Monday, 22 June 2015

How Tech Trends Take off

Crafting the Customer Experience through Technology

The NET-A-PORTER-GROUP X London Technology Week

Regardless of the idea, there’s a core aspect that runs the length of every technology, product and service available: customer experience. Initially hidden – and when it’s good, it’s left un-noticed – customer experience is an essential part of every company’s mission in offering a solution. It’s simple: if no one likes using your product, then no one will pay for it - no matter how great the apparent demand may be.

Despite my seemingly knowledgeable and experienced opening to this post, these ideas in fact only occurred to me a few days ago at a London Technology Week event. Admittedly, my initial draw to attend was a result of the event’s host and location within The Village at Westfield. And of course, The NET-A-PORTER Group’s London HQ was everything I had hoped for: sophisticated, monochromatic, functional and beautifully inspiring – and on top of all that, it smelt like Aesop Skincare Products everywhere.

The evening consisted of Prosecco, Walkers Sensation crisps, canapés and a very well chosen pre-networking panel discussion:

  • Sarah Watson, VP Social Commerce, NET-A-PORTER.COM
  • Jonathan Earle, Head of Strategy, Planning, Innovation and Customer Experience, O2 UK
  • Ophelia Brown, Index Ventures (replaced by someone I can’t remember the name of)

Chaired by Alex Wood, Editor-in-Chief of a new techy publication that I’d never heard of (called The Memo), it was clear that there had been plenty of preparation for the conversation to come (always appreciated). The eventbrite preface to the event read as thus:

“Technology has allowed forward-thinking companies to radically disrupt industries, from luxury fashion, to entertainment and communications. But technology's real power lies in its ability to create the perfect customer experience. Hear from three pioneering companies and a technology dealmaker, as they discuss how technology is being deployed to refine every customer touch-point.”

In reality, the discussion explored the different approaches to customer experience (using technology) via each company representative in attendance – and it was fascinating.

Across industry, it’s openly understood that technology has disrupted the paradigms and norms by which we all work. But what struck me about the evening’s panel was the level at which companies are guided by the technological habits of their users. As an example, Sarah Watson, VP Social Commerce at NET-A-PORTER, revealed that 40% of the company’s sales happen via mobile devices. That profitable jump from E-commerce (online shopping) to M-commerce (mobile shopping) has been rapid – and doubtlessly played a decisive part in Sarah’s role managing ‘The Net Set’. This relatively new retail platform form NET-A-PORTER illustrates the next move for the company: a move from M-commerce to ‘S-commerce’ (social commerce). The Net Set gives users the chance to follow the style of people they admire and aspire to – and there’s no doubt that instagram culture has almost single-handedly prompted this development of buyer’s habits. Since the majority of those who shop with NET-A-PORTER are apple technology (iPhone) users, it made sense for Sarah and her team to utilise and develop more ways for people to spend money with the company via this medium – and on a critically social level.

My interest in 3D printing within the fashion industry found a platform during the Q&A part of the evening, and in sync with the previous discussion, helped me to understand the challenges that this technology is still facing. Just like any other tech, 3D printing cannot be widely used until it is widely adopted. When I asked Sarah about how NET-A-PORTER predicts and prepares for new technology, her answer very much overlooked the potential of 3D printing – simply because until her customers are interested in it, then neither is she. I felt as though my question would be better suited to a CTO – but nevertheless, the attitude of the industry itself was very much evident in her reply. 

What this event really spurred me to consider is the extremely essential concern of customer experience when using technology (like 3D printing) to (one day) engage with actual physical products. The quality control needed for the future of 3D printed garments is beyond anything that I can currently imagine - especially since home 3D printing at present is fraught with print failures even for the most simple of objects. Apart from a small mention of 3D scanning to homogenize data for cross-brand sizing solutions, my field of industry was not mentioned any further. Whilst 3D printing everyday clothing feels further away than ever, I’m convinced that in a few years, some serious progress in materials will be made, which might just excite people enough for large (retail) industry players to take notice.