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6 takeaways from the World Retail Congress - Rome

Irene Maguire our co-founder is fresh back from a trip to Rome for the World Retail Congress and has some headline trends and retail findings to share.. 

The recent World Retail Congress overall theme was retail transformation today, tomorrow and beyond. We found the emergence of digital disruptors interesting, particularly those pure play brands who are adding freshness, innovation and newness to our retail landscape.


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1. Developing nations are leapfrogging developed countries in mobile technology

The notion that developed nations are ahead in the technology stakes is being rapidly abandoned, as it becomes clear that emerging economies are simply leapfrogging developed economies, particularly in social media and mobile technology. Planet Retail gave two great examples; in Turkey, Hopi, a mobile assistant app has over a million users. The app developers collaborated with fashion chains and department stores to offer personalised product offers, promotions and discounts, allowing users to be the first to see new product ranges. An entrepreneurial start up, Chilli Beans in Brazil, a sunglasses specialist is fast moving into lifestyle related categories. The business embraces key trends, such as fast fashion, with 10 new styles of sunglasses every week, as well as collaborations with celebrities and designers, in store technology that uses digital mirrors to superimpose frame styles, and a brand community with parties, shows, sports and social actions. They have conventional stores as well as other points of engagement including kiosks, pop-up, flagships, vending machines and mobile shops.

2. Brand universes, beyond the expected…brand reinvention

James Curleigh, Global Vice President of Levi’s, talked about finding new ways to get close to his customers, and the importance of intuitive thinking to create new unexpected experiences that are aligned to the culture of the brand. Would research findings amongst customers have led to an expressed desire for a Levi’s global stadium? Thinking beyond the expected inspired the business to create the Levi’s stadium where they can bring together arts, cultural, music and sporting events, a new way to celebrate the iconic status of the 150-year-old brand in American cultural life. This initiative gets the business closer to their goal of going beyond denim to be a true lifestyle brand, and increase their “share of wardrobe”. He also talked about the importance of making it simple for customers at every point of interaction with the brand; simple at the front, sophisticated at the back.

Check out his brand building TED talk, which covers some other great stories.


3. Pure ‘play’ to bricks and mortar digital disruptors - new kids on the block

We wrote about Bonobos last year after a trip to NYC, but another brand created for millennials by millennials is Warby ParkerIt is fast becoming a much loved favourite beyond the original target group because of the way it has revolutionised the eyewear market in the US. With their commitment to doing good through their ‘buy a pair, give a pair’ initiative, and their cool, mid-century, collegiate style concept. They have disrupted the price structure in what was previously a price controlled, monopolised market, inspired by one of the founders being unable to afford to replace a lost pair of glasses at college. Also their brand experience, making stores fun with photo booths, being generous to their customers, sending out glasses free of charge to try on and return with fast, free shipping, is setting new parameters in levels of customer service. Please come to Europe!

Shoes of Prey, like Warby Parker and Bonobos, began life as a pure play retailer, recently moving into the bricks and mortar space. Shoes of Prey are the ultimate in bespoke fashion footwear for women. Jodie Fox, one of the 3 founders started the business in 2009, and now has a number of stores in Nordstrom in the US. Shoes can be entirely customised, by style, colour, size of heel, soles, and every aspect to allow a woman to have a completely unique personalised product.


Birchbox, launched online by Hayley Barna, has grown to over 1 million subscribers in 6 countries. Originally an online retailer, allows women to sample a range of deluxe beauty samples delivered every month to be discovered in a Birchbox. The move to a bricks and mortar presence was in recognition of the importance of play, trial, and testing as part of the brand experience

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4. Cool collaborations and sharing space

We all know how collaborations are increasingly allowing brands to stay relevant, refresh, and generate interest, but we are seeing collaborations in sharing spaces, where established retailers can benefit from a link with new emerging brands and start-ups. Birchbox is going into selected Gap stores, a great way for Birchbox to reach more customers, and likewise a way for Gap to reinvent and attract interest.

Nordstrom has been particularly bold in linking up with entrepreneurial brands and start-ups giving space to brands such as Warby Parker, for a series of pop-ups, and Shoes of Prey in six of their stores. The business has also invested in emerging brands such as Haute Look, an online start-up about to appear in store and Trunk Club, a personal shopping service originally aimed at men, and now expanding to women.

These partnerships and collaborations are a vital way of Nordstrom reinventing itself and remaining relevant, as well as giving great exposure to up and coming brands. It’s a retail win win.

5. I want it now, and make it simple

Convenience is being redefined, seamlessness between online and stores, and the need for instant responses and simplicity. There was a lot of talk about shrinking time, we all want everything faster, which is why creating memorable moments and experiences are more important now than ever.

Even Boden, are planning to open a network of physical stores to deliver seamlessness, providing the much valued click-and-collect service and the opportunity to experience the brand in the flesh, to feel the fabric and of course try on product.

The effective use of technology in-store is focussed around making it easy for customers.  A great example is the Rebecca Minkoff online store in NYC with interactive video walls, mirrors in the selected mood-lit fitting rooms that can request alternative colour and size options with a simple tap.

6.  Make it personalised and relevant

And finally, some scary stats about communicating in the right way with your customers…Only 1 in 6 tweets should be about sales, millennials hate being sold to. 44% of millennials are likely to permanently disengage with a brand if they feel they are getting generic, impersonalised emails.

Styles of communication are changing to become more personal, human and relatable…the day of the, ‘Dear X, we would like to inform you’ is being replaced by less formal, immediate and direct ways of speaking.