Paolo Mascio of Yoox says technology must respond to human needs
Paolo Mascio has been with the YNAP group since 2009 and, as a top executive within the group, he has a unique insight into Yoox’s evolution into a leading fashion e-tailer. On the occasion of Yoox’s 20th anniversary, celebrated with the ‘Share the Love’ operation, Mascio talked to FashionNetwork.com about the transformations that marked Yoox’s development in the last two decades. He also explained how Yoox has had to adapt to the Covid-19 crisis, and continues to do so, after the pandemic hit Italy, where the company is based, especially hard.
FashionNetwork.com: This month, Yoox is celebrating its 20th anniversary, notably with a capsule collection with JW Anderson. What does this anniversary mean for the company?
Paolo Mascio: This is a good time to celebrate our achievements, and also to look to the future. When Yoox and Net-A-Porter made their debut in 2000, it wasn't a foregone conclusion that they would carve out such a role for themselves on the global fashion scene. It’s exciting to see that they are still making progress together in the fashion and luxury market. Yoox has made some brave choices. In 2009, when sustainability was still not on the industry's agenda, we introduced eco-responsible fashion as a product category. Yoox has also been a springboard for a number of emerging designers. Our relationship with JW Anderson is a long-standing one: the label was first part of our emerging designer selection in 2011. For our 20th anniversary, [JW Anderson] has designed a powerful, inclusive collection consistent with our ‘Share the Love’ theme. It's one of the surprise events marking the anniversary, a milestone we are keen to share with our community. Thanks to AI, our customers will be able to share their experiences, but we also want to enable them to meet, and we will help them forge connections based on their affinities. We want to make our community a lively one.
FNW: You joined the [YNAP] group 10 years ago. What have you learned in the course of this decade?
PM: When I joined, the company wasn’t as large as it is now. It was yet to be listed on the stock exchange. There was a strong drive to make fashion rhyme with technology, a combination that at the time seemed far from obvious to some. Working with Federico Marchetti, [Yoox's founder], I discovered the power of imagination. I realised what it means to want to achieve something, and the power that belief in an idea gives you.
There is a special energy in being a high-tech company launching apps and mobile solutions, and being one of the first Western groups to truly make a breakthrough on the Chinese market. The group’s other major asset is the ability to transform its business model. We are a company focused on technology innovation. But what's essential is that technology must always be shaped to respond to human needs. The human element is key.
FNW: The Covid-19 pandemic has hit Italy very hard, and the last three months surely haven’t been among the easiest in the course of your 10 years with YNAP. What is your take on this period?
PM: In the last three months, we have witnessed a global consumer shift towards online retail. People who never used to buy online have begun to do so, and they seem inclined to continue shopping on the web. We are riding a major wave. We quickly realised that people were keen to continue to consume. Of course, with a preference for indoor clothes and sportswear, rather than suits and evening dresses.
FNW: What was the impact on your sales? What are you forecasting for 2020 as a whole?
PM: Sales trends have been positive for e-tail in general. Since we are part of a listed group, Richemont, I don’t wish to make predictions on how the year will pan out.
FNW: In practical terms, how did you deal with the crisis?
PM: Above all, our priority was to protect our employees’ health. We planned ahead and organised our staff’s work, so that everyone was involved. In mid-March, we had to close down our logistics hub in Bologna. But we managed to put in place measures that ensured safe working conditions, even beyond government requirements, and we re-opened three weeks later. Virtually all our employees were able to keep working during the lockdown period.
FNW: Like online purchasing patterns, consumer behaviour surveys are suggesting there are profound changes in the way we consume. Are you working on garment renting and second-hand clothes?
PM: We’re looking into all these areas. The current situation gives us opportunities but also responsibilities. It heightens the need to progress on ethical and sustainability issues. We have been selling sustainable fashion since 2009. We are also working on inclusivity. We are focused on our customers’ experience, and we keep improving it year after year.
FNW: During the lockdown period, labels and retailers accumulated sizeable stocks. As a promotional sales specialist, is this an opportunity for you?
PM: The current situation does create an opportunity. But we respect the business of retailers and department stores. Yes, there will be chances to buy, but we are still thinking about this. As an off-price retailer, selling discounted clothes from past collections, our customers aren't necessarily out to buy from the latest collections, but are looking to unearth unique items that will complete their wardrobe. They love to hunt for the right product.
FNW: With your business model, are you worried by changes in the rhythms of the fashion industry, a hot topic during the lockdown period?
PM: I believe many labels are thinking about it. Statements have been made, with suggestions about modifying the show calendar and changing production patterns. There is a willingness to tackle issues like output volumes and sustainability strategies. But I'm by no means sure that all labels will revise their approach. We work closely with fashion labels. The challenge for them is listening to their customers and offering first-rate service. I believe our business model is ideally suited to this environment.
FNW: What is the role of 8 by Yoox, your own label, designed with the help of AI?
PM: [8 by Yoox] completes our commercial mix, and is complementary to the range of brands we feature on the site. What’s interesting is that we have full control of it. We don’t generate excess inventory. We are able to adjust volumes, both for menswear and womenswear.
FNW: How much of your business does [8 by Yoox] account for? Are you planning to launch other AI-driven brands, to add to the product range in certain categories, as other pure players do?
PM: We don’t want [8 by Yoox] to become our leading label. That isn’t our model. The goal is to integrate the product range. Consumers who buy a nice Gucci or Valentino item will be able to find an 8 by Yoox product to complete their look. For the time being, we don’t want to have another brand with a life of its own.
FNW: What will your group, and the industry at large, look like in 10 years?
PM: Our world is changing so fast that I can’t predict what Yoox will look like in five, let alone 10 years. But technology is key. Everyone is looking for personalisation. As the landscape becomes increasingly digitalised and competitive, we will need to have the right personalisation and marketing automation tools.
The other key element is the customer experience. We will need to excel in terms of garment sizing and fitting. On this, we have deployed a technology designed to solve the problems caused by returns. These are always a stress for customers, and we must work towards minimising them. Finally, another key element will be developing AI-based solutions to handle big data. This will be critical, because AI can open the door to a spate of innovations.
FNW: Do you then think that, given that the capacity to invest will undoubtedly be limited, those who are able to invest in technology will have a considerable advantage?
PM: Technology is a major asset. It's a crucial element in a company's ability to deliver quality service to customers. State-of-the-art technology requires significant investment. We have always invested in technology and logistics, and we’ll continue to do so. They are two crucial elements.
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