Yoox Net-a-Porter’s (YNAP) chief executive Federico Marchetti predicts that ‘Made by Humans’ may become a product’s biggest mark of quality. 

Marchetti believes that striking “the right balance between man and machine” will only become harder for retailers.

Federico Marchetti

Source: Photo by Leon Csernohlavek

Speaking at Wired’s Smarter conference earlier this month, he stressed that retailers will face difficult choices in the coming years, which will at times mean “rejecting some gains from technology” in favour of human creativity.Marchetti believes that striking “the right balance between man and machine” will only become harder for retailers.

However, in Marchetti’s opinion, these sacrifices are well worth making in the long term.

“It’s not a choice to stop technology but to stop ourselves from allowing tech to replace what we truly value”

Federico Marchetti, YNAP

“It’s not a choice to stop technology but to stop ourselves from allowing tech to replace what we truly value,” he said.

Marchetti even puts forward that in the coming years a ‘Made By Humans’ label may exist which, similar to Swiss watches or German engines, would denote quality.

He says that, in the era of drone deliveries and 3D printing, products that are clearly man-made and delivered with a human touch will enjoy a renaissance.

Marchetti knows what he’s talking about. 

A self-confessed “technology guy in the fashion industry”, he says he has been “working on the intersection between man and machine since 1999” – which arguably gives him the perfect combination of skills to understand the ways in which technology will change the retail landscape while addressing the concerns of a sector that is wary of adopting it.

“I’ve convinced a lot of the big fashion guys to go on the web for the first time,” said Marchetti, who added that he is “on a new mission now to continue to persuade”.

Marchetti said humanity in retail and design “is emotion, beauty and feelings, while machine is about speed, information and power” – and a retailer needs both to survive.

Value of the human touch

So, is an era of the human touch on the horizon for retail?

On one hand the customer appetite for convenience and speed shows no signs of abating any time soon, as the growth of online retail and continued dominance of Amazon indicates.

However, this desire is juxtaposed by a growing sense of unease and lack of trust surrounding technology.

A recent study from Accenture found that more than half (52%) of people who use voice assistants are concerned about their security, while 48% believe they are always listening, even when they have not been given a command.

“There will be an increasingly fine balance for retailers to strike between providing customers with all the benefits that technology can offer without taking the humanity out of shopping”

This ambivalence surrounding technology adoption, combined with the data hack scandals that have dominated recent headlines, make for an interesting backdrop for retailers when considering what level of technology to adopt across their organisations.

Gone are the days when shoppers would accept every technology breakthrough with open arms and wide-eyed wonder; in their place is a greater level of cynicism. Shoppers want the convenience that technology affords them, but are wary of what it will cost them.

Customers’ growing distrust of technology means that keeping human creativity at the core of retail will be essential.

Marchetti says every delivery from YNAP will always be wrapped by a human, no matter how automated the rest of the supply chain process becomes.

He admits that Yoox is using artificial intelligence to identify trends in its upcoming own-label range launch, and personal shopping consultations – but that final decisions will always lie with its stylists and designers.

“We use the data but let our creatives better determine what the customer needs in the future,” he said.

In the years to come there will be an increasingly fine balance for retailers to strike between providing customers with all the benefits that technology can offer without taking the humanity out of shopping.

“Humans will become a choice, but nurturing human talent is a choice we can all still choose to make,” said Marchetti.

Shoppers checking their purchases for ‘Made by Humans’ is one thing – ensuring technology is used to drive efficiency without eroding trust will be vital.