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EDITIONS Q&A: What makes a product successful in today’s market?

If you weren’t in New York this week for our latest installment of EDITIONS, no worries, we’ve got you covered. Wednesday’s panel discussion at the Core Club was thematically all about one thing: what it takes to bring a product to market successfully. That left our speakers plenty of room to come at the topic from […]
EDITIONS Q&A: What makes a product successful in today’s market? | EDITED

If you weren’t in New York this week for our latest installment of EDITIONS, no worries, we’ve got you covered.

Wednesday’s panel discussion at the Core Club was thematically all about one thing: what it takes to bring a product to market successfully. That left our speakers plenty of room to come at the topic from different angles, perspectives and directions. It was just too good to keep it all to ourselves.

Unlike our previous EDITIONS recaps, we’ve switched up the format for this one and left it Q&A so you can hear from our experts more and read less. Though it pained us to do it, we’ve had to condense the conversation in places for the sake of brevity.

Before we get into it, we just want to extend another round of thanks to everyone who came, asked questions and stuck around after to join us for a drink; we loved having you there! And of course, an enormous thanks to our speakers for their insights, anecdotes and most of all for their willingness to share them with us.

We’ll be publishing a follow-up Q&A next week that highlights the conversation we had with designer Jordana Warmflash (founder of NOVIS). But in the meantime, here are some highlights from the discussion between our moderator and Fashionista Editor-at-Large, Lauren Indvik and panelists Whitney Beckett (Director of Digital Buying at Cole Haan) and Christopher Disa (Director of Women’s Merchandising at Gap). Enjoy!

Lauren Indvik: Hi, Whitney. Hi, Chris. I’m curious how you would describe your target customer differently now than you might have described them five years ago.

Whitney Beckett: One of the interesting things about that is always who you think you customer is and then comparing that to the data that you get about them.

Our shoes that I’m wearing now are called ZerøGrands, they’re about 30% of our business and definitely our signature shoe. Initially we thought they were definitely striking a younger audience. We were saying, ‘this is the coolest new thing, really mixing sport with something dressier, a real fusion.’ But we have a great CRM person and she pulled this amazing report for us and we asked ‘how does the customer differ?’, ‘Is it much younger?’, ‘Did we bring this younger customer in?’. And she says, “The customer is… 62 and they live in Palm Beach.”

I think we’ve realized to ‘fish where the fish are’ but at the same time look at our core competencies, and ask, ‘who is that person?’ and realize what products we really win with. If we can get both the new customer and the traditional customer, that’s where we win.

Lauren: Chris, I spend a lot of time writing about millennials, how many of your conversations are focused on millennials right now? Or is there a demographic that has maybe proved elusive but you’re still trying to pin down?

Christopher:  We’re constantly looking at who we think our customer is, and then who she actually is. I will say that because we are multi-gender and we have a wide customer base, we like to understand why that customer is shopping us and how some products can appeal across many different demographics.

We also look at where our customer spend is coming from. If you can get a certain demographic, like millennials, to spend more with you, what does that mean to your top and bottom line? I think you always want to capitalize on opportunity but you don’t want to walk your core customer base while doing so.

Lauren: That’s a great point about balancing the two and making sure they’re working in conjunction. I want to ask you guys a little bit about product. When you decide to launch a new product, or product category, what are you looking at before you do that?

Christopher: A lot of times we look at what’s happening in the macro-space and ask ourselves if we have a right to play there.

One of the things that we’re all seeing right now in the market is activewear. It’s huge growth category. Clearly, we’re playing in that. Our GapFit initiative is massive and very exciting. So we have to determine, if something is right for us and it fits within our space – and then how do we can do it with the look and feel of our brand that will resonate with the customer.

A lot of times certain brands and certain organizations tend to want to go after something at the detriment of what their core competencies are, and that never really sets anybody up for success. It’s really more about how you augment your product and assortment to drive incremental within your space, that’s the first step.

Lauren: When you guys are launching a new product or product category, how do you figure out your pricing strategy around it?

Whitney: I think it’s a mix of what the market place is. We’re never going to be the Forever 21s or H&Ms [note: earlier in the evening we shared a presentation about the retail strategies of Forever 21 and H&M]. There’s too much that goes into the shoe.

We have a price that’s on average $150. Every year we try to do a mens slipper and we can never compete at that price point. We can’t make an under $100 slipper that’s worth buying to be honest. So that’s just not a space that we should play in because that’s what people sell them at for gifting purposes. It’s knowing if you can hit the price point and deliver something of value to the customer. If yes, then it’s worth being in the market I think.

Christopher: I think a competitive advantage for Gap is that we can start off small in testing new product categories and classification and all that good stuff.

We do have to be mindful of where the competition is and how are we benchmarking ourselves against them. Where we are playing from a competitive standpoint to make sure that we can participate in certain categories and really be profitable.

Lauren: You already talked a little bit about benchmarking, but what are the metrics that define what is a successful product?

Whitney: There are a couple ways to define it. One is how it performs against plan, that’s the most obvious. But I think a truly successful product isn’t just that. It’s the the kind of product that moves the needle and changes how you do things as a company. It’s not a one time success. It’s something you can expand and use to change the composition of your business.

Christopher: Ultimately it’s really about measuring the lifecycle of products, and again, really looking at facts and understanding patterning and really understand where the market is moving and shaking. Then looking at all your metrics and determining what is the next small idea that can become the next big idea.

Lauren: I want to talk a little bit about ecommerce, can you talk a little bit about whether you feel your companies are supporting it and how you’re approaching it?

Whitney: I think we definitely have corporate support. Our website is about to be bigger than all of our floorspace stores combined. That whole landscape has changed in the last six months or a year.

It’s more of a digital-first mentality now. We’re both in there assorting. I don’t mean to say it’s one before the other. It’s very much a collaboration.

Christopher: The was an article a couple weeks ago about Gap, Inc being one of the top ten ecomm players in North America, which is really, really exciting. There is a lot of emphasis on the Inc. level around digital.

One of the things I find so fascinating when you think about customer behavior from a global perspective is that the Chinese customer is absolutely mobile first. They have gone from 0 to 100 from a technology standpoint virtually overnight. A lot of findings would say that customer skipped the whole desktop era and now everything is done through their digital mobile devices. So that’s a very different way that they’re shopping, and we have to be ahead of that. We have to think about how we’re messaging that customer and engaging with that customer in that market versus Europe or North America.

I also think that by really moving to digital platforms you can turn your inventory much faster, be more profitable, offer more choice and then be able to message more frequently without the constraints of brick and mortar.

That’s all for now, but like we said above, we’ll have some quotes from our interview with designer Jordana Warmflash next week.

If you live in London or New York City (or wouldn’t mind making the trip) and would like to be at the next EDITIONS, make sure to subscribe to our Insider Briefing and look out for future announcements. If you’d like to be one of our speakers, we’d like to hear from you too. Just write us using [email protected] and we’ll be in touch!