Here's How Swarovski is Being Crystal Clear About the Need to Innovate

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Luxury gift brand Swarovski may be a little late to the party when it comes incorporating technology into its retail experience. However, its newly opened innovation lab is looking to change all that.

Daniel Swarovski was the son of a skilled glass cutter in an area of Eastern Europe now within the Czech Republic. After serving an apprenticeship with his father, Swarovski patented a unique electric glass cutting machine in 1892. It was this machine which allowed him to produce crystal glass. The company was established a few years later with the mission statement of making affordable crystals for the public and entered the American jewelry market almost a century later in 1977.

Today, Swarovski is one of the most recognized jewelry retailers on the high street. The company has retail locations all over the world and has been ranked #2 in the European Brand Institute's list of Strongest Austrian Brands, 2017.

The Innovation Lab at Swarovski

Swarovski is the first to admit that it was a little blind to the onset of technology employed to improve customer retail experiences for its competitors. However, now the company has launched its own dedicated innovation team with a mission to keep the business up to date with the latest retail technologies and incorporate them into the Swarovski experience.

"The mission of the retail innovation team was to understand the changing consumer needs," said Stefan Schmidhammer, IT Retail Innovation Manager at Swarovski. "The department takes ideas from anyone in the business, before deciding on which are prototyped and trialed 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."

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Initial innovations have included an augmented reality (AR) smartphone and tablet app which allows customers to see how Swarovski products would look on them ahead of making a purchase decision. Artificial intelligence (AI) powered image recognition technology developed by Wide-Eyes has been applied to the repairs department, allowing HQ to quickly identify products which have been sent in.

Failure Is an Option

One of the most important tenants of the Swarovski innovation lab is that nothing is off the table. The company has very much taken a throw everything at the wall and see what sticks approach, and is interested in what can be gleaned from both success and failure.

"It is very important that failure is an option," explained Schmidhammer. "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 how innovation has failed is a tablet device designed to help demonstrate the features of Swarovski's new range of activity trackers. However, the company is quick to admit that it didn't really understand the market. "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 jewelry," said Schmidhammer.

However, despite staff feedback in favor of the gadget, data revealed that it hadn't helped the company sell a single product. But, instead of lamenting a failed innovation, the company takes it as a learning experience.

"Feedback was customers didn't want a promotional video, but an explanation of what it does," said Schmidhammer. "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."

Final Thoughts

The Swarovski innovation lab is now looking at a whole load of different technologies with a view to incorporating them into its retail experience. Options on the table include beacon technology, electronic displays, facial recognition and 3D printers - so who knows what they'll come up with next.

The final word goes to Stefan Schmidhammer.

"None of this innovation can even begin to happen without support from the business, which I am lucky enough to have. Store managers can be 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."

You can hear Swarovski's Vice President of Retail Real-Estate and Store Development, Jochen Schmidt, speak at Future Stores West 2018 this June at the Sheraton Seattle, WA.

Download the agenda today for more information and insights.

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