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The Future Consumer: an Insight into WGSN's Futures Summit, Hong Kong

Who is the future consumer? What is the future of retail? ORDRE highlights the revolutionary ideas raised at this year's summit, with keynotes from Simon P Lock


‘Experiential’ is the word of the moment, and the future, according to senior decision makers from leading fashion, retail and tech brands who congregated for a day of keynotes on Friday 14th of July. The WGSN Futures Summit Hong Kong - the second of six international summits this year - was a defining experience within itself. Attendees were guided down a tunnel of lights before riding a lift to the Sky100 Observation Deck on the 100th floor of the International Commerce Centre - the city’s tallest skyscraper, towering at 118 floors above the metropolis rush below. The location seemed the perfect backdrop for a place to network, connect and reflect on the state and development of the topic of the day - the future consumer.

With over 200 patrons in attendance, speakers and panelists included Head of WGSN Insights, Lorna Hall; Head of INFINITI Global Transformation & Brand, Ross Garvie; Chief Catalyst of Fung Group, Richard Kelly; Senior Editor of Digital Media & Marketing at WGSN, Sarah Owen; and ORDRE’s Founder and CEO, Simon P Lock, amongst other key industry players.


THE FUTURE CONSUMER

Lorna Hall, head of WGSN insights, started the day off by delving into concepts of the future consumer; how they are expected to think, feel and behave and the shift of new generational priorities. Due to global uncertainty rapidly shaping what the consumer values, Hall argued the mood music will change significantly where products alone are not enough to keep them engaged, and experience for experience sake has lost its meaning. Hall outlined six key deciding factors for which the consumer will place greatest value on what they engage with; connecting, enjoying, caring, sharing, living and being. In a time where we are more connected than ever with 7.8 billion units of connected devices - which is expected to exceed the amount of humans on earth by the following year - means a false sense of productivity, connectivity and reassurance, as too much engagement and reliance on tech renders us too busy to keep emotionally on par, catapulting a new age of anxiety.

This has opened the doors for the growth of a new marketplace, with the creation of new products designed to help consumers overcome the challenges of visceral detachment. For instance, Japanese smart watch company, Veldt, has created a device that keeps track of how much time a family spends together, with alerts informing the wearer when they have or haven't spent a reasonable amount of time with their family, or apps such as Meetup are aimed at boosting sociability by bring like-minded people together, presenting users with activities of common interest.

Hall went on to state that the future consumer will continue to seek ways to find meaning in products and services, and the future of caring will lie heavily in technology. Hall outlined key examples of products created to cater to this consumerist shift, such as a lip balm called ‘Oh Yeahh’  engineered by The Happiness Institute, which is infused with Serotonin chemicals in an effort to boost the wearer’s positive mood levels. Another exciting example raised was the ‘Helping Heart’ jacket by Amsterdam-based company N=5, which was created in response to the rise of a cashless society - a contactless payment jacket developed to help the homeless, enabling people to donate money to the wearer using their contactless payment card. Capped at €1, the money can only be redeemed through an official homeless shelter in exchange for services such as a place to sleep, food or vocational training.


THE FUTURE OF FASHION BUSINESS: REWIRED BY TECHNOLOGY

ORDRE’s very own CEO, Simon P Lock, took to the stand to talk about how advancements in technology are revolutionising the fashion industry, becoming a driving force for consumer engagement. Lock stressed that with the continual change of the fashion industry’s landscape - with social media opening up new business channels and opportunities and the adoption of See Now Buy Now models seeing a transition away from B2B approaches - it is imperative for brands to stay ahead by finding fresh ways to engage their consumers. 

Lock also touched on how ORDRE is now at the forefront of the fashion tech game, adopting immersive technology to provide seamless, one-of-a-kind experiences to buyers and designers that are part of ORDRE’s exclusive online wholesale network. Noticing a gap in the market where the business of wholesale buying had not evolved from its traditional state, with buyers travelling across continents to see and buy designer collections each season, he decided to launch ORDRE in an effort to tackle this major problem that was time ineffective, costly and non eco-friendly.

Lock explained ORDRE is not just filling this gap, but completely redefining how we interact with fashion, presenting a brand new status quo, which fortifies globalisation for the wholesale market, in efficient, cost effective and more sustainable ways. Lock outlined numerous ways in which ORDRE uses technology to engage consumers including virtual online showrooms that presents garments in 360° view; high resolution zoom features; high-definition video footage detailing drape and fit; and immersive front row Virtual Reality experiences of runway shows - most recently seen with ORDRE’s highly successful collaboration with Proenza Schouler SS’18. Lock understood ORDRE needed to provide amazing online content in order for buyers to really distinguish the quality, drape and movement of the clothing through virtual channels, allowing them to confidently place multiple large budget orders without ever having touched or seen the goods first hand.

Lock further aims to develop new technologies, such as ORDRE’s exclusively designed ORB - launching September of this year - which instantly takes 360° images and uploads them directly to the ORDRE platform, aiming to significantly reduce the cost and time it takes to produce top-notch 360° imagery. To further enhance the physical sensory experience and bridge the gap between online and offline, Lock explained he is currently developing devices that replicate the physical textures of materials, allowing buyers to feel fabrics through technology.

“Within the next 24 months, we’re hoping to have our first trial for the ability to look on a desktop at a high-res version of a piece of fabric, and on a touchpad have the ability to feel that same fabric. There are two ways that we are dealing with this - first is through digital scanning, for wool and coarse fibres, using 3D architectural scanning of the outside of the fabrication and replicating it through fibre optics. For silks, jerseys and finer materials, we will be working with an institution that works with sounds waves. It does the architecture for fabrics like these through sound waves and reverses them through a glass template. As you run your fingers along the glass you can actually feel the fabric” explained Lock.

He went on to state that ORDRE is also developing 3D animation samples created in a 3D virtual environment out of any colour and size requested, meaning buyers can also interact with physical samples to go with their online experience. Lock maintained his outlook that enhanced digital assets and immersive technology and experiences will be the future of fashion, allowing consumers to better understand and engage with their purchasing decisions, as well as seamlessly merging and enhancing online and offline experiences. “We’re going to see not just Virtual Reality becoming involved but also Augmented Reality” stated Lock.


THE FUTURE OF LIVING EXPERIENCE

Lisa White, Head of WGSN Lifestyle & Interiors & The Vision suggested people are increasingly becoming obsessed with seeking new ways to experience things and are more hesitant to spend on products alone. She presented numerous examples where experiential events engaged consumers with high response and interaction rates, such as 'Summerland' - a pioneering immersive event set up in London, designed to mimic a warm exotic getaway in the middle of a cold English winter. The event offered a multi-sensory experience to revelers including music, entertainment, visuals and even controlled lighting and weather.

Another example outlined was luxury label Marni’s ‘Playland’, presented during Milan Design Week 2017 - an interactive installation featuring sections of coloured sand and Marni-made furniture, encouraging consumers to immerse themselves in play. Contemporary label COS teamed up with Studio Swine (Japanese architect Azusa Murakami and British artist Alexander Groves), to present a sculptural tree installation that blossomed with mist filled bubbles, also during Milan Design Week 2017. Created to encapsulate feelings of serenity and calmness, visitors were invited to physically interact with the kinetic bubbles. White claimed it was one of the most Instagrammed events of the week, keeping people engaged for at least 30 mins at a time.

These examples emphasise how brands no longer need to just sell products, they need to sell experiences, which helps to communicate the depth of the brand. White stressed that comfort and emotional responses will be a key driver of future consumer behaviour and that the future of design is going to be more about designing systems and not about designing stuff. 
 

THE FUTURE OF LEARNING: HACKING THE FUTURE

Richard Kelly, Chief Catalyst of the Fung Group, presented an interesting talk on the future of learning. Referring to both the future of products and the context around shopping, he claimed the best way to hack the re-invention of retail is by embedding learning, research and experimentation in a company. Kelly began by introducing some of the Fung Group’s involvements with advanced technologies including 3D printing and how this can potentially help the next generation of consumers.

In 2013, Conceptual artist Florentijn Hofman's giant rubber duck installation floated into Hong Kong’s harbour, which prompted toy store chain, Toys ‘R’ Us, to hold a toy duck party at its Tsim Sha Tsui branch shop, demonstrating 3D printing and 3D printed consumer products. The Fung Group formed a team to do some research around 3D printing and what it would mean for the future of retail and sourcing, using this opportunity to experiment with their ideas. The team wanted to explore new consumer models, brainstorming on three main categories: product, experience and promotion. The results saw the Toys ‘R’ Us store fitted with multiple 3D printers, which printed a palm sized rubber duck in a dim sum basket on the spot, including personalised 3D printed name tags for customers.

What Kelly and his team discovered from this live instore experiment was that you could fulfill a design and production brief within an incredibly short amount of time - a concept that could revolutionise current retailing business models. “You can create an experience, create a factory inside the store and literally design, prototype and build a product over night, which means no inventory, no real production costs” explained Kelly.

Kelly went on to state that because the current state of technology is a lot more accessible and the cost is so low, you can do things like put a whole computer into something like a t-shirt. This development means that people’s relationship to the stuff they buy and use is changing; it changes the meaning of the product, it changes how you talk about it, how you interact with it, how you use it or wear it. “Now it’s about context more than content, it’s about the meaning of things versus the things themselves. So then it becomes about re-designing context” said Kelly.

In 2015, the Fung Group launched Explorium, the omni-platform lab consisting of a physical space and an interconnected digital network of services. The experimental lab featured 35 brands and included a mobile shopping app, an i-Beacon tracking solution and a data analytics platform. The aim of Explorium was to present innovative concept store layouts and retail technologies in order to observe customer interactions with new types of products and environments in real time. This would provide brands with valuable information into customer behavior. Kelly suggested “now it’s all about visceral learning and getting people to do things for themselves by themselves. If you don’t make it visceral you are likely to lose out. It’s a balance between science and art, data and intuition. Sometimes you don’t always have the data, so at some point you have to go and build something to go and get the data back, in order to figure out what is going to work.” He went on to state that “as you learn about the future you have to build it, and as you build it you learn something new and you start again, you go through a circular process. It’s something you constantly build at, you measure, you learn from, you maximize, and you continue in this loop.”

Because our world is being continually shaped by exponential technologies, mindsets, approaches and institutional practices cannot continue to be linear. Kelly claimed “we are moving from this place where all the businesses have figured out how to create scalable efficiency, and now it’s about how you create systems and structures around what scalable learning means.” Kelly believes that retailers can become more effective if they look to experimentation and innovation, and those who don’t are stuck within the confines of their business model. It’s about enabling people to play and breeding curiosity, but still have an operating model where you can scale things up, as what fuels innovation is people’s innate curiosity.