SXSW: Intersection of Retail & Tech

Posted by Elizabeth Hoffman on Mar 21, 2019 10:12:00 AM
Elizabeth Hoffman
We recently covered some of our favorite in-store experiences at SXSW but we also loved the focus on technology's ever-evolving role in in retail. The Style & Retail track specifically highlighted how retailers are using technology to connect to consumers. Here are some highlights of the conversations around Sustainable Fashion & Tech, AI in Retail, and the future of Connected Beauty.
1. Sustainable Fashion & Tech
The desire to focus on sustainable fabrics and support responsible consumption is growing in the fashion industry. There's more of a movement to source local fabrics, be more mindful about the local environment when creating garments (for example, not leak dyes into local streams) and re-use fabrics that would otherwise be discarded.
We like the emergence of new initiatives like Marine Layer's 'Re-Spun' program. Each year, the average American throws away an estimated 80 pounds of clothing. Re-Spun is taking aim to reduce that textile waste. The program is designed to create a closed-loop production process, encouraging customers to turn in their old tees so that Marine Layer can break the fabric down and re-spin it to create entirely new t-shirts. It's a relatively new advancement in fashion production and one that we can see consumers - especially Gen Z - getting behind.
Marine Layer Re-Spun
Another company focused on sustainable fashion practices is Finery. Co-founded by model and actress Brooklyn Decker and former news anchor Whitney Casey, Finery attempts to digitize and organize users' wardrobes. The goal? To help curb 'throwaway' fashion culture and reduce waste by inspiring customers to wear what they already own. Wearing a piece of clothing 50 times instead of five reduces the amount of carbon emissions by 400% per item, per year. That's no small stat. 
Consumers buy clothes they love, but then they forget what's in their closet and panic when an upcoming event has them thinking "I have nothing to wear!" The Finery app links with the users' email account to track recent orders and to help build out their closet. But fear not, fellow retailers - this doesn't discourage Finery users from shopping altogether. It actually encourages customers to build their closet responsibly by recommending products to remedy gaps in their wardrobe. Here are some other useful Finery practices that other retailers can incorporate:
  • Use customer data differently - Finery users are reminded of the clothing options they already have. It made us wonder, how many brands out there use their consumer data to remind customers of purchases they love, rather than solely to suggest new products? That's a missed opportunity to get customers to fall in love with your brand all over again and build loyalty. Remind customers of the pieces they do have from your brand and help them style and pair it in different ways - for work, formal or casual settings.

  • Weather styling tips - One feature we love about this app is the pairing of clothing suggestions with real-time weather updates. For example, if the weather calls for a sunny day but it's expected to cool down after dark, Finery suggests how users can layer their looks to be dressed appropriately from day to night. This hyper-localized styling advice could be adopted by a variety of retailers.

  • Remind users of return deadlines - Customers like to be reminded when an order is nearing the end of it's return window, so make it easy for them with alerts and ask them how their product is fitting.


2. Trendy Tech in Retail: Still Finding Its Place
In terms of retail, Artificial Intelligence is still finding its place. Yes, we're seeing more advanced chatbots and the development of in-store robots, but retailers are still trying to figure out where AI can be applied to best serve their customers. HSBC bank recently debuted the use of Peppr, an AI powered customer service robot, in its Beverly Hills location, primarily as a draw to get people in the door.  We have yet to see how customers will interact with such machines, particularly in North America where adoption is slower than in Asia, where pepper first launched.
Pepper's developer, SoftBank Robotics, imagines additional uses for retailers. They see Pepper as filling in labor gaps during peak holiday seasons, serving as an informational resource for new employees, and conducting inventory checks and ordering refills in the aisles - all of which free up associates to interact with customers.
Augmented Reality technology is already being implemented by  retailers like Crate & Barrel, allowing app users to visualize how a piece of furniture would look in their living room. What we may see in the next few years is the advancement and further adoption of Virtual Reality. For example, we may see shoppers use VR glasses to virtually try on clothing, with a heat map to predict where a garment may be too tight.

3. The Future of Connected Beauty

As consumers become more aware of what they put in and on their bodies, skincare and beauty companies have had to evolve. It's no longer about just looking beautiful, it's about feeling beautiful too - with wellness at the center.

In November, L'Oreal launched My Skin Track, a battery-free, wearable electronic device that tracks exposure to UV rays, pollution, pollen and humidity, all of which users can monitor through the corresponding app. The goal? To make people aware of what their skin is actually exposed to and to aide them in protecting their skin and health. For example, many people grossly underestimate the amount of UV they're exposed to. By alerting them to the actual numbers and encouraging the use of sunscreen, L'Oreal hopes to reduce cases of melanoma.

My Skin Track

Additionally, the advancements in medical technology have enabled L'Oreal and other companies to better measure ones skin, such as the PH balance, texture, sensitivities and microbiomes, so the right products can be made and recommended to improve an individual's skin health. In the future, we may also see genomics (DNA structure) play more of a role in identifying skin conditions that beauty providers can better cater to.

L'Oreal isn't the only one working to enhance its skin analysis. Revieve partnered with Samsung to offer a skin analysis with Bixby Vision, Samsung's AI-powered interface. With it, users can take a selfie to receive a personalized skin analysis and get customized product recommendations. Revieve also has a suite of Digital Advisor products that allow retailers and brands to digitally interact with beauty shoppers in-store, online via Facebook Messenger and WeChat - giving beauty brands another opportunity to reach mobile shoppers wherever they are.

Overall, the increasing convergence of tech, retail and beauty is exciting to watch. Retailers will have to explore and invest in what makes sense for their brand and what helps to best serve their customers' needs.



Topics: Retail Tech News, Retail Industry Research, SXSW

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