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Lane Crawford-Backed Incubator Unveils Third Round of Retail Technology Startups

Amidst uncertainty, new consumer behaviors and stores shuttering, The Cage is betting on a new group of retail technology startups to redefine the apparel landscape.

The Cage, a retail technology ignition program created by luxury lifestyle group The Lane Crawford Joyce Group, is launching its third round of the program with two startups, ChatQuery and Olasso. The startups were selected by the group’s five judges at a Pitch Day that featured six finalists through a screening process. With the program, the group aims to revolutionize how consumers are buying products while enabling the industry to digitize more seamlessly as technology continues to shift the retail conversation.

The startups, which are working to elevate the retail consumer experience, will have guidance from the group’s five companies: luxury retailer Lane Crawford, fashion boutique Joyce, designer shoe specialist Pedder Group, retail distribution company ImagineX and full-service retail platform Walton Brown, so they can pilot their product to Greater China’s consumer base. Through the group’s network, the startups will also have access to more than 100 retail specialists and more than 80 global advisors from accelerators, corporate and educational institutions, including Harvard and Google.

“The Cage is our opportunity to co-create new ways of approaching our business,” said Jennifer Woo, chairman and CEO of The Lane Crawford Joyce Group. “It’s where the old world and new world meet in a mixing bowl of experience, ambition, collaboration, wisdom, learning and opportunity, to create positive change together.”

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Founded by Alex Man, a former data analyst at Groupon, and David Yang, a former software engineer at Google, ChatQuery is an on-demand chatbot that answers questions on business data. The two Australians, who met at Princeton, created ChatQuery in order to make data more accessible to consumers and retailers. Based in Cyberport, Hong Kong’s tech hub, ChatQuery launched last year and is in beta with a client base of small e-commerce businesses and large-scale retailers. Man and Yang aim to identify a pilot within the Group, so that they can demonstrate the potential benefits of data analytics and determine if this technology would be useful to the Chinese market.

“Our passion is to make data accessible to everyone so we replaced Excel with an on-demand chatbot. Our chatbot handles approximately 90 percent of questions asked, leaving the last 10 percent of tricky questions to the real people,” Man said. “It’s like having a giant team of data scientists for everyone in your business to help them make better decisions.”

Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) management platform Olasso aims to make post-purchase experiences more seamless for consumers and leverage AI to minimize the financial, environmental and operational impact of returns for e-commerce companies. Olasso’s three co-founders—Jim Cornford, Seb Poole and Pieter Paul Wittgen—previously worked at Grana, a Hong Kong-based omnichannel fashion brand. Through the program, the trio hopes to further pilot Olasso and collaborate with the Group’s retailers on comprehending consumer pain points.

“Returns are still a major pain point holding back the growth of e-commerce with customers often experiencing a painful returns journey, which reduces brand trust and loyalty,” Wittgen said. “We are committed to building a better returns experience for customers, while reducing the financial, operational and environmental impact for retailers.”

Through the program, each startup will take up residency at Group’s Hong Kong headquarters and undergo three core phases. First, the startups will take a focus on retail for the context of their application, then they will test their innovations through design-thinking sprints led by the Group’s teams and consumers. Finally, they will pitch their innovations to the Group’s companies for a commercial agreement and external investors, who may fund their innovations at a later date.

“Open Innovation initiatives enable the Group’s companies to work with smaller, specialist start-ups who are exploring these areas,” said Andrew Massey, director of innovation for Lane Crawford, who served as a judge and is a lead mentor for this third round. “The Cage allows us to pick a few start-ups that we see great potential and synergy with, where both sides can learn from each other and move faster—it really is a symbiotic relationship.”