Category Archives: Technology

To eCommerce or not to eCommerce?

This is my third blog posting on E.Factor about the subject luxury. In my previous blog posting on E.Factor I tried to start a discussion about the definition of ‘luxury’ and present my personal definition of this relative term.

In this blog posting I want to discuss eCommerce in relation to luxury, hence the title: “To eCommerce or not to eCommerce?”

It has been a decade since the Internet Bubble and still only a few luxury players fully operate eCommerce Sales Channels. This is beyond my grasp. Therefore I am one of the founders of ILEA – International Luxury Ecommerce Association (www.LuxuryEcommerce.org). I want to start with my own situation/case and explain what made me co-found this non-profit association.

I am active as an entrepreneur in the Luxury Industry since 1998 and since that year I have been trying to sell luxury goods via internet (who used the term eCommerce back then?). Without succes… Until last year. With our family company Ace Jewelers Group we had the honor to launch the first authorized luxury ecommerce website in the Netherlands that sells: watches, jewelry, diamonds, sunglasses and accessoires (www.AceJewelers.com). I hear you thinking: “Nothing special about that, even Amazon sells these items for year.” That is correct, but up until 2009 no luxury brand in our industry authorized online sales. All the items that seemed to be for sale online were either: fake, stolen, pre-owned, without warranty or from black markets. Most of the luxury brands (also fashion brands) were opposed eCommerce. Not many brands had a clear answer why, but Karl Lagerfeld – who is the artistic director of Chanel and also designs for Italian fashion house Fendi, a unit of LVMH – said that the Internet does not convey “the unique feel and sophistication of luxury materials, refined tailoring and extraordinary attention to detail found in luxury fashion.” He added that shopping for high fashion required a “multi-sensory environment”. For many luxury companies, the Internet is traditionally associated with cheap knock-offs sold on auction sites. The Internet can make it harder to know who the actual vendor of a product is. “This leads to fears of cheap copies and heavy discounting,” says Bernstein Research luxury goods analyst Luca Solca (Source: Wall Street Journal, 11-2-2009).

I understand where Lagerfeld is coming from, but if you look at the technological development in the last 10 years and how the society and consumer behaviour has changed, I do not agree. The consumer of today wants: convenience, quality, service and instant satisfaction (at a low price). This is definitely the case for luxury purchases. I agree with Lagerfeld that for high fashion and other physical products consumers will often (not always) will want to feel, touch, see, smell and/or try-on the product before purchasing it. Therefore I truly believe in multichannel retail/cross-channel strategies for luxury brands, the so-called Golden Triangle/combination of: Retail, Etail and Concierge Service (Back-Office/eFullfilment). For some industries I truly believe retail is over (think of travel agents, book stores, video rental stores, etc). But for Luxury Goods/Services (please read previous blog item what luxury is), I don’t believe stores will ever disappear. Never say never, but I do believe the role/task of a store will change. Stores will have to change their function of high speed sales outlet to brand experience centers. I find the Apple Stores one of the best examples.

Going back to our case, like Lagerfeld, most of the Swiss watch brands and international jewelry brands we represent in our stores, were and most of them are still opposed to eCommerce. Ace Jewelers have been online since 1998, but never received autorisation to sell the brands we officially represent online. In 2008 we decided to change our strategy of a pure retailer to a cross-channel (r)etailer. We founded Ace Online and we operated it as our fourth store within the Ace Jewelers Group. We have a dedicated Concierge Service that replies to all e-mails within 24 hours and they answer phone calls and incoming chats on the spot. We do not outsource any service and all staff members are trained within our industry and actually know what they are talking about. The Concierge Service is the bridge between our eBoutique and the physical stores. We truly moved to a cross-channel operation. Next month it is going to be a year that we operate full power… Maybe I will blog about the experiences in a future posting.

Today we can proudly say we are the first and only retailer in the world that can sell IWC watches and Baume & Mercier watches online. We are also the first company in the world to apply Augmented Reality in the jewelry industry (you can try on a diamond ring in front of your own computer). The luxury brands are slowly changing their strategies and experimenting with eCommerce. But, a lot of brands are still very much opposed. Breitling for example strictly forbids us to present even a picture of a watch on our website. This is one of the major reasons for us to participate in the foundation of a non-profit organisation like ILEA. The International Luxury Ecommerce Association was founded to create a Think Tank for everything that is linked to Luxury & Ecommerce. I always summurize it: “We want to turn all the non-believers of eCommerce into believers.” Hereby I want to invite all believer AND especially all non-believers to become a member and participate in this enduring discussion via: www.LuxuryEcommerce.org.

I want to conclude this blog posting by saying that I don’t believe we should even wonder IF we should progress with eCommerce… The question should be: “To eCommerce or to mCommerce”! Maybe a good title for a future blog posting 😉

 

Augmented Reality actually working

People that know me, know I love technology. We’ve been hearing for many years about Augmented Reality, but many people have no idea what it is. Beginning of this year, as CEO of AceJewelers.com I got confronted with Holition. A company that created an augmented reality tool for trying on jewelry in front of a computer. Today we, at Ace Jewelers, officially launched this tool as the first jeweler in the world. This is the press release we sent out:

Amsterdam/London, October 2009

AUGMENTED REALITY – WORLD FIRST: Try On Virtual Jewelry Online!                 

Ace Jewelers Group is the first online jeweler in the world in which  people can try on jewels virtually via their website using, a revolutionaryAugmented Reality retail tool, Holition . Ace Jewelers presents their own designed jewels through Holition, enabling their clients to try on the jewels online at home

Since the launching of the new website, www.AceJewelers.com, Ace Jewelers has been busy with renewing and improving the site. The collections have recently been extended with luxury sunglasses and the website has been advanced with unique techniques to make the website more customer friendly.

This month Ace Jewelers introduced Holition Augmented Reality on the website, this is a new revolutionary technology, makes it possible to try on your favourite ring or wristwatch in front of a computerorlaptop.

Alon Ben Joseph of Ace Jewelers commented: “Holition allows our clients to explore products by “trying on” the Eternity Pave Ring in a virtual environment. The ability to use the software online is a huge benefit and one which will undoubtedly bring a novel and exciting new experience to Ace clients, and ultimately drive sales. We see this as the future of online retail and are delighted to be one of the first companies exploring this exciting new direction in luxury retail.

3D viewing is made possible in three simple steps:

Print out a paper ring, cut it out, and put it on your finger pointing the paper ring towards a webcam. The camera will then register the item and project the desired ring onto the screen –  you can thenview the model on your hand from different angles.

ACE_try_on_1
Fig. 1. Client trying on the Ace Eternity Pave ring online using Holition

Ace Jewelers Group
Since 1975, Ace Jewelers Group has been one of the most renowned jewelers in Amsterdam and authorised dealer of many major brands. Examples of these include Breitling, Omega, TAG Heuer and IWC.

Ace Jewelers has three physical branches and a eBoutique; One  physical store is situated in the heart of Amsterdam, Ace & Spyer, on the corner of Koningsplein and the Flower Market. The second store, Ace & Dik located on the Van Baerlestraat, has been a jewelry business for more than 70 years. Also located in the heart of Amsterdam is Ace Jewelers, on the Leidsestraat, where mostly trendsetting brands such as TiSento, Armani, Dolce & Gabbana are displayed.

Holition
Holition is a leading provider of online interactive marketing and retail solutions to the jewellery, watch and eyewear markets. Holition has developed a unique virtual reality marketing application for use online, in-store and at live events.

Established in London in January 2008, Holition is a joint venture between pioneering 3D specialists Inition, and Holts Lapidary, UK Jewellery Retailer of the Year 2008.

 

Project Better Place: Israel first country to deploy electric cars

This weekend I read a very interesting article about a venture named, Project Better Place, in the English weekly newspaper JC.

The article “Could this car drive oil power to a stop?” is about the unique project to make the world a better place. The State of Israel has become the first country, and Renault-Nissan the first automaker, to announce their partnerships with us to begin a mass deployment of electric cars.

Renault Nissan Project Better Place

Renault Nissan Project Better Place

The official website of Project Better Place states: “Project Better Place is very excited that the State of Israel has become the first country, and Renault-Nissan the first automaker, to announce their partnerships with us to begin a mass deployment of electric cars. We believe that it is past time to begin making it possible for consumers to choose an electric vehicle that is much less expensive to operate, does not emit pollution or greenhouse gases and provides a better driving experience from their current automobiles. The State of Israel has shown foresight in implementing an appropriate tax policy, and setting out a vision by which it can become the first industrialized nation to end the stranglehold of oil on its economy and environment. Renault-Nissan, likewise, has shown great vision and leadership , when agreeing to become the first major automaker to produce electric vehicles on a mass-scale to integrate with our infrastructure . We look forward to working with them to replace hundreds of thousands of polluting cars with new electric vehicles, for a cleaner and safer world.”

This concept is set-up by Shai Agassi (as far I know, not related to Andre):

Shai Agassi

Shai Agassi

“Shai Agassi is the founder and CEO of Project Better Place, a company focused on the early 21st century’s biggest challenge – a scaleable and sustainable personal transportation system.  In this role, Agassi works directly with governments, finance, automobile manufacturers and technology companies to install, scale, and operate a regional and global infrastructure necessary for electronic vehicles.

With a personal passion in solving large-scale social and environmental issues, Agassi believes in utilizing technology and capital markets to address the challenges of sustainability and climate change.  With Better Place, he will manage the operation of international electric vehicle fleets by investing in, installing and operating countrywide charging infrastructures for electric cars, as well as working with partners to make the cars available.

Most recently, Better Place and Renault-Nissan announced a partnership that will enable electric vehicles to be mass produced for the Israeli market as announced by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert President Shimon Perez in January 2008.  Better Place is in discussions with multiple auto-makers and countries as they seek to move more markets off of oil and onto an electric recharge grid operator model.

Before founding Better Place, Agassi was formerly president of the Products and Technology Group at SAP AG and a member of the SAP AG Executive Board (2002 – 2007).  In these roles, Agassi was responsible for both the global development of the SAP product line and SAP’s portfolio of industry-specific solutions. While at SAP AG, Agassi spearheaded the development and release of SAP’s successful platform strategy; led innovations that helped the company grow into a market leader, and set the stage for the future of business software.

As a serial entrepreneur, Agassi has developed and cultivated several technology companies. During his career, Agassi founded Quicksoft Media and QuickSoft Ltd as well as TopTier Software and TopManage, which were both acquired by SAP.

Agassi is an active member of the Forum of Young Global Leaders of the World Economic Forum where he focuses on climate change and transportation issues.

I added Shai’s blog The Long Tailpipe to my blogroll. Make sure to visit his blog and the official website of Project Better Place:

www.projectbetterplace.com

 

Pimp my ELECTRIC car…

This company takes cars people already love and electrifies them.

smart fortwo (© Sean Frego) Click to see more pictures

At a cost of $35,000, the all-electric smart car will be more than twice the price of the recently Americanized gasoline version.

Walk into a Wal-Mart in the not-too-distant future and among the thousands of products for sale will be an electric car. It will not be a remote control car, a golf cart or a little scooter to help granny cruise the aisles. The battery-powered automobile will look every bit like a MINI Cooper. This is because it will be a MINI Cooper, just with a powerful electric motor under the hood and a stack of lithium batteries where the gas tank used to be.

The company responsible for transforming the already-efficient MINI into a zero-emissions electric vehicle (EV) is Hybrid Technologies. At its factory in Mooresville, North Carolina, engineers pull the internal combustion guts from cars such as the Chrysler Crossfire, PT Cruiser, smart fortwo, and the MINI, endowing them with advanced electric powerplants. While several other well-funded startups are racing to build electric cars from scratch, Hybrid Technologies has taken a different line of attack, converting already popular models to battery power.

To Richard Griffiths, the founder and prolific spokesman for Hybrid Technologies, the goal is not to try and sell people on the idea of an electric vehicle, but rather to show them how much fun they can have in electric versions of their favorite cars. Griffiths wants people to start thinking of battery power as a kind of high-end option, like a convertible top or a navigation system.

“You’ll find that whatever great looking vehicle is launched next year, more than likely we’ll begin production on that vehicle,” Griffiths explains. At $65,000 for the MINI, electric power makes for one hefty option. But the appeal is undeniable, as actor George Clooney and singer James Blunt are enthusiastic drivers of Hybrid Technologies conversions.

Power to the People — Who Can Afford It
Hybrid Technologies plans to make 2008 the year that its cars become available to consumers first through Wal-Mart and then directly. When the all-electric smart car hits the market it will cost $35,000, more than twice the price of the recently Americanized gasoline version. For the time being there is no shortage of customers. NASA, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the U.S. Military all buy alternative-fueled vehicles for their fleets (part of a Congressional mandate from the Clinton years) and have purchased EVs from Hybrid Technologies.

Working with the military is also a natural fit. Hybrid Technologies started out five years ago helping the military with watercraft and submarine power systems and now provides electric PT Cruisers for base transportation. Griffiths won’t hint at what other sort of projects Hybrid Technologies is building for the military, except to say that since EVs are almost silent they lend themselves to clandestine applications.

The Factory in Reverse
The Hybrid Technologies plant in Mooresville, North Carolina, looks much the way any auto factory should look. Except here, almost as many motors are being pulled out of cars as are being put in. Hybrid Technologies and smart share a core relationship, so for its electric version of the fortwo, Hybrid Technologies obtains what are called “gliders” intact cars without engines or gas tanks.

For cars such as the Crossfire and PT Cruiser, the motor and other systems are stripped out and sold back to the automaker or others. By building off existing models, Hybrid Technologies gets to focus on the critical part of any electric car the battery system.

Letting carmakers foot the bill for crash testing is another welcome advantage. The smart fortwo, with its steel safety cell, has been approved by the USDOT. Nevertheless, Hybrid Technologies is working with the Canadian government to crash test fully electric Smart cars for further validation. “At the end of the day,” says Griffiths, “you can keep a fairly large portion of the vehicle consistent with the original OEM, which does allow us a lot more freedom to put our money into the technology as opposed to into the design.”

Paving the Way
Not since General Motors leased out the now-legendary EV1 ten years ago has a large automaker put an all-electric car on the road. With electric cars predominantly in the territory of government contracts and industrious do-it-yourselfers, Hybrid Technologies exists in the gap between the big guns and the hobbyists.

According to Griffiths, automakers are biding their time and waiting for the dust to settle before making big moves toward alternative energies. Companies like his may be paving the way, with Toyota and General Motors poised to swoop in when the public decides its alternative car of choice. In the meantime, Hybrid Technologies is busy developing a product it hopes is “bulletproof.” Noting that reliability is paramount in building confidence in these new electric vehicles, Griffiths adds, “You get one shot at it.”

Jacob Gordon is a freelance writer, a blogger for TreeHugger.com, and producer of TreeHugger Radio. He can be reached at jacob@treehugger.com.

 

World’s smallest, lightest phone?

Did the start-up Modu create the World’s smallest, lightest phone?

World's

An Israeli developed modular mobile phone has been introduced today at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, with manufacturer modu claiming to have the world’s smallest and lightest mobile phone, weighing in at a featherweight 1.5 ounces.

modu’s unique selling point is that the phone can be upgraded in a modular fashion, with users being able to add on ‘jackets’ such as a camera, GPS or a larger screen.

Plug in to car stereos and other devices The 2.5G GSM phone can also be plugged into other devices such as Blaupunkt car stereos or Dect internet and home phones.

modu was set up in 2007 by leading technology innovator and entrepreneur Dov Moran, the inventor of the USB Flash Drive.

“It’s a unique concept not seen in the market or in major brands today,” said Modu’s Itay Sherman.

Mr Sherman added: “When you want to change your phone it can be expensive, because a phone is a complex device. But if you just want to change the look, the design or a feature like a camera then Modu is much simpler.”

A disruptive concept SanDisk CEO, Eli Harari, said: “modu is a disruptive concept in the well established mobile market. The modu proposition is unique and compelling to consumers, mobile network operators and consumer electronics companies alike.”

(Article written by Adam Hartley)

Click here for more info about Modu.