other platforms, said NET-A-PORTER’s Matthew Woolsey. One of the luxury retailer’s most expensive sales, a watch, was completed entirely on WhatsApp, for instance. This shows the importance of a customer centric strategy, he explained, from what platform to use to how to integrate data and AI into every process.
“Design is best when it serves people,” said Walmart’s now former VP of design, Dan Makowski. He spearheaded the world’s largest retailer’s e-commerce redesign, explaining that it all came down to focusing on elevating the shopping experience for the changing customer of today. With so many brands now under its umbrella, such as ModCloth and Jet.com, there was a new focus on having a wider conversation in order to cater to different types of consumers, he noted.
Sandrine Deveaux, MD of Store of the Future, Farfetch
The store of the future will solve consumer problems in innovative and meaningful ways, said Sandrine Deveaux, MD of Farfetch’s division dedicated to such a cause. Technology, she said, should not be deployed just for the sake of it, but to create better shopping experiences driven by personalization. She referred to the experience of Apple, but the convenience of Amazon, and why she’s on a quest to change the way luxury brands think.
Guive Balooch, global VP of L’Oréal’s tech incubator
L’Oréal is on a mission to marry technology and beauty in order to enhance customer’s lives, said Guive Balooch, global VP of the beauty group’s tech incubator. From the connected hairbrush to the customized formulas or augmented reality makeup apps his team has created, the key is thinking about how to personalize all interactions and solutions for consumers, he explained. “In 10 years time there’s no question to me that every person will have the ability to have the perfect product for them,” he noted.