XRC Labs Chief Anthos: Retailers Must Adopt “Test and Learn” Culture

As college undergraduates, my roommate and I had what we called a “monowardrobe.”

That’s how we described the contents of the closet that lined a wall in our dorm room. We each organized our own clothing on either side, but since we both wore the same size in clothing and shoes, we “shopped” for outfits in either section.

“Sharing a closet, that metaphor … describes a peer-to-peer marketplace, an Uber kind of platform for clothing, where there is an endless supply,” says Pano Anthos, managing director of XRC Labs, a retail tech accelerator program in New York.

The use of Uber as a descriptor isn’t accidental. The retail industry need only look to the automobile ecosystem to see what’s coming next, Anthos adds. “You had rental cars way before Rent the Runway; or you could lease a car, which is something in between,” he says. “Something very similar will be developing in the next few years in retail.”

I spoke with Anthos recently to get his perspective on the challenges affecting the retail industry and how new technologies might help brick-and-mortar establishments better compete in the age of Amazon (NASDAQ: AMZN). Though shopping online and, increasingly, through our mobile devices has become commonplace for most consumers, Anthos says, many legacy retailers have yet to fully integrate tech innovations into their operations to meet that demand.

For example, he asks, why not leverage software and analytics to do a retail version of the Lexus Certified Program for leasing used cars? Or a brand could set up an Uber-style service with its clothing lines where items are used while needed but may not be purchased outright.

Anthos points to Convey, one of XRC Labs’ startups from last fall, which focuses on the secondhand market. Convey says its “resale-as-a-service” model allows shoppers to return lightly used clothing in exchange for in-store credit. “Brands who’ve traditionally sat on the sidelines while eBay rakes in resale revenue can now keep shoppers in their ecosystem, and earn an additional 40 percent in gross revenue each time an item is resold—all without worrying about additional inventory or logistics,” the startup says on the XRC Labs website. (It is perhaps not a coincidence that Steve Zerneri, Convey’s founder, was an early employee at Uber.)

The resale economy “is going to have a massive economic impact on anyone who sells stuff for a living,” Anthos says. “Build it and they will come is not going to work anymore. We work with retailers to help them implement test-and-learn cultures.”

XRC Labs was founded three years ago to promote innovation within the industry and help legacy companies manage the change. Housed at the Parsons School of Design, XRC runs 14-week programs with each class made up of 10 startups.

The companies use analytics, personalization tools like 3D printing, and facial recognition software to enable retailers to provide targeted services to customers. For example, FindMine, which uses analytics and machine learning to offer consumers a digital stylist, was part of XRC Labs’ first class three years ago.

Retail is a global industry of around $25 trillion and accounts for about 31 percent … Next Page »

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