The worlds of fashion and retail exist in a perpetual paradox. On one hand, they are dynamic and ever-changing—built around the idea that neither consumers nor their preferences sit still. But on the other, these industries are old school to a fault, and often set in their ways and surprisingly slow to adopt new ideas and technologies.

In other words: While there’s an almost universal sense that big changes could be just around the corner in how customers discover and purchase the items they wear, there’s still a lot of work to do in terms of actually integrating new technologies and trends into the way brands and retailers do business.

To see where the fashion and retail industries could be headed in the future, I reached out to my friends at the New York Fashion Tech Lab (NYFTL): A unique non-profit that pairs early-stage, female-led startups in the fashion and tech spaces with major brands and retailers (companies like Macy’s, LVMH, Kohl’s, and Foot Locker) in a sort of incubator-meets-mentorship program. (Note: A company I used to work with participated in this program some years back. I have no current involvement with the program nor any of its cohort companies.)

The idea is symbiotic: Large brands get early access to slate of vetted startups and their ideas and technologies; while early-stage companies get the chance to work with the sorts of companies that can help them make a name for themselves.

“For large mono brands and multi-brand retailers, the value in connecting with these startups is that it allows them to explore and potentially pilot with emerging technology solutions,” says Jackie Trebilcock, the NYFTL’s managing director. “The ability to test, iterate and improve in a real-world environment with some of the best retailers and brands proving real-time feedback is key to accelerating growth for the start-up Lab companies.”

To see what problems are currently front and center in this space, I spoke to four startups in the NYFTL’s just-announced 2019 cohort about the problems they see in the world of online retail and how they hope their companies can help solve them.

And be sure to check back in a few days, when I’ll turn the spotlight towards a series of companies hoping to disrupt the in-store retail experience.

Founders gather at the 2018 New York Fashion Tech LabNYFTL

Company: Fuse.It (Los Angles/Tel Aviv)

The Pitch: Turn existing branded video to user generated content, with augmented reality.

Trend: User-generated contact/Augmented Reality

What problem are you trying to solve?

Digital ad spending continues to beat TV, and marketing budgets are increasing dramatically—reaching $350 billion by 2022. However, what is really happening to the reach of retail and fashion industries? In the past few years, we have witnessed the retail and fashion industries continue to increase their spending on social media and digital campaigns as one of their major marketing strategies. Despite this, changes to algorithms on social platforms have actually decreased their organic reach.

If you shift your attention to the consumer and explore what they are engaged with and where there conversion is, it becomes even more complicated. 90 percent of the branded content that is being consumed is being produced by the consumer, and their content is being watched 10 times more than expensive branded content. This has created an interesting dynamic, brands are spending more but actually reaching fewer consumers.”

What are you doing to solve this?

Fuse.it enables brands to reach users organically. Using state-of-the-art augmented reality technology that is based on Artificial Intelligence, we take already produced videos of all sizes and automatically convert them into AR experiences.

By utilizing pre-existing TV or video content that the fashion company has already paid for, we repurpose it and offer it out the their consumers.

We take a passive experience and convert it into an active memorable experience that is worth sharing. Now, instead of watching a celebrity or fashion models performing, consumers can perform with the celebrity in their own environment and share the experience with their friends. Instead of passively watching a famous singer promoting a new pair of jeans, you can act in the jingle and appear beside the singer.

-Liat Sade-Sternberg, Founder & CEO

Company: Buy With (Tel Aviv)

The Pitch: Use screen sharing and chat to browse and shop with family and friends.”

Trend: Improving Online Shopping Efficiency

What problem are you trying to solve?

“Two of the major problems e-commerce and fashion sites face today are cart abandonment and low conversion rates. According to recent studies, cart abandonment is as high as 75 percent, while only 2 percent of online shoppers actually make a purchase. One of the reasons for those problems is the high diversity of products on online stores—a lot of options and infinite number of products—so people don’t know what to chose by themselves. That’s why they need their friends and family feedback, opinions, and approval.

There is also a lack of social experience while shopping online, not like in the physical shopping mall, where people shop with their loved ones. “

What are you doing to solve this?

We created a social layer to implement on any e-commerce or fashion website. After the website implements our technology, an “Ask your friends” button will appear on the site. Users then can click the button and invite friends and family members—via WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger or iMessage—to a shared online shopping session on the site. Using our smart screen-sharing solution they can navigate together from product to product, chat, and help each other to get to the purchase decision.

Offstage we create data insights for the brands based on these social interactions, so they will know why users buy or don’t buy each product.

-Adi Ronen, Co-Founder & CEO

Company: The Call List (New York)

The Pitch: Experience a one-to-one video call, like Facetime, where a host can see and interact with an entire audience.”

Trend: Interactive video and integration of influencer content within e-commerce apps

What problem are you trying to solve?

“Brands and retailers need to create compelling video content to stand out amongst the 150-plus ‘micro-moments’ the average customer has online every day. To do this, spokespeople—often influencers—and brand messages have to resonate on an individual level, and the channel must help nurture a relationship with the consumer. “

What are you doing to solve this?

The Call List plug-in lives within a brand, retailer, or publisher’s native app; powering live interactive video events. App users opt in, and when the event starts they get a video call (think FaceTime) from the host.

Imagine getting a video call from your favorite artist, influencer, athlete, or industry leader? Or an interactive tutorial with a celebrity makeup artist? Users engage face-to-face with influencers on their phone, while hosts view their entire audience, Brady Bunch-style, on a larger screen. Brands can choose to charge admission or display products consumers can add to their shopping cart or bookmark during the event. Brands interested in a no-setup option can also pilot with a branded channel on The Call List app.

The video content is archived for the brands to publish across social platforms – getting double the value out of the existing production budget.

-Amanda Patterson, Founder & CEO

Company: Jumper.AI (Singapore/Los Angeles)

The Pitch: Social commerce tool that allows brands and retailers to sell directly from their social feed or through chat.”

Trend: Shoppable social media that gives brands more control over the experience

What problem are you trying to solve?

Most independent brands, retailers and influencers have limited e-commerce platforms for selling their products.

What are you doing to solve this?

“Jumper.AI’s technology enables businesses to run their online and social media store with a back-end engine to manage products, inventory, orders, taxes, shipping, etc… The engine then plugs into the social networks and auto-responds to customers when they show intent to purchase, taking them through a conversational buying experience within the social platforms. 

The brands own the experience and their data (as opposed to the social media platforms owning it). 

We help brands make the experience seamless by proactively responding to customers as soon as they express interest by commenting or clicking on a post or sending a text message.

For bigger brands, our biggest offering has been the ability to go direct-to-consumer, and get better insights and data on the consumers than traditional marketplaces provide. 

Another major use case for brands is the ability to go direct-to-consumer via micro-influencers, and be able to gain data on the actual ROI and sales generated from individual influencer campaigns. This isn’t live yet, but it’s one of the bigger use cases for our enterprise customers. We hope to get the initial pilots of these out around Q2.”

-Nyha Shree, Co-founder



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