American Marketer


Columbia Business School luxury conference explores technology’s impact on service

March 23, 2015

Promotional image for Spring app Promotional image for Spring app


Consumer expectations are shifting due to a combination of altered values, technology and culture.

The ninth annual Columbia Business School Retail and Luxury Goods Conference, titled “The New Retail Experience,” aims to help attendees navigate the changing landscape of customer interaction and service with keynotes and panels of both retailers and digital innovators. The event, being held Friday, March 27, will also tackle the new definition of luxury, as consumers are coming to care more about experience than price point.

"We believe it’s the constantly evolving interplay between technology and service that is driving the most consequential developments in retail and luxury goods today," said Cem Yilmaz, graduate student at Columbia Business School, New York.

"Take retail, for example: on the one hand, brick and mortar retailers are integrating technology into the in-store experience to forge a stronger bond with their customers," he said. "On other hand, direct-to-consumer ecommerce brands are eager to establish physical footprints to get closer to their customers. These contradicting forces have pushed brands and consumers to completely re-think about the role and purpose of the retail space.

"This re-evaluation is particularly true when it comes to luxury. The on-demand economy has expanded the traditional way we define what luxury is. The digitization of retail spaces and omni-channel strategies are creating new notions of how service, experience, and product interact.

"Columbia Business School’s 9th Annual Retail and Luxury Goods conference aims to ignite discussions between established leaders and thought provokers about what it means to experience luxury in the 21st century and on whose terms."

The Retail and Luxury Goods Conference is organized by current Columbia Business School students Cem Yilmaz, Roberta Donzelli, Alfonso Beaufils, Sarah Secrest and Gabrielle Gaddy.

Tech meets touch
The day will open with a keynote from Robin Lewis, CEO of The Robin Report and author of “The New Rules of Retail.” In the book, Mr. Lewis and his co-author Michael Dart investigate why some retailers succeed while others fail, and “identifies how to survive and prosper in this new era of absolute consumer power.”

Mr. Lewis has also consulted for retailers including Bloomingdale’s, Estée Lauder and Ralph Lauren.

A panel discussion on “The New Lifestyle Concept: Luxury on Demand” will cover service-based startups that aim to make consumers’ lives easier and elevate the ordinary. This includes DogVacay, an online community to help pet owners find a sitter; Manicube, which offers 15-minute manicures at the office, and beauty on demand app Vensette.

Trump International Hotel & Tower New York recently teamed up with Vensette to helping guests achieve their desired beauty look (see story).

Vensette app

Screenshot of Vensette app

"Core luxury values, such as persistent focus on high quality and immersive brand experience, are extending far beyond traditional luxury categories," Mr. Yilmaz said. "Increasingly sophisticated consumers are demanding excellence in all parts of their daily lives through increased convenience, customization or seamlessness.

"One way this change in consumer expectations materializes is with on-demand services," he said. "With 'time' being the ultimate luxury, companies that are saving that precious commodity for consumers in the form of seamless transactions, convenient delivery and personalized shortcuts are distinguishing themselves in the marketplace. Consumers not only want services with flexible timing and multiple location offerings, but they also needs it to be delivered through a seamless interface that uses big data to predict what they need even before they are aware."

The co-founder of mattress company Casper Jeff Chapin will deliver a keynote, followed by Henri Bendel’s president Chris Fiore.

After a networking lunch, a panel comprised of Spring founder and CEO Alan Tisch, Yoox Corp. president Clement Kwan and Kurt Salmon managing partner Al Sambar will delve into the topic “Digital Now: Where Retail Meets Technology,” focusing on omnichannel advances online platforms and the use of in-store technology. Yoox has collaborated with a number of luxury brands on their ecommerce sites, including Marni and the Kering group, and Spring has helped a number of labels such as Oscar de la Renta and Tamara Mellon reach shoppers on mobile (see story).

Spring app Oscar

Oscar de la Renta store on Spring

The final keynote of the day will be delivered by Carole Silverman, the CEO of French skincare brand Caudalie.

"Building on the idea that luxury is extending far beyond traditional categories, we are focusing on how on-demand service offerings are premium-izing areas of consumers' lives that previously were not significantly differentiated," Mr. Yilmaz said.

"The New Lifestyle Concept: Luxury on Demand panel will be a platform for a diverse set of players to discuss how they are navigating this unchartered territory," he said. "DogVacay is changing pet ownership and unlocking new revenue pools for dog-sitters, Vensette is bringing the luxurious salon and make-over experience into the comfort of consumer's homes and Manicube is helping women balance their career and personal life by providing manicure services at work. Nail polish, dog-sitting and hair dressing are services that are only now being disrupted by new entrants, who are targeting changing consumer expectations in these categories.

"Similarly, the "Digital Now: Where Retail Meets Technology" panel identifies the best practices in the integration of technology, how Kurt Salmon partners with top retailers to implement the latest in-store technologies, how Yoox is creating an online ecosystem that has proven extremely profitable and how Spring is disrupting the traditional in-store shopping experience across the country.

"In addition to our panels, the Conference will also include discussions on the verticalization of unexpected retail categories. We’ll hear more about this when Casper discusses its unique business model in the mattress space, as well as when Chris Fiore discusses Henri Bendel’s focus on developing its own brand.

"The challenge every year with the conference is to put together a collection of speakers and panelists who can truly illuminate the constantly shifting worlds of retail and luxury. Our conference team has done an excellent job of meeting the challenge and we are very excited to hear what our speakers and panelists have to say."

Tickets can be purchased here.

Columbia RLG conference

Previous Retail and Luxury Goods Conference

Looking back
At last year's Columbia Business School Retail and Luxury Goods conference, the president of Hudson’s Bay Company said that the conglomerate is bent on rapidly expanding its retail presence.

Whether courting other department stores to add to its portfolio or developing new locations, Hudson’s Bay views real estate growth as key to staying competitive. Also, the president discussed how the company has revamped its digital performance, with Saks leading the way (see story).

"Another way consumer expectations are changing the retail landscape is through the integration of technology across all customer touchpoints," Mr. Yilmaz said. "High engagement has become central for all categories and players. Technological integration has been a hot topic ever since the proliferation of smartphones and Web 2.0, but more recently it has started to take shape in a more meaningful way.

"Creation of unique online stories, seamless implementation of omnichannel and personalized experiences are some of the ways brands are shaping the future of retail," he said. "Brands who want to stay relevant and retain loyal customers need to not only respond to these changes in consumer expectations, but also find innovative ways to exceed them."