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Luxury Retail Tech: A Chat with Laurence Stefani of PEP'it
FSW speaks with customer experience designer Laurence Stefani about the current state of luxury retail tech and how to improve collaboration between luxury brands and tech solution providers.
When it comes to innovation, luxury brand decision-makers are famously circumspect.
From being a bit late to the digital game in terms of e-commerce to going all in on the Metaverse, it feels like many luxury brands take a reactionary, rather than strategic, approach to the world of tech. Within many luxury brands, this has led to not only internal siloing of tech and tech-related strategy within organizations; but also it has contributed to overinflated tech stacks with tools and solutions that go under- or ill-utilized.
In this light, there are many thought leaders in both luxury and tech who are trying to bridge the gap in the name of better collaboration and improved outcomes for brands, tech providers, and luxury consumers.
FSW recently had the chance to chat with Laurence Stefani of PEP’it, who is the founder of the inaugural “Luxury Retail Powered by Tech” event, which takes place on October 11 in New York City at the Microsoft Garage.
FSW: Why did you start the Luxury Retail Powered by Tech event?
LS: I have been working with luxury brands for more than 20 years in corporate and consulting, designing global customer experience and learning experiences. In all experiences I design, I like to integrate the codes and values of the brand with innovative approaches and solutions.
Therefore I am always on the watch for the best tech solutions that emerge. I discover them with my customer experience eye.
I go to many panels and am a speaker myself. Through those moments and the conversations I have with my clients, I have realized that :
Luxury brands are ready to go further on test and learn
They need tech solutions to help them foster the experience in retail, but also the efficiency, for teams to gain time and better serve the customer
They go to tech panels, but they all want to get more direct interactions with tech solutions
To answer those needs, I decided to create this event, to connect luxury brands with luxury-oriented tech solutions, in a very interactive moment (see "Speed Science Fair" modality below) so that all the participants get ideas and business out of this day.
To have ideas emerge, there could not be a better place than The Microsoft Garage, Microsoft’s innovation hub, home for the company’s worldwide innovation program encouraging curiosity-fueled experiments
I strongly believe in the power of community and this event will bring the best out of it.
FSW: What does your event hope to convey to attendees?
LS: It will be a real moment of interaction with tech leaders. We want this to be an opportunity to have each solution presented to them in a customized way, with the unique potential of getting one-to-one conversations and actually relating presented solutions to their business and needs.
FSW: What are the current challenges of tech adoption within luxury from your POV?
LS: The main challenges are:
The multiplicity of offerings with various levels of expertise and real knowledge of what luxury brands and their customer need
The pace of innovation waves that can be hard to cope with
From the tech solutions point of view, which is always in a very fast-paced rush for innovation, the challenge is to understand the pace of fashion, beauty, and watch and jewelry brands that are so different. For luxury brands, the danger is to want to do a “coup” to show they are in the game, but that is not in line with their strategy and the essence of who they are.
This is why there needs to be an intermediary to help luxury brands and tech providers work together in harmony. This connection is one of the reasons we created this “Luxury Retail Powered by Tech” event.
FSW: What are the opportunities for luxury tech?
LS: The main opportunities for tech are to gain visibility, exposure, and engagement with high-luxury clients. Also, they can benefit from on-the-spot reactions to the latest solutions they will share and thus be able to adapt them much more thoroughly to clients’ needs. Also, we hope they will be able to generate business, as they will be able to interact with all guests in the room, through our modality of what we’re calling the “Speed Science Fair.”
Our “Speed Science Fair” is a unique modality. Unlike many panels that leave audiences inspired but lost in terms of practical applications, our guests will actually get to meet and relate solutions to their business needs. After a short teaser presentation on stage, tech providers will be in booths, as in a science fair, and will directly interact with small groups of the audience during immersive customized presentations.
FSW: What does the future of luxury tech look like in the context of the relatively recent NFT bubble burst and the so-called death of the Metaverse? How are these technologies still relevant to luxury brand strategy?
LS: The genie is out of the bottle. There is no way he is going back inside.
I am particularly interested in the evolution you describe because innovation waves are certainly getting more frequent and more intense. More than an economic change or a technological change, it is a cultural change to which we must adapt.
A year ago everyone was talking about the Metaverse (a lot without even having tried one). Now, recent economic and financial upheavals, both globally and in tech, brought a kind of chilliness to project works, particularly when linked to the digital or virtual. This gave rise to an interest in tech solutions that seemed more appropriate and accessible. Enter ChatGPT. AI adoption skyrocketed and AI buzz was born.
Now the Metaverse starts to be a taboo word and you will hear much more about spatial computing. Immersive web projects are taking over Metaverse land acquisitions.
For luxury brands, the truth is and will always be in solutions that can bring more to the clients’ experience and also bring more efficiency to the teams, in order to serve the customer better.
While we think that AI definitely contributes to this, even in terms of design, it is now a matter of empowering humans and not replacing anyone. After all, immersive experiences, social CRM, and social commerce, all powered by AI, are new additions to regular engagement channels. They are in no small way new, unbottled ways to create an omnichannel experience.
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