Fashion Editors Share How to Make It in the Industry

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Top Editors Share How To Make It In The Fashion Industry

by

Alicia Adamczyk

Forbes Writer

@AliciaAdamczyk

Dying to make it in fashion? The top editors of three of the industry’s premiere publications have some tips.

How To Make It In Fashion, a conference held Friday by Fashionista.com at the High Line Hotel in Chelsea, gave the over 200 attendees an inside glimpse into the business end of the fashion industry.

From insight into the future of digital marketing and sales to inspiring talks with DKNY PR Girl Aliza Licht and designer Jessica Randall, the conference aimed to educate attendees on every facet of fashion and retail.

The day kicked off with an editors panel consisting of the editors-in-chief of Elle Magazine, Robbie Myers; InStyle Magazine, Ariel Foxman; and Teen Vogue, Amy Astley. Interviewed by Fashionista editor Lauren Indvik, the industry veterans gave candid advice on everything from what to wear to the job interview to just how long those cover letters really should be (spoiler alert: definitely less than one page).

While the conference was geared toward aspiring fashion experts, the advice is applicable to almost every field. Here’s some of their best tidbits for making it in to the top of your profession:

Keep cover letters brief and to the point

After reading hundreds of cover letters, the editors had some strong opinions. While Foxman said he hardly ever bothers with them, Astley and Myers said they’re a great way to show some creativity, as long as you’re concise and not too original. Myers suggested getting personal to show you really want the job — that you’re not just sending in a generic cover letter. “Write to me,” she said.

“Something personal, when it’s true, when it’s authentic, it will flow out,” Astley said. “Cite specific examples of why you like our magazine.”

Know what you want

In any industry, you really need to have a sense of what you want to do before you start applying for every job available. This is especially true in fashion, where every position is specialized.

“There are a lot of people who are only into fashion for what they think it is,” said Foxman.

“You really need to know the person you’re talking to and the brand,” Astley said. “If you’re going to be taking up someone’s time … know your stuff.” In other words: Do your research and make sure you’re applying to the right job for you. It doesn’t do anyone any good to realize half-way through the interview that you didn’t apply to the right position because you expected it to be something else.

“Wherever you’re interviewing, any job, you need to know that product before you walk in that person’s office. And that will impress them, even though that’s the bare minimum,” Astley said.

“There are so many people who come in and say they’re obsessed with InStyle, they’re obsessed with fashion, and then they can’t answer a follow-up question,” said Foxman. “It happens all the time … If you’re not obsessed with where you’re going to be getting coffee, you’re going to be miserable in three days.”

Dress the part

If your cover letter was successful and you secured an interview, Astley said your outfit should “tell a story from beginning to end.” Clothes are an important way for someone in any industry to distinguish herself. While there may be more freedom in the fashion industry, Astley said it’s important that your clothes are a reflection of the position you want no matter where you’re interviewing. “Even if you think you’re not making a choice, you’re making a choice,” she said.

For those particularly interested in a career in fashion, Astley said she looks for creativity above designer duds and a perfectly polished look

Say yes to everything and be humble while you do it

Myers told a story about an assistant who showed enthusiasm in every task delegated to him at Elle — even pushing racks of clothing up and down Seventh Avenue while the other assistants complained. “Every single thing you do is an opportunity to meet somebody and network,” she said. Needless to say, the assistant was promoted.

At Teen Vogue, Astley works with a small team, where everyone wears multiple hats and is constantly on the go. “I look for people who want to take on more work,” she said.

Even if you’re a seasoned professional, but especially if you’re just starting out, it’s best to show humility. As Foxman joked, the industry isn’t like The Devil Wears Prada — be polite and respectful to everyone, not just your superiors.

“Be nice to everybody, engage as broadly as you can with as many people as you can,” Astley said. Network with peers especially.

Be fearless

While focusing on excelling at your current position is always important, Myers said she was also tuned into her future prospects throughout her career. When she made the jump from the established Interview Magazine to become the editor of Careers Magazine, a new publication no one had ever heard of, her friends were skeptical. “I was willing to take a big risk,” she said. Obviously, that risk paid off.

“Be open and curious to what’s possible, what’s next,” she said.

 

 

Article courtesy of Forbes Magazine

Picture courtesy of Dolce and Gabbana

 

Derek Lam – On Building A Brand

Derek Lam

http://youtu.be/nsbwScZXNi0

(to skip all of the introduction formalities skip ahead to 5:00)

Derek Lam discusses running his successful company, collaboration, creating collections, and building a clothing brand. He is an inspiration to all who are looking to create a distinct brand as well as a sustainable business model for their fashion business.

 

Enjoy!

 

 

Starting a Fashion Business

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Though this article is from 2007 it is still one of the most informative and straight forward articles on the subject.  The fundamentals are sound and it  asks the questions that are relevant for anyone considering going into a fashion business for themselves.  The first and most important question that it asks is simply,  Do you really even want to run a business? Read this article on the basics and see if your answer is still yes (which I hope it is!)

The Basics | Part 1 – Setting up your own fashion business: What do I need to know first?

by Imran Imed

for

The Business of Fashion

The Business of Fashion is getting a lot of play of late. At the recent CFDA/Fashion Fund awards in November, Marc Jacobs spoke at length about the ups and downs (and downs) of starting a new fashion business. Many young designers rush into setting up a business, attracted by the perceived glamour and fun that is associated with the fashion industry. There are wonderful fairy tale stories of young talented designers graduating from St Martins or Parsons and then going off to achieve fame and fortune. The stories we hear less of are those that describe all of the failed companies and dashed hopes that are the cruel reality of this industry. I am glad that Marc shared his stories with some of the upcoming stars of American fashion who were in the audience, including Doo.Ri Chung, Proenza Schouler and Peter Som.

One of the most common questions I am asked by designers who have just come out of fashion school (at both the bachelor’s and master’s level) is: “Should I start my own business or should I go work for a big fashion house?”. The truth is, the right answer depends on you and your aims. In our first article on the Business of Fashion Basics, we will pose the questions that you need to ask yourself – so you can make the right decision.

The first thing to think about is “Do I really want to run a business?”

Beautiful people, fun parties, flights of creative fancy – what more is there to want from a career? Here’s a reality check: it’s not as glamorous as it sounds. Running a fashion business means that packing boxes at 2 am, steaming clothes over and over again, and pouring through receipts with an accountant will become part of your routine. You will likely spend less than 10% of your time designing, while the rest of the time you will be managing production, sending clothes to magazines, dealing with suppliers who want their money (now!), begging Anna Wintour’s assistants to grant you a meeting, managing your employees while hoping they don’t fall ill, and trying to eat and bathe in between. On top of all that, you have to worry about making enough money to declare some kind of dividend from the business for all your hard work. You will eat, live and breathe your business 24/7. If that doesn’t turn you off, then keep reading.

Starting any kind business requires tenacity, endurance and dedication. Setting up a fashion business is all the more challenging because this is a hyper competitive industry (who doesn’t want to be a fashion designer these days?) and a very complex one as well, even at the smallest of scales. What other kinds of start-up businesses so quickly find themselves with customers and suppliers scattered around the world, requiring so much coordination and organization? Managing to get all of your raw materials (fabrics, trims, haberdashery, etc) all to your manufacturer at the same time to start your production and then sending it all out to stores in different corners of the world (each with their own customs procedures) in only 2 months can be a nightmare, even for those with great forward planning and troubleshooting skills.

All of this is to say that one of the key drivers of success will be your entrepreneurial skills and your commitment to running a business. In order to be successful, you should think of yourself as a CEO first, fashion designer second. A CEO is a manager of people, finances and processes. Therefore, you will have a great deal of responsibility and important business decisions will face you each and every day. The buck stops at you and the business should always be at the forefront of your mind, not just an afterthought.

For some people this is an extremely exciting and energizing situation to be in. For others, it is their worst nightmare. What kind of person are you?

Next, you should ask: “Do I already have or can I find the necessary skills, contacts and funding to create a successful fashion company?”

Clearly, you won’t be able to do absolutely everything yourself. This is where you need to find other people who believe in you to join your team or provide support in some other way. Doing a self-assessment of your skills and abilities will tell you what gaps you will need to fill in order to make your business work.

You may assume that having completed a design degree, there are no skill gaps there. However, the design process in a business can often feel very different to that of the design process in school, where you don’t have to worry about things other than the product. Running fashion business means developing and following an organized creative process that works for you – and that other people can work to as well. One of the great things about designers who have previously worked in a large fashion house is that they have seen how other people organize themselves and can take lessons from there as they start. Having a clear design methodology is crucial to getting the best out of your abilities. If you don’t have this in place now, perhaps you may want to spend some time learning from someone else first.

Apart from mastering the design process, something that some of the smartest designers do next is to find a business partner they can trust, who brings different skills and connections to the table. Often it is a spouse (Patrizio Bertelli is married to Miuccia Prada), sibling (Christopher Kane’s sister Tammy runs the business) or a friend (Marc Jacobs has long time business partner Robert Duffy) who might take on this role. In this way, not only do you have someone to lean on in times of difficulty, you also have a division of roles, which allows you to focus on more on the creative aspects of the business.

You will also need to find people in the Industry who agree to support you and work with you. You’ll need a PR who will (at least initially) give you his services for almost nothing and a factory that will make your clothes in small quantities. You will also need accountants, lawyers, stylists, photographers, graphics designers, production managers and interns – hopefully all at discounted prices. You therefore need to ask yourself if you already have a set of contacts which you can leverage to make your business work. If not, you need to get out there and meet people so you can start your business on the right foot, with the right team behind you.

Finally, for most designers who haven’t come into an unexpected windfall inheritance in the millions, starting a business is also a question of finding money. There are many sources of funding, but each source will take time and effort before it bears its fruit. Family and friends who believe in you are obviously one place to start, but you will also need to deal with bank managers about loans, and think about taking on investors as well. Having a network of people who may be able to introduce you to potential sources of funding is imperative to setting up your business. You can have a brilliant business concept, a fantastic team, and all the energy in the world, but without funding in place from the start, it will be difficult to get up and running. You should also do research on grants, sponsorship and awards that many organizations make available to nurture new design talent.

Lastly, you should ask yourself: “Do I have something unique to offer the market?”

If there is one crucial thing I recommend that you do before rushing off to start a business, it is to carefully craft your business concept. What is it about your business that will be unique? Why will people choose to buy your product over someone else’s? Is it the design, the price, the value or the dream that they are buying into?

You will need to think carefully about who you are designing for. It is cliché by now, but I almost always ask designers when I first meet them: “Who are you designing for? And why?”. Most of the time, this simple question is met with groans or blank stares or platitudes like “I design for me and my friends” or “A very glamorous woman with lots of money”. This is not enough. You need to get into the mind of your customer and understand what motivates them. Where do they spend their time and for what occasions will you dress them? What makes them buy a garment? Understand their psychology, emotional needs and relationship with clothing. Visualize all the aspects of their lives and assess how your business can blend into making them even better.

It’s worth pointing out now that not all fashion businesses have to operate at the high end of luxury, although it seems that that is where every designer wants to be. Remember, your business concept needs to offer a clear proposition of value to your customer, and that value could be world-class design at more reasonable prices. Look at Zara or H&M or Coach or American Apparel and how they have taken clear business ideas that allow them to deliver great fashion to the masses. While it may seem ideal to be a “luxury” brand, also remember that some of the most influential fashion businesses are on the high street and in your neighbourhood mall, because they dress thousands of people around the world.

Next time: Writing a Business Plan

Assuming I haven’t completely scared you from starting your business, our next article will go through the process of writing a business plan and why it is so valuable. In short, it will help you to raise funding, to clarify your vision, and to set a roadmap for how to get there.

 

Article provided by BoF

Photo provided by Startup Fashion

 

 

Brand Strategies

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Imran Amed, founder and editor-in-chief of The Business of Fashion interviews Net-a-Porter founder Natalie Massenet, editor-in-chief Lucy Yeomans, and VP of Publishing & Media, Tess Macleod Smith, about their ingenious launch of an Omni Channel concept – their new magazine Porter.

Here, you will learn the ideas, visions and practical applications of the Omni Channel concept and get inspired to tie similar (though probably far less capital intensive) ideas to your fashion brand.

http://youtu.be/GQ3VV6kgLP4

 

Enjoy!

Accelerator Programs

By Paula Andruss

for ENTREPRENEUR

WHAT TO LOOK FOR IN AN ACCELERATOR PROGRAM

When Chris Bergman entered startup accelerator The Brandery in 2011, he wasn’t sure exactly what the program would be able to accomplish for his company.

“I was a skeptic. My hope was that if it taught me something about how to raise money, that would be good enough,” says Bergman, co-founder and CEO of Choremonster, which has developed an app to reward kids for helping out around the house.

Roughly one year and $775,000 in funding later, Bergman is still reaping rewards, financial and otherwise, from his three-month stint with the Cincinnati accelerator. “I’ve had conversations with investors that have turned into capital, I’ve made invaluable networking connections and I’ve learned a lot about how I want to manage my company,” he says. “Our business wouldn’t exist today without The Brandery.”

Startup accelerator programs are popping up every day, available to a wider range of entrepreneurs than ever before. They’re no longer limited to Silicon Valley, and they’re no longer just for tech companies; there are industry-focused programs centered on fashion, food and socially conscious endeavors as well.

While most accelerators provide tangibles such as funding, mentorship and access to potential investors, they’re not a golden ticket to success. A positive experience depends on setting realistic expectations and understanding what these programs can and can’t do.

Cash and Counsel
For many startups, the initial draw to an accelerator is the potential for securing capital to refine their concept or get their business up and running. Companies can expect to receive some funding to get started or gain traction, but the amount of the stipend varies, as does the amount of equity the accelerator receives in return. Yael Hochberg,

“I was a skeptic. My hope was that if it taught me something about how to raise money, that would be good enough,” says Bergman, co-founder and CEO of Choremonster, which has developed an app to reward kids for helping out around the house.

Roughly one year and $775,000 in funding later, Bergman is still reaping rewards, financial and otherwise, from his three-month stint with the Cincinnati accelerator. “I’ve had conversations with investors that have turned into capital, I’ve made invaluable networking connections and I’ve learned a lot about how I want to manage my company,” he says. “Our business wouldn’t exist today without The Brandery.”

Startup accelerator programs are popping up every day, available to a wider range of entrepreneurs than ever before. They’re no longer limited to Silicon Valley, and they’re no longer just for tech companies; there are industry-focused programs centered on fashion, food and socially conscious endeavors as well.

While most accelerators provide tangibles such as funding, mentorship and access to potential investors, they’re not a golden ticket to success. A positive experience depends on setting realistic expectations and understanding what these programs can and can’t do.

Cash and Counsel
For many startups, the initial draw to an accelerator is the potential for securing capital to refine their concept or get their business up and running. Companies can expect to receive some funding to get started or gain traction, but the amount of the stipend varies, as does the amount of equity the accelerator receives in return. Yael Hochberg, assistant professor of finance at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management, estimates a range of 5 to 8 percent equity in return for a $15,000 to $40,000 stipend, with the median offer around 5 percent equity for a $20,000 stipend.

The money is certainly a boost, but the real draw for startups is the exposure–to knowledge, experts and funding–accelerators can provide. One of the marquee benefits is access to mentors who can offer experienced insight and advice in a concentrated amount of time.

“For every aspect of building the company we wanted to build, there was a specialist on hand to help us through and learn very quickly what otherwise would have taken a long time to learn,” says Robert Leshner, co-founder and CEO of San Francisco-based internet-privacy protection service SafeShepherd. His team joined Mountain View, Calif.-based accelerator 500 Startups in October 2011. “When we needed to learn about something like SEO, there was a mentor who was incredibly knowledgeable about SEO,” he explains.

Both Leshner and Bergman say they were surprised to find that just as valuable as the mentor connections were the relationships they developed with their program peers. “Being able to speak with so many people about their experiences and bounce ideas off them is invaluable,” Leshner says. “So is having this incredible network built for you of friends that you can trust.”

Despite all the support, entrepreneurs still need to think for themselves. One common misconception of accelerator programs is that the advisors will give participants all the answers they need to succeed. Accelerators do provide access to informed opinions and data, but participants need to process them wisely.

“Part of the learning process is how to handle conflicting feedback from the many advisors and mentors, and trying to understand what’s relevant to make their own decisions,” says Jim Jen, director of Pittsburgh startup accelerator AlphaLab.

Ultimately it’s that receptiveness to feedback that’s key to getting the most out of the accelerator experience. To glean the full benefits of the program, entrepreneurs need to check their egos at the door. “It’s a prestigious thing to be accepted into an accelerator, but the reality is you still haven’t done anything yet,” Choremonster’s Bergman says. “If you come in thinking you’re already a success, you’ll miss out on learning a lot of valuable things.”

Funding Realities
The accelerator perk that gets the most headlines is access to financing information and investors. “A huge benefit for us was going through the process and understanding what raising money looks like, and all of the details of building a business with investment,” Bergman says.

The potential to connect with investors–often hundreds of them–at an accelerator Demo Day is a huge draw, albeit one that can lead to pitfalls for participants. Northwestern University’s Hochberg says many have the mistaken perception that walking through one of these programs guarantees funding at the end. “Entrepreneurs need to recognize that even 75 percent of venture-backed firms fail completely,” she says. “I think sometimes that’s lost on them, and it’s true even at the top programs.”

Focusing too much on financing was a pitfall for Leshner and his group during their time at 500 Startups. “There’s a lot of investor interest for companies in the top accelerators, and that became a distraction for our team and took a lot of time away from building our company,” he says. “We finally realized we should be focusing on our product instead of the money.”

That’s not atypical, according to Jen, whose AlphaLab minimizes discussion of financing for the first half of its program. He says such talk can lead startups to put the cart before the horse. “If they don’t have the product and some early market traction, they’re not going to get very far in the funding anyway,” he says, “so the best thing they can do to work on their funding is work on the product.”

Group Dynamics
When it comes to accelerator programs, a strong team is everything

With acceptance rates to some of the country’s top-tier accelerators hovering around 1 percent, a standout application is integral to getting one’s foot in the door. Of course pitching the product and the market it serves is important, but insiders agree that portraying a strong business team is even more crucial.

“In addition to your product, you’re also being judged on your team,” says Yael Hochberg, assistant professor of finance at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management. “Your idea or product can change quite a bit as you go through the program, in terms of the business model or even what exactly you’ll be producing, so there’s also a lot of evaluation of the team and whether there’s a sense that you fit together well, understand the challenges ahead of you and will be able to be successful entrepreneurs.”

Jim Jen, director of Pittsburgh startup accelerator AlphaLab, says the capabilities of the team need to come out during the application process. “A lot of it is convincing them that as a team you have the passion, the commitment and the drive to make this company happen no matter what,” he says. “Then you need to show you have the capabilities to execute on what you want to do.”

The same is true at the end of the program, on Demo Day. “Communicating a sense of your team and why you’re capable of being successful is much more important than communicating the details of your product,” says Robert Leshner, co-founder and CEO of SafeShepherd. “Your product or idea is likely to evolve, but the team is a constant.”

Choose Wisely
How do you know if a program is legit and right for you?

Accelerator? Incubator? Shared working space? The past few years have seen an explosion of programs claiming to help startups grow. But not all are created equal.

Jim Jen of accelerator AlphaLab defines a true accelerator as a time-specific, mentorship-driven program designed to provide startups with critical resources to help them make rapid progress on product and customer development. “There are a lot of incubators and shared working spaces that are incorporating a lot of the elements of accelerators, but it’s a smaller universe that applies to the definition of a true accelerator, and even a smaller number that have been around and have a proven track record,” he says.

Northwestern University’s Yael Hochberg is another expert who has concerns about the legitimacy of some accelerators. She fears that not all programs, particularly the newer ones, can deliver on their promises of offering high-quality mentorship, network introductions and exposure to the capital community.

“To help founders, you have to be very good at screening so that you’re only taking in groups that really have a chance of succeeding. And I’m not convinced that all of the accelerators out there are equipped to do that,” Hochberg says. In addition, she points out, there are only a finite number of great mentors to go around.

Quality funding sources are also of concern. It’s important to verify that an accelerator can bring valid investors to the table. “With the top programs, everybody in the VC community will be looking at you,” Hochberg says. “But with some of these newer accelerators, especially regional ones or those in nontraditional verticals, you need to be sure that serious VC shops from outside your area take the program seriously and see its alumni as serious possibilities for funding.”

For assurance about any of these issues, due diligence is key.

Applicants should conduct thorough research online and talk to past participants to verify exactly who is involved in the program, what kinds of connections they have and how many of the accelerator’s alumni have received funding and at what stage.

Making sure an accelerator is a good fit for your particular business is also important. “If you’re a healthcare startup, it doesn’t matter if they’re the best consumer internet VCs on the planet and the mentors are all consumer internet gurus; if you’re doing healthcare, that’s not the right fit for you,” Hochberg says.

With the pool of accelerators expanding daily, doing the research and making decisions can be tricky, but it is crucial to choosing the program that will benefit your business the most. “Equity is an extremely precious thing to be handing away,” Hochberg points out. “You need to make sure that you’re handing it away to an organization that will truly be able to help you.”

 

 

 

Social Media for the Fashion Startup

 

This is a good video where this panel of Industry experts have a discussion at Parsons The New School For Design about how to use Social Media when you are just starting out and creating your fashion brand.

 

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http://youtu.be/dqyMM6zkNmA

 

 

Enjoy!

Out of the Box Branding

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Cats do not make good employee’s! Lol

Here are the latest ad’s for Pizza Hut Japan (why can’t we have great commercials like these!?)

http://jezebel.com/cats-make-totally-incompetent-pizza-hut-employees-1625588445

Yes, this does not, at first glance have anything to do with fashion (though their hats are adorable.) But it does have everything to do with getting your brand message across, even when you are turning the tables on yourself a little bit.  What Pizza Hut has done here is memorable and god knows we’ve all had experiences with one or two of these types of employees.

Enjoy!

 

Source for link: Jezebel.com

Photo credit: Pizza Hut

 

Omni Channel Commerce

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Why The Future Of Digital Commerce Is The Omnichannel

by Greg Satell

for FORBES MAGAZINE

 

When Bill Gates released his famous Internet Tidal Wave memo, the old media adage “content is king” became a mantra for the video age.  Gates rightly pointed out that “the more users it gets, the more content it gets, and the more content it gets, the more users it gets.”

What followed was almost comical, as media types struggled to understand the new technology and Silicon Valley geeks clumsily navigated the world of content. Somehow, through fits and starts, we all stumbled through and the media world was transformed.

Now, commerce is coming to the fore and we’re seeing many of the same issues as retailers strive to build a true omnichannel that merges at-home, in-store and mobile commerce into one seamless experience.  Much like with content in the early days of the Internet, the transition is a rocky one, but the future holds great promise.

The Rough Early Days

Some years ago, when I was working with KP Media in Ukraine, I found that I’d been locked out of my ICQ account.  Shortly after, it appeared for sale on a Russian hacker site.  It was a strange experience, to say the least, but it soon became clear what happened.

We had put some open source code on our news site and a hacker managed to get into our database using a technique called SQL injection. From there, he wormed his way through our servers to the database that held the ICQ accounts.  We chided ourselves for our carelessness, vowed to stick to our own proprietary code and closed the hole.

In a sense, we were lucky though.  We had invested early, recruited top digital talent to reimagine our print brands for the Web and built the largest digital business in the region.  That’s why we had prime partners like ICQ and were a target for hackers in the first place, while most publishers were still struggling to compete online.

Today, while hacking remains a problem, technology is no longer an issue.  19% of the Internet runs on WordPress and there are relatively few problems. The result is that the media universe has been completely transformed because it’s ideas, rather than technology, which drives capability now.

In commerce, however, the process has just begun and we can expect the impact on how we buy and sell to be every bit as dramatic as how we read, watch and listen.

When “Musee d’Art” Is Really Just A Black Polka Dot Skirt

If you’re looking for cool, vintage style clothing, ModCloth is the place to find it.  It’s a great niche brand, which caters to a small subset of the market that they know intimately.  They are experts at sourcing the right materials, picking the right styles and presenting them to their unique consumer.

In the old world of physical commerce, marketing their products would be a snap.  They would get space on a busy street or in a shopping mall where consumers normally go for clothes and they would be sure to stand out.  Those in the market for something different would wander in and be dazzled by the selection of retro styles.

Yet times have changed.  Now, they are lost in a sea of online commerce.  Sure, if vintage came to mind, ModCloth would come up in a Google search, but if a woman was looking for a “black polka dot skirt” she probably wouldn’t start type in “vintage” or “Musee d’Art Moderne skirt,” Modcloth’s version of the standard.

So Modcloth started working with BloomReach, which uses advanced algorithms to identify which keyword “streets” their customers are shopping on and makes sure that Modcloth gets a prime location.  They also generate landing relevant pages so that prospects are more likely to find what they’re looking for once they arrive on the site.

The Smarter Commerce Stack

BloomReach is one of a new breed of companies looking to enable retailers to compete with e-commerce giants like Amazon.  In effect, they are trying to do for commerce what WordPress has done for content—democratize the technology so that retailers can focus on what’s important, sourcing great products and servicing their customers.

However, retailing is a much more complex business than publishing and even a sophisticated company like BloomReach only delivers part of the solution. So systems providers are hard at work arranging various technologies into “stacks” that can provide an end-to-end solution.

While there are a number of companies playing in this area, IBM is leading the way with their Smarter Commerce initiative which encompasses four pillars:

Buy:  In the old world of retail shopkeeping, buyers would try their best to keep up with industry trends, but mostly they operated by instinct.  After all, they had to put their orders in 6-12 months before the start of the season, so market research was a dull tool at best.

Now, with streamlined supply chains and exabytes of data on consumer purchasing habits, the challenge is to get all of the relevant data in front of buyers so they can make smart decisions about suppliers, trends and products.

Market:  While marketing used to be mostly about awareness and messaging, today’s retailers need to shift from grabbing attention to holding attention. That means that marketers need to track consumer behavior, deliver relevant messages and manage their customer relationships in real time.

That’s a tall order, so it’s no wonder that by 2017, CMO’s are expected to spend more on IT than CIO’s.  What’s more, all of this new technology needs to be integrated with the other systems in the organization in order to maximize effectiveness.

Sell:  Most organizations are set up to optimize internal processes, not service.  That’s because it’s human nature to simplify tasks.  So if you are in the business of selling things in physical stores and you need to build a digital e-commerce capability, you tend to build a new system rather than go back and make all of your old systems compatible.

As digital usage has grown, that’s become a problem, because many people like to browse online and purchase in-store and vice versa.  Making desktop and mobile fully compatible with legacy POS and inventory systems is a challenge, to say the least, but that’s what needs to be done if retailers are to provide a truly seamless experience.

Service:  Probably the biggest challenge to omnichannel commerce is service.  Your customers don’t care how your systems are set up, but expect anyone in the organization to be able to solve their problems.  A bad experience in one area will affect how they feel about the brand as a whole.

So your systems need to be fully integrated to provide insights across all channels and everyone in the organization needs to be able to access information about the full customer experience.  In theory, that’s pretty basic, but in practice it’s extremely difficult to make everything work as one integrated hivemind.

The Future of Digital Commerce Is In-Store

Hovering in the background of all this, of course, is Amazon.  The e-commerce giant has an enormous advantage in digital technology, just like we did at KP Media.  While traditional retailers struggle to integrate legacy systems—some of which are decades old—with new digital capabilities, Amazon has always been an digital company.

However, what is often overlooked is that e-commerce is a very small part of retail.  A recent US Census report puts it at less than 6% of overall sales. While some estimates are as high as 10%, the simple fact is that the biggest opportunity for merchants is to merge digital insights with in-store physical experiences.

There has already been some impressive work on the back-end.  Wal-Mart recently announced same day in-store pickup of items bought online and Macy’s installed a system that will integrate all of its inventory systems and give store associates almost complete visibility of the items available across all channels.

These are, admittedly, still baby steps but glimpses of the future of retail starting to break through.  Nordstrom stores now have displays of most pinned items on Pinterest and Neiman Marcus developed an app which lets salespeople know when a regular customer enters the store and gives them access to purchase history, preferences and other data.

So, in a very real sense, commerce is the new content in that it has become the center of digital innovation.  As the technology continues to democratize, it will fade into the background and traditional skills will once again come to the fore.

 

photo credit: upstreamcommerce.com