Topshop’s Sir Philip Green. Theory honcho Andrew Rosen. Designer Kenneth Cole. HSN CEO Mindy Grossman. Put them in a room with 300 other top retail CEOs and execs and what do you get? The Financo Forum, held last night at the Harmonie Club.
The event, organized annually by Financo (the top fashion/retail investment bank), is a hot ticket for industry insiders. The lively panel discussion and networking session gives attendees the rare chance to collectively review the state of the retail industry, to share insights and to socialize with their elite peers.
The forum’s focus this year was on all things digital. Although e-commerce and social media hardly seem to be new topics, they’re something many retailers are still trying to learn more about. Financo Chairman Gilbert Harrison explained that the goal was to “help navigate the new world, and to ultimately drive sales and profits.” The panel included Ben Fischman, CEO of Rue La La, Chip Wilson, Founder/Chief Innovation and Branding Officer of Lululemon Athletica, Stephen Zangre of Facebook and Dan Schock of Google, and was moderated by CNBC anchor Nicole Lapin.
A few key takeaways:
Rue La La on Overcommunication: Rue La La CEO Fishchman pointed out that for e-commerce retailers, "there is a temptation to overcommunicate” with customers. Rue La La has a set of rules they follow to keep on message. But there's at least one place where they don't limit themselves: customer service. According to Fischman, winning back a dissatisfied customer is the retail equivalent of "make-up sex."
Google on Black Friday: Savvy consumers are researching gifts earlier, regardless of whether they shop. online or in stores. Google Retail Manager Schock believes that early-bird mentality led to this year's improved Black Friday sales. Shoppers have been and continue to be deal-obsessed.
Lululemon on Why They're Recession-Proof: Lululemon’s Wilson mentioned that when he started the company, he looked at the strategies of ‘90s active-wear companies like Nike and Adidas. Instead of mimicking their top-down marketing and major athlete partnerships, he built a brand based around community and local heroes. This leveling of the playing field has allowed Lululemon to excel in social media and in serving their customers, keys to their success. (And, of course, it doesn't hurt that their pants make your butt look great.)
HSN and Saks on Getting What You Want: Overall, the conference was good news for shoppers. As HSN's Mindy Grossman explained, "it's not about tech; it's about serving the customer in any way they want to interface with your brand." And, as Saks' Steve Sadove echoed, "the consumer wants stuff when they want it, how they want it." Which should mean better, easier, faster shopping for everyone in the near future.
Jessica Gold runs JG & Co Consulting, working on strategy and biz dev for brands like Rachel Antonoff, Wren, Lauren Moffatt, and Katie Ermilio. She also writes a fashion/retail business blog called Truth Plus.