Wearable tech, blockchain and augmented and virtual reality (AR and VR) are among the overhyped trends distracting the fashion industry from the kinds of innovations that can make a meaningful impact right now, tech insiders said at the Sourcing Journal Summit on Oct. 11 in New York City.
Though many brands have experimented with technology designed to be worn, Isaac Korn, director of Innovation for Perry Ellis, said no one has really come out with the killer tech that’s pushed this niche squarely into the mainstream. For now, consumers generally equate wearables with smartwatches, fitness trackers and smartphones, he noted, though the market has seen an Alexa-powered heated jacket, workout wear that provides coaching feedback as you’re training, and a jacket that lets you pilot a drone (no, really).
Clothing with built-in sensors and other useful tech could truly help consumers someday, Korn said, but the cost needs to shrink such that mass production is possible. “The technology is still not there, still not profitable,” he added.
Korn also took a swing at AR and VR. Describing the virtual technologies that either bring users into immersive new worlds or help them visualize products in their own environments as not exactly “useful,” Korn equivocated somewhat, noting that AR can aid in simulating products for online shoppers and VR might be most effective for consumer-facing “brand activations.”
Trendalytics’s CEO and co-founder Karen Moon is a self-proclaimed “huge believer in blockchain” but still believes the hype about the decentralized database technology has been blown way out of proportion. So many of the startups dabbling in blockchain aren’t really blockchain companies, and many so-called innovators are putting things on the blockchain that don’t really benefit from being there, she said in more colorful language.
Founder and CEO of retail product pricing platform First Insight, Greg Petro urged attendees not to dismiss any new tech out of hand but carefully evaluate their planned tech investments.
“If you can’t make money off it, meaning it’s not driving revenue, or it doesn’t increase margins, the reality is it’s a trend that’s not going to last,” Petro said. That’s not to say that industry stakeholders should not trial the latest innovations from a “risk mitigation” perspective, he added, but without a viable use case or value proposition, the hot new tech just might not have a place in your business—even if it does for others.
Afterpay’s chief revenue officer Melissa Davis said apparel and retail businesses should focus on improving an in-store shopping experience that hasn’t meaningfully changed in decades. Shoppers, for example, still are forced to queue up at the cash register and neither wearables nor AR/VR nor blockhcain has done a thing to change that.
Brands and retailers would be wise to make use of what they already have: data, Korn said, referencing the book “Weapons of Math Destruction” as a way of emphasizing that algorithms and data aren’t the be all, end all many seem to think they are. “Data is super sexy right now,” he explained, though like anything else, algorithms follow the all-important truth of “garbage in, garbage out.” If what you feed into the algorithm isn’t very good, Korn said, then what you get out of it probably won’t be as accurate as you want it to be.