The Yoox Net-A-Porter Group has announced the opening of a new Tech Hub in White City which it says shows its commitment both to London and to the UK.
Five hundred staff will initially be based at the online luxury fashion retailer's hub, with 100 more jobs to be created over the next two years. These staff will work closely with a 500-strong technology team based in the northern Italian city of Bologna.
The Tech Hub, whose building has been designed to give a future focused environment by British architects Grimshaw, will focus on bringing forward innovative and best-in-class technologies as the retail group looks to provide an "unparalleled customer experience" to shoppers buying from it and from the luxury fashion brands that it works with. It will develop artificial intelligence (AI) capabilities such as personalisation and image recognition, building on work that has been ongoing since 2015.
The group says that AI has the potential to transform areas such as natural language search, image recognition and styling recommendations in order to offer an increasingly personalised service to the customer. It is currently testing virtual personal styling, through a system that learns what type of clothes combine well and can cross-reference suggestions against customer purchase history. Other ongoing developments include the use of AI in visual search, making photographs instantly shoppable and tailoring recommendations to the customer’s preferences. Through natural language search, meanwhile, the retailer aims to surface results that are relevant to the customer’s location, size and stock availability.
The centre will also be home to work on a new wave of mobile technologies that it says will keep it "in the vanguard of digital innovation" as it looks to move from mobile-first to mobile-only. Mobile accounts for 50% of group sales, and the company has found that mobile customers at 1.5 times more loyal, twice as engaged and spend three times more. The group has issued all office-based staff with iPhones equipped with apps designed with Apple and IBM in order to boost flexible working with a focus on improving the customer experience. Personal shoppers are among the first to use these, accessing inventory information on the go and being able to take card payments via mobile.
Federico Marchetti, chief executive at Yoox Net-A-Porter Group, said: "“We are delighted to open our cutting-edge Tech Hub in West London, a space created to inspire and facilitate disruptive innovation. Artificial intelligence and new mobile enhancements to the customer experience will be the focus. Tech Hub will be home to our 500-strong UK tech team and gives us plenty of room to add new jobs."
Rajesh Agrawal, deputy London mayor for business, said: “London is Europe’s leading centre for technology and one of the world’s fashion capitals. I am therefore delighted that Yoox Net-A-Porter Group will be fusing our huge strengths in these sectors to create a new tech hub in a part of the capital that is undergoing an exciting transformation."
The Yoox group also announced today that it would work with Imperial College London at its new White City campus to teach coding basics to local eight-to-14-year-olds from underprivileged backgrounds.
The group was formed in 2015 when the Italian Yoox Group merged with the Net-A-Porter Group. The group today serves more than 2.9m high-spending customers. It sees 29m unique visitors a month at websites including Net-A-Porter, Mr Porter, Yoox and The Outnet, and in 2016 turned over €1.9bn. It has also partnered with Kering to manage online flagship stores for several of the French group's luxury brands.
Net-A-Porter is a Top150 retailer and Yoox.com is a Top350 retailer in IRUK Top500 research