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Technology Needs a Human Touch: Why Data Alone Won’t Solve Issues at Retail

So many brands are so far buried under all the data they’re either amassing, or have the potential to amass, that some simply don’t know what to do with it.

But that data can’t be left for dead, because without it, brands can’t deliver on the personalization consumers want from their retail experiences.

In a panel discussion at Decoded Fashion NYC Tuesday melding legacy brands like Kenneth Cole and tech-centric start-ups like Bonobos, ShopStyle and Spring, experts agreed that solving the data conundrum is a lot about education.

First, as Kenneth Cole VP Ryan Slyper said, it’s about having that conversation with higher ups about moving to more sophisticated systems that can deliver the big data brands need.

“Ultimately it’s cash. And headcount. It’s always a tough conversation to have,” Slyper said candidly. “When all of your reporting basically says ‘Internet,’ you can tell that it’s a legacy brand. It’s about educating the team about what we have and what we can do.”

Kenneth Cole recently revamped its mobile experience after discovering that conversion on mobile was subpar, and since the experience came up, so did the conversion rate.

However, mobile traffic growth doesn’t seem to be translating to the same growth in sales.

“Mobile is quickly becoming a bigger and bigger penetration of our traffic but not our sales, so how do we get those things to align?” Slyper posed, not giving the answer as it’s a work in progress at Kenneth Cole.

Data can draw the influencers, and then the sales

At ShopStyle, influencers are helping get growth in traffic and transactions to sync up.

Melissa Davies, EVP and GM of the shopping and fashion site, said when ShopStyle sees a retailer’s product underperforming, they call on the influence of the influencers and push product that way.

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In a separate panel Tuesday, social media influencer and blogger Courtney Kerr of KERRently, said she sustains her living solely off of monetizing her life. In one Snapchat post, Kerr filmed herself using a make-up brush cleaning kit in a hotel sink and raving about its ease and convenience, and that company sold right through the entire stock of the kit overnight.

Data can provide design validation

Beyond influencers, data has the power to provide validation of product and design decisions, Alan Tisch, founder and CEO of “single shopping destination” site Spring, said.

Reviewing certain Spring data uncovered the necessary insight that changing the aspect ratio of product photos had a “massive” impact on how the consumer interacted with that product.

“It’s really around what are you trying to optimize for,” Tisch said of data’s value.

Data schmata, product is still king

Brands can test and learn all they want but variables will always persist. And while sometimes a consumer experience doesn’t work, other times it’s the product.

Likening that testing to throwing darts at a wall, Slyper said for true fashion brands, product is still king and experience is more secondary.


“No matter what, at the end of the day, you can have the shittiest consumer experience and the best product ever and the consumer will still find a way to get through it,” Slyper said.

Seconding that notion, despite the fact that Spring’s mission is to bring the same joy of shopping in stores to its site, Tisch said, “Kanye West and Adidas can sell the Yeezys on an MS-DOS system and people will figure out how to buy it.”

For a legacy brand like Kenneth Cole, Tisch continued, product remains king because it’s emotional, and creating an experience should center around the product—how consumers feel when they open the brands’ box, how it’s packaged, what the stores feel like. Legacy brands aren’t going to win by becoming a data science team.

Data is key, but not the only key

Even at tech-savvy e-commerce apparel company Bonobos, data isn’t the be all.

Companies shouldn’t get caught up asking themselves whether they are a merchandise company or a technology company, Bonobos chief experience officer Dominique Essig said. Data and tech should simply pave the way for the merchandise to shine, and give the company the kind of feedback necessary to keep that consumer sated and sales up.

Technology for experience only goes so far for a brand.

“Our job doesn’t stop when they checkout,” Tisch said, adding that if a company doesn’t deliver that product to the consumer and they like it, an amazing online experience won’t be the only standout. “We use technology to deliver a better experience.”

And data doesn’t only come in the form of spreadsheets and analysis either, which too many brands forget.

Spring’s customer experience team is required to go out for at least five coffees a month with consumers to talk to them, finding out what they like and what they don’t, why they bought one thing and abandoned, or returned, another.

What it’s really about, Tisch said, is “How can you be a part of their life in a place that makes sense to show up? How do you do something more organic for them?”