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BRIEFING Jonathan Chippindale of Holition

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We caught up with Holition chief executive Jonathan Chippindale fresh from addressing Luxury Briefing’s Luxury Dreaming event earlier this month for a catch up on ways that retailers are using technology now – and how that might develop in the future.

Retailers must reinvent itself for an era where consumers’ behaviour is changing fast, says Jonathan Chippindale, chief executive of Holition. Online sales may currently be taking away sales from traditional retailers, but says Chippindale, like the atomic bomb, ecommerce cannot be “disinvented”. Rather, he says, retailers “have to learn to live with it, and react in a different way.”

Thus far, says Chippindale, the emergence of ecommerce has encouraged retailers of all kinds to up their game. “There’s a lot more creativity in retail now,” he says. He himself spent the first half of his career in the jewellery industry, where a shop in Hatton Gardens, London would not in the past have been substantially different from one in Paris or Mexico, that is now changing. “Technology is allowing brands to express themselves in far more interesting ways,” he says. The job for retailers now, is to catch up. “Retail has to reinvent itself,” says Chippindale. One of the ways that some luxury brands have been doing that is through the use of technology, which, says Chippindale, allows retailers to fill a gap. That’s the gap between the rapid uptake of digital media by consumers, and the relative slowness of brands, especially in Holition’s core luxury brand market, to make a significant move into digital communications.

“Luxury always prides itself on communication with fantastic products, beautiful design, excellent quality craftsmanship, materials, ability to feel leather, the weight of the watch, amazing stores that are full of theatre, where you walk in and can feel and sense the brand, and there is also fantastic service from knowledgeable people who look after you in these stores,” said Chippindale.

“The view was that the internet was too impersonal a channel to communicate these very strong values, in the meantime consumers were spending more time online. The average in the UK is between five and seven hours online but I would imagine some of the customers of luxury spend a lot more time online.”

Holition’s own use of technology includes augmented reality, which allows shoppers to try on virtual goods. It’s run campaigns for brands including Swiss watchmaker Tissot and Parisian jeweller Boucheron. For Tissot it ran window displays in London’s Selfridges where passers-by could try on virtual watches, as pictured. As a result of the promotion, reports Chippindale, sales in Tissot’s boutique inside Selfridges rose by 83%. Meanwhile a similar campaign for Boucheron saw its online traffic boosted by 60%, with 80% of all those visiting the website trying on virtual jewellery.

Holition, which describes itself as a “technology-agnostic” agency has also run projects using projection. Two months ago it ran a large-scale project for Dunhill, which saw 64 models on a plinth surrounded by holographic projections of growing grass and trees, with blossom and butterflies. “It looked to the audience as if the set was growing and turning into the English countryside,” said Chippindale. “We put all 64 models into a holographic snowglobe, like the ones you pick up on the table and shake.”

It’s a kind of technology that’s to date been associated with luxury brands. Part of the reason for that, says Chippindale, is pure chance – Holition’s own roots are in the luxury industry. But luxury brands also have a different approach to technology, he says. While they see augmented reality or holographic projection as a marketing idea, high street brands see it as related to merchandising, aspire to use the technology on whole groups of products. As yet, that’s uneconomic. But, said Chippindale, when the price comes down (from its current four figures for a product to three figures), there’ll be a “tipping point where the brand says it’s cheap and gets more products done. Consumers will start to demand it – and there’s a snowball effect. Technology – or content creation – needs to get better.” He’s also looking to virtual wardrobes as a way forward, but again believes the technology isn’t there yet.

Our view: Will mainstream retailers soon use augmented reality online to show off their products? It may seem a way off before augmented reality moves beyond the luxury sector, and we start trying on items that cost rather than the luxury items that have to date enjoyed the augmented reality treatment. But it’s worth noting that recent Conlumino research for eBay singled out augmented reality as one of the retail technologies of the future. It said this would be the second most influential emerging technology, behind only interactive TVs in just a few years. Together these new technologies could influence retail sales worth £9.1bn by the end of 2012, the report suggested. This probably means it’s an area that retailers need to keep an eye on, and start thinking about how they’re likely to use technology in their own future businesses.

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