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Klarna, Snoop Dogg and the Gospel of the Smooth Experience

From the looks of it, how people pay for their purchases is retail’s new battleground.

Swedish bank and fintech unicorn Klarna is making a big push into the U.S. retail market with its message of “smoooth experiences” for all with the moment of conversion taking center stage.

Like virtually all players in the rapidly evolving payments tech landscape, Klarna has set its sights squarely on the millennial shopper, whose generational cohort spends $600 billion annually, makes 54 percent of purchases online and sinks its resources into more experiences than products. The company’s brand-new campaign starring the singular charisma of Snoop Dogg is awash with millennial dog whistling: a set splashed with a Pepto Bismol take on millennial pink, neon signs aglow and a pair of regal Afghan hounds whose silky blond locks would seem to be the result of a Drybar blowout.

As Klarna’s latest investor and ambassador, the artist formerly known as Snoop is reborn—coronated, actually—as Smoooth Dogg, complete with giant jewel-encrusted bling rings bearing his new moniker. It’s a whole lot of spectacle for a company whose bread and butter is serving as a behind-the-scenes partner to retailers like Adidas, Topshop and Zara—and a sign, perhaps, that the fight for dominance in payments tech cannot be won in the shadows.

Klarna convened some of fashion’s finest minds to discuss some of the hurdles that retailers face in building “smooth experiences,” hosting a panel talk featuring CFDA strategic partnerships director Ashley Sandall, Shoes of NYC co-founder Huston Conti, In the Style COO Paul Masters, and Alissa LaScala, marketing commerce manager for Klarna’s newest client, Daniel Wellington. Klarna CEO Sebastian Siemiatkowski introduced the discussion, moderated by WWD’s executive editor of strategic content development Arthur Zaczkiewicz.

In addition to an installment option that directly competes with Afterpay’s four equal payments plan, Klarna offers a buy now, pay later program that 74 percent of shoppers said would wipe out the biggest headache they face when clothes shopping online.

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Brands and retailers in the fashion arena don’t have the option of going it alone today, as legacy players struggle to keep up with customer demands and digitally native brands are born knowing how to address a tech-smart consumer faced with an endless array of choices. That’s why pursuing meaningful partnerships and collaborations are so important, panelists said, highlighting Public School’s zero-waste capsule with sustainability leader Eileen Fisher as one notable recent example.

The best brand-consumer relationships are reciprocal ones where both parties freely share data—which typically enhances the customer experience. Today, however, breaches, corporate wrong-doings and other mishaps have created a climate in which many consumers, with data privacy in mind, feel that “Big Brother” somehow has crept into the equation, making them more likely to keep their personal details close to the vest. Using technology as a marketing tool to build genuine connections and make a memorable impact can help brands overcome this new barrier.

Products like Nike’s latest high-tech shoe hint at the future of data sharing in smooth brand-consumer relationships. While the Adapt BB’s self-lacing technology is cool on its face, it’s the footwear’s sensors that will collect and communicate invaluable data on how the owner wears the shoe, which Nike could use to iterate on product development to build even smarter shoe, panelists said. The trade-off in this scenario is worth it for the sake of producing a more tailored, problem-solving product.

CFDA’s Sandall acknowledged the particular challenges smaller brands and sellers may encounter relative to their deep-pocketed larger rivals. Across logistics, payments, merchandising and more, new technologies can help to even the playing field and positively impact the customer experience. While brands today can gather more data than ever across myriad consumer touchpoints, many smaller outlets still store the bulk of this information on old-school spreadsheets, severely limiting the insights that could be unlocked.

And though everyone’s chasing the smooth experience online, Sandall emphasized that winning brands will focus on operating fewer, but better, stores, a lesson reinforced by the class of digital natives that saw value in putting down stakes in the real world. For these brands, digital learnings offer a leg up on baking the smooth experience into the physical store.