Image source: LUISAVIAROMA
Andrea Panconesi, the CEO of LUISAVIAROMA, doesn't have an actual office at his headquarters, where young techies are clickety-clacking on their keyboards and processing thousands of orders from all over the world. When he isn't traveling, he is roaming about the office - moving from the graphic department to the customer service desk, observing how his international business is progressing.
The grandson of the original Luisa Jaquin, Panconesi guided his grandmother's company into the 21st century by jumping on the Internet wave as soon as it began to crest. As a result and through his online business, the United States and China are the family-run company's top two markets.
"I adopted a lot from the Americans. In fact, the whole reason why we put Via Roma into the store's name, is because I loved Saks Fifth Avenue so much. I implemented Via Roma to give the name more personality."
Because of Panconesi, LUISAVIAROMA is still 100 % privately owned and has about 4 million clicks per day on the website. Today, Panconesi is working on enhancing the customer experience to make it both more social and virtual. The goal is to get as close as possible to touching the clothes inside the Luisa Via Roma store while sharing the charm and history founded by his grandmother in 1930.
Fairplay's Editor-in-Chief Sofia Celeste sits down with the exuberant online executive in the hub of his Florentine Fashion Tech empire.
Sofia: What would your grandmother have said about this e-commerce business?
AP: She wouldn't have been surprised. I came back from New York once, already married without telling anyone and she didn't even bat an eyelash. It was very normal to them.
Sofia: They were used to being surprised by you?
AP: Probably (laughter).
Sofia: You said in a recent interview that the future of online shopping is neither physical nor an online shop? What did you mean by that?
AP: There has been such a dramatic change in the last ten years. Our strategy is not to open new stores in the future. I came to the conclusion that the future involves two parallel lines that get closer and closer until one day they come together. With the help of technology, I think you will be able to touch the clothes almost better than in a physical environment. The technology is there but the applications need to be developed. You will be able to feel like you are trying on a jacket at home. There will be no need to take out your car, park it, get into the city, and spend the whole day shopping.
Sofia: What is the main caveat of joining those two parallel but not yet intersecting lines?
AP: The problem is socializing. Online is lonely, there is no socializing. That is why all the social networks exist. The social networks try to link the web with the physical world and that will eventually be the same with e-commerce.
Sofia: Are you working on such a project for LUISAVIAROMA.COM?
AP: We have a strategy that I can't tell you 100 % about, but hopefully we will realize the first example really soon. We are working on something along those lines, but we can't reveal it yet. We want to bridge the gap between the web and the actual shop. Our strategy will involve combining physical shopping online and socializing at the same time, all in the context of e-commerce.
Sofia: Are you working with any big tech companies?
AP: Yes a lot. We first want to do a capsule to see the result and how people will react.
AP: We need to make the experience more social, like you are going with your friends. The shop will get closer and closer. You won't have the jacket at home but you will have the technology that will make you feel like you do. You will still need something else with this technology and you will need a place where you can physicaly socialize. Otherwise, it will be a lonely experience.
Sofia: So, like Virtual Reality?
AP: Not yet, unfortunately the technology is not available for practical use yet. It will be a concept, but it will be a place where people can meet each other and integrate the virtual e-commerce with physical meeting, interpersonal interaction and socializing.
Sofia: Does it involve new technology that you are developing?
AP: The technology necessary to build the project is available to anybody. What is going to be the difference, is how you use technology. I think technology by itself is not going to be enough to fill the needs of the future advanced customers. They will want to experience something more, not just sitting at home doing their purchase.
Sofia: Do you enjoy online shopping more or do you enjoy going into a store?
AP: Forget what I enjoy. I look at what everyone else does. For example my children, I have one girl and boy around the same age - 17 to 20. The girl is more social, she loves to go to the shop and she is perfectly technologically advanced. She likes going to the shop for the beauty of it. My son doesn't want to waste his time. He doesn't bother to go to the shop. He buys everything from shirts to pants on the web.
AP: We have clients that buy from our website and they are 50 meters away from the shop. Maybe they buy at night, maybe they don't like coming to the store, but they prefer shopping online. Others enjoy the aspect of socialization. We need to find a way to merge these two behaviors into one place where we can meet and use new technology. Which is what we have been doing for 10 or 15 years. We were one of the first to put the big screen in the store where any client with the help of the assistants can shop through the system, go on the website and get the size they need.
Sofia: Does this new tech capsule you are working on - have anything to do with what the new e-commerce features Facebook has introduced, for example?
AP: No. All these companies are missing the physical reality. They don't have a shop. Our tradition is our shop and that is what is making us different.
Sofia: Do you ever define yourself as a boutique?
AP: The e-commerce reality is separate from the store. But we have the same buying team for both. We don't take all the looks from one collection. We take a look and chose the top items from a collection and we pride ourselves on our selection process.
We have always been a specialty store. It is not comparable to a department store or a big e-commerce. We have a specialty store, which means that we blend all the brands together in a special way and something unique will come out.
Sofia: In what direction is Fashion and Tech moving, in your opinion?
AP: Suppliers of technology and people who use the service need to come together more. The Decoded Fashion Conference is very important and is making people aware by giving them the chance to meet physically. It’s one thing if the technology is presented to you online, but it is quite another if you have people presenting it to you face-to-face and speaking to you about their experiences.
This is why we have Firenze4Ever [the three day event that welcomes the world’s top bloggers and journalists to the Florentine stores and gives them the opportunity to photograph the latest collections].
The idea is to make everybody meet physically, twice a year, at the beginning of the fashion season. It is a moment where you are physically able to touch the collections you have seen six months before in the fashion show. At that moment, I want people that work with us from a marketing point of view, to meet with each other and with the tech people to help us develop our business. The bloggers need technology and these two moments of the year are magical. Firenze4Ever is a big marketing and communication event, where all the bloggers, magazines, journalists are invited. We also hold a Fashion Technology Summit where people from Instagram, Twitter, Facebook and Google are invited as well.
Andrea Panconesi will be sharing more insight about succeeding in e-commerce and LUISAVIAROMA's journey at our Milan Summit on November 17-18. Join the conversation by booking your ticket here.