Swarovski has started an innovation department to action digital ideas from across the company. 

Stefan Schmidhammer, IT retail innovation manager at Swarovski, admitted that the jewellery and gift retailer had been behind when it comes to technology, watching competitors deploy touch-screens and similar innovations. "These got consumers more involved in the store and they had more fun in the store in general," he said. 

Speaking at Millennial 2020 in London this week, Schmidhammer described how the retailer launched an innovation team dedicated to keeping up to date with the latest retail technologies impacting the store and online. 

Changing customer needs

"The mission of the retail innovation team was to understand the changing consumer needs," he explained, describing how the department takes ideas from anyone in the business, before deciding on which are prototyped and trialled in Swarovski stores. Following a short test period, the team assesses the benefits and considers a global roll out.

"We try out new things and see how they work and how the consumers and employees like it."

Innovations trialled so far include an app to virtually try on jewellery and image recognition, in cooperation with the company Wide-Eye, so the headquarters can identify products sent in for repair. 

Fail fast

He said the team prided itself on being unbureaucratic and its ability to fail fast. "It is very important that failure is an option," he explained. "If something is a failure at least we learn from the experiences and communicate the learnings [to the rest of the business]."

One example of a failure was an in-store tablet used to demonstrate Swarvoski's activity trackers. 

"Not a lot of people knew about our activity trackers and we didn't anticipate that the selling process of the activity tracker is completely different than regular jewellery," he explained.

The retailer realised it needed a selling tool to help in-store staff explain the functionalities of this gadget and Schmidhammer's team implemented a tablet strapped to a jewellery tray which played a promotional video and provided more information. The team built a prototype within two months and put it in 11 stores in the US, Czech Republic, Poland and Austria. 

After the trial, while the employees liked it and it encouraged consumers to stay in the store longer, the KPIs revealed the retailer failed to sell an activity tracker because of the tablet device. 

"Feedback was customers didn't want a promotional video, but an explanation of what it does," he explained. "So we'll take all those leanings and present them to our stakeholders, marketing and operations, and next time when we have such a device we have a base we can learn from."

Sharing learnings

Swarovski's retail innovation department even has regular meetings with other luxury retailers who are investing in digital. These partner companies include L'Oreal, Estee Lauder, Luxottica and Giorgio Armani and along with Swarovski, they get together to discuss innovations in the pipeline and share ideas. 

"When we were developing a jewellery app which allows customers to try on rings, watches and bracelets, our partner companies asked questions, while Luxottica have a try-on glasses function on their website and they can tell us if it was successful."

Swarovski is also looking at beacon technologies, electronic pricing displays, face recognition and 3D printers, but Schmidhammer said none of this innovation can even begin to happen without support from the business, which he is lucky enough to have.

He said store managers can ben very welcoming of in-store technology trials, but this won't even reach the store without the support of all of the top management in the business.