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A trio of industry experts who will be adding their voices to the upcoming CAFA Fashion & Retail Forum explain the next frontier in consumer experience

Richard Simons.

Richard Simons, the vice-president of La Maison Simons, is a big believer in artificial intelligence's ability to make what we buy and how we buy it a more personalized experience.

Everyone has been talking about the subject of artificial intelligence this year. When I think about AI in a very simplistic way, it's just math; accumulating data, mapping out behaviour and writing code that translates to decision making. Personalization and artificial intelligence really go hand-in-hand. At Simons, software and technology development is an ongoing, never-ending process across many different departments. We always have more ideas and projects to work on than we can handle, and in this current retail climate they are all urgently needed, which makes it feel like a race to the finish – but there really is no end.

We currently have three AI projects functioning within Simons. The first involves our inventory control. It optimizes just-in-time delivery to the stores, allocates, holds and redistributes inventory to where it is needed. The goal is to be efficient, to know where, what, when and to whom to send the products and in what quantities. It's a system you can build on and add code to daily – adjusting and evolving to improve on experiences and mistakes, even adding new attributes to the decision process.

The second application of AI is photo recognition in our Simons app. A Simons member can use any photo – web capture, street shot, social media image – load it into the app and the app will search for products with similar style details within our inventory. It's very cool. Internally, we use it to search for style and SKU [stock keeping unit]numbers, which is a great time saver.

Later this year we will launch the personalization of our website, including our marketing tools, newsletters and catalogues. All of this could not have been done without first laying down the proper technological foundation and building the systems that support such a task.

Personalization will greatly enhance the online customer experience, focusing and aligning ourselves with our customers' interests and desired products. It will define for us exactly the information our customers are interested in viewing; reducing shopping times, increasing average transaction values, increasing conversion rates with the purpose of servicing our customers to the highest standard.

We will be able to connect and communicate with more and smaller, targeted groups of people all at the same time, simultaneously eliminating clutter. Why promote down jackets to someone who lives in Miami? Customers are already overloaded and fatigued with alerts and spam coming from various apps and social media. The future will be about making life easier.

Gathering data is great, but how we use it to benefit the customer is the most important question. Judicial use of information, data respect, and empathy will be hot topics. I believe government regulation is inevitable and will be welcomed.

Personalization will continue to evolve and new instruments and features that have not even been thought of yet will be introduced. Voice technology will be ubiquitous in our lives. Using voice to shop online will further augment the personalized environment.

Technology is changing every minute – becoming seamless, smooth and more and more intelligent. One day very soon, we will all have personal digital assistants carrying out our tasks, freeing up time for us to do the things we enjoy most.

Jan Gandhi.

As the mobile marketplace breaks down the divide that once separated global and local brands, Jan Gandhi, client partner for e-commerce at Facebook, explains how a company can capitalize on a more level playing field.

Shopping is an immersive experience – yet we are in the midst of a fundamental shift in the way people consume. There are 29.5 million mobile phone users in Canada. Mobile is the first universal medium that has the ability to reach effortlessly across the globe, making the world smaller and more accessible.

Businesses are no longer restrained by the cost of finding their customers. Traditionally, finding your customer, which is at the core of growth, required large budgets and global marketing campaigns. The current frontier of mobility is giving all businesses the ability to meaningfully connect with people where they are: on their phones, on social media. With nearly 2.1 billion people on Facebook every month and 800 million people on Instagram, these platforms are retail's new digital storefront. Using thumb-stopping creative that inspires action, businesses of any size have the ability to grow their business – levelling out the playing field between traditional retailers and smaller digital natives.

In this continually evolving landscape, the primary challenges for retailers in 2018 remain dramatically changing their brick and mortar stores and integrating their online and offline marketing efforts. We're already seeing the store front evolving with stores becoming smaller, and more inspirational, experiential store concepts emerging. And the disruption of traditional retail and desktop-based e-commerce by mobile-first commerce has resulted in the amalgamation of brand and performance marketing. Shoppers' preference for online video creates new opportunities for retailers by offering innovative ways to effectively showcase their brand and merchandise products.

However, shopping is still an immersive experience – in order to bridge the gap between a physical interaction and an inspiring mobile-shopping experience, businesses need to create content that unlocks the power of mobile technology. This means creating visually stunning content that stands out in people's social feeds and pairing it with a mobile-first shopping experience, to inspire your customer to take action, anywhere in the world. Instagram brings both of these factors together with the launch of shopping on Instagram, which just rolled out in Canada in March. The new feature allows people to easily tap to see more details about a product featured in an Instagram post and even click to a business's website to purchase it, ultimately giving people an immersive storefront to explore new products from businesses directly from their Instagram feed.

Knix is an inspiring Canadian example of a business that has gone from local to global, by adopting a mobile-first strategy. Founded in 2013, Knix moved into bras with a wildly successful Kickstarter campaign in 2015, which is the most funded female fashion project of all time. The campaign enabled the brand to gain momentum and accelerate its mission of reinventing intimates for real life by delivering comfort and versatility to women with all of their products.

With $2-million in presales, the scrappy five-person team started production and began to use technology to sell directly to consumers, shifting away from the traditional wholesale distribution model. More importantly, Knix used technology to leverage feedback from consumers to rapidly prototype and improve their products, a practice that is ingrained in the DNA of the brand today. Over the past 18 months, Knix has grown its online sales 2,000 per cent and a Knix item is sold every 10 seconds. Knix is an example of business fundamentally enabled by technology, with a mobile-first, global strategy.

Jennifer Zuccarini, the Canadian founder of New York-based lingerie and ready-to-wear brand Fleur du Mal, explains how opening up her studio and connecting with customers face-to-face helped her understand their needs and desires better.

Jennifer Zuccarini.

When people visit our Fleur du Mal studio, they always ask, How did you find this place? It's the quintessential New York loft; original tin ceilings, wood-plank floors, oversized picture windows, a rickety fire escape with a view of downtown New York. When I lived here, it was a place for constant entertaining. I had a wood-burning fireplace and often hosted dinners and parties, bringing in DJs, who, on occasion, crashed on the sofa.

Fast-forward to 2012, I was busy building my new brand. Needing office space, I decided to move out and convert the loft to our design studio and headquarters. I launched Fleur du Mal with e-commerce as our flagship in November, 2012. Immediately, we used our studio as a place to host shopping events and private appointments. We've had everyone from Emma Roberts, to Q-Tip, from A Tribe Called Quest to Rihanna's stylist drop by to see the collection, or work with our design team on custom pieces.

Clients started calling to ask if we had a storefront. We would tell them, no, but you're welcome to come by our studio to shop. This became a regular occurrence. Customers, not knowing where they were going, would show up at an unmarked building on a small street in Chinatown, buzz up and brave a fifth-floor walk-up. Most were delighted by this behind the scenes experience. Others, at first a bit rattled by the walk-up, soon warmed up with a glass of Champagne in hand.

Being in an open space, our entire team would be aware if someone was shopping, eavesdropping a bit to see what they were responding to. Our clients often try things on and feel comfortable enough to prance out of the dressing room for the whole office to see. They then might receive a, "That looks amazing on you!" Maybe even a small round of applause. Our studio services also include a bra fit technician who will measure you and advise the perfect size (yes, you're probably wearing the wrong one), to our team making suggestions for the hottest restaurants and happenings in New York.

Through our e-commerce analytics, we continually study our customers: what marketing they responded to, where they came from, their purchases over time, and average order value; but what it lacks is honest, in-person feedback. The intimacy of shopping at our studio gives us an opportunity to learn firsthand from our clients about fit issues, about what people loved and why, and most importantly, it's a chance for us to offer a high-touch, experiential shopping experience that captures the essence of Fleur du Mal.

The CAFA Fashion & Retail Forum in partnership with The Globe and Mail Style Advisor takes place on April 19 at Arcadian Loft in Toronto. For more infortmation and tickets, visit

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