#WRC2019: Yoox Net-A-Porter recognises humans in technology advances

Yoox Net-A-Porter (YNAP) is increasingly using technology to provide a better customer service but it is being very careful in ensuring that the human element continues to play a vital role.

Speaking at World Retail Congress in Amsterdam, Federico Marchetti, chairman and CEO of YNAP, highlighted how as a pioneer of online luxury fashion 20 years ago the objective had been to carefully manage the technology side of things while retaining the human element that customers in luxury goods and clothing expected. This balance continues today.

“Emerging technologies will help luxury to be more personal than the actual people side can do. The answer to this balance is by making deliberate choices. We have to sometimes ignore some of the efficiency gains that technology can bring but then at other times use technology to be more personal,” he said, adding that the balance has to result in the company delivering on five key areas: luxury service, uniqueness, curation, sustainability and mobile.

In terms of sustainability the issue has certainly risen up the agenda at YNAP, with Marchetti pointing out that in the last five years sustainably produced goods have become increasingly important to 25-45-year-old customers: “It’s now 5% of luxury sales and is one of the fastest growing segments. We know it’s what customers want.”

These same customers are becoming absolutely reliant on their mobile devices and it has been an area of focus for Marchetti since he set up a task force back in 2006 to investigate mCommerce. “Luxury [goods] customers live on their mobiles. The store is in their pocket. Mobile is a way, a tool, to serve them better. Since we launched we now do over 50% of our €2 billion annual sales on mobile,” he revealed.

Such advances have ensured digital is a top priority for all luxury goods brands, according to Marchetti, who meanwhile continues to make advances at YNAP such as creating personal home pages for each of its three million customers. This is dependent on data such as the customer’s location, the weather, the calendar, and their personal shopping history. “It’s a dichotomy that for a more personal shopping experience this way it can only be done with technology. It’s making the experience for customers even more personal,” he said.

It is a similar situation when it comes to the company’s personal stylists – who are increasingly using insights from data that is being delivered to them via artificial intelligence solutions: “We think style and taste can be learnt by machines. We wanted our team of stylists to know all the combinations of products so we use AI to give them this information based on our data learnings,” added Marchetti.

This combination of human and technology is also evident in the back-end of the business where the warehouse and logistics capability uses a high degree of automation that Marchetti describes as like a “piece of art”. However, the human touch is still very much in evidence. “We decided that the final touch should be human so they tie the bow and do the packaging as well as sometimes leaving messages for customers inside the box.”