NRF 2018: Levi’s – Turn moments into momentum

Rolling into the opening NRF 2018 keynote on a bicycle, brand president of Levi’s, James JC Curleigh, called on the retail industry to keep moving forward by innovating to stay relevant.

“We have to turn moments into momentum,” he said. “None of us can guarantee we will succeed in the future, but we can set the conditions for success.”

Levi’s calls itself the “original lifestyle brand”, which created the blue jean 150 years ago. But being an iconic brand is not enough to survive in the cut-throat retail industry today. Levi’s knows this all too well, back in early 2000s, its sales were falling and a new CEO, Chip Bergh, was bought in to turnaround the business, by shaking up the executive board, pushing into new markets, broadening the product range and bringing eCommerce in house. Now the San Franciscan brand has seen a return to profitability over the last five years.

Curleigh repeated his CEO’s mantra which is to make sure the business has one foot routed in the heritage of the past, while the other foot is driving the brand forward.

One example of this is the jacket Curleigh was wearing while presenting his keynote. This Levi’s jacket was co-created with Google integrating wearable technology. The Commuter X Jacquard jacket, powered by Google, allows the wearer to navigate, communicate and listen to music all with a swipe of their sleeve, thanks to the touch and gesture technology which is woven into the fabric.

Improving the customer journey

Curleigh uses this as an example of a “lifestyle solution” the brand has created. But creating a wearable jacket retailing at $350, or sponsoring a Californian sports arena is not the only way to become a solutions provider. Curleigh said Levi’s needed to remember the retail journey and create solutions to ensure customers can easily purchase their favourite pair of jeans.

“There are more choices, more obstacles than ever before for our fans,” he explained. “In a world with so many difficult decisions, picking out your favourite jeans shouldn’t be one.”

He said retailers need to become more like modern brands like Google and Tesla which expose customers to a simple interface, but run on very sophisticated back-end technology platforms.

“We need to introduce you to Levi’s in a simple way,” he said, describing how the NRF show exposes the brand to future innovation platforms to manage big data, RFID, artificial intelligence and productivity solutions, which allows Levi’s to create a simple customer interface so they can buy their favourite pair of jeans.

Providing access to a brand both online and in-store is critical to success going forward, said Curleigh, who pointed to the new Times Square store which is due to open in late 2018 to add to the brand’s portfolio of 3,000 stores across the world, plus wholesale which he said creates 80,000 points of distribution where customers can purchase Levi’s products.

“How do you provide more access to your brand, evolve your brand and remain relevant while staying true to who you were in the first place? Providing access has never been so critical.”