ZOZO, Inc. is the one of the largest and most successful fashion e-commerce platforms in Japan. At the same time, ZOZO is also focused on leading the fashion-tech industry to provide more value to consumers through use of various technologies. In part 1 of this article, we talked about ZOZO’s unique services including ZOZOSUIT, their proprietary measurement bodysuit, and the technologies behind their services.
In this part, we will discuss the potential of the data the company has acquired from ZOZOSUITs and 25 years of sales transactions on ZOZOTOWN, their fashion e-commerce platform. We’ll also provide insight from two masterminds from ZOZO, Shintaro Tabata, ZOZO’s Head of Communication Design, and Yuki Kanayama, the Chief Innovation Officer at ZOZO Technologies, Inc., on the prospects and challenges in ZOZO’s recent expansion into the global market.
Leveraging User’s Fitting Data
What makes ZOZOSUIT so innovative is not only the technology itself, but also the fact that ZOZO, Inc. strives to standardize measurement and fitting by providing a vast amount of ZOZOSUITs to people in the world for FREE. As of July 31, 2018, 1.1 million ZOZOSUITs were distributed globally.
The ZOZOSUIT and accompanying app
When I think of companies in the fashion space, I can’t think of any other company that owns as much user fitting and sizing data. E-commerce giant Amazon, and Facebook, each own substantial amounts of personal information, but not even they have this kind of data.
What people are most curious about is how ZOZO utilizes the data and information. Does the company allow other companies to have access to it? “We do not. However, we cannot say that will never happen.” Tabata answered. It seemed that they receive frequent inquiries about the reuse of the data, which confirms that many companies see the business potential in the data.
Tabata during our interview, explaining the potential of body sizing data acquired with ZOZOSUIT.
“We see the potential in the data to change the fashion industry from the beginning of the supply chain. For example, we can use the data to forecast demands. We can possibly play a role as a platform”. On the other hand, Tabata added, “there are not so many fashion companies that pursue creating apparel products that fit perfectly to each customer. Even if other companies have access to these users’ fitting data, whether or not they are capable of offering products like the ones we offer is another discussion.”
Fitting Data for Ads
Tabata implied the body size data can potentially be used for ad targeting. For example, showing an advertisement of a weight loss program is technologically possible, though he pointed out that it’s a very sensitive issue.
He is concerned that the abuse of users’ body and sizing data for purposes other than what they were originally intended for runs the risk of ruining their efforts to improve users’ fashion experience. At this moment, the public doesn’t truly appreciate the benefits of providing user data to create better fitting products. Tabata confirmed that providing users’ body and fitting data to third parties won’t happen anytime soon. They would rather focus on helping users to understand the value of this data for their fashion experience.
Recommendations Powered by Image Recognition and Big Data
Kanayama joining the company brought more potential for data utilization. Kanayama was originally founder and CEO of VASILY, which operated the award-winning fashion coordinating app IQON. VASILY’s strength was AI-powered image recognition technology specializing in fashion. IQON can provide accurate recommendations on fashion items by learning user activities on the app such as likes and purchases. In April 2018, VASILY merged with ZOZO Technologies, which enabled them to have access to ZOZO’s data, such as the more than 100 million purchase data points on ZOZOTOWN, 30 million+ entries of product information, and users’ body size data acquired with ZOZOSUITs. The question is, “How are they planning on utilizing the technologies and data?”
Through the VASILY acquisition, one of the services that has already been rolled out is the sponsored products feature in ZOZOTOWN. ZOZO leverages information assets and image recognition technologies to allow shops to promote the products that are most likely to be purchased.
This year is ZOZO’s 20th anniversary. They are now striving to expand their business as ZOZO the fashion brand, rather than ZOZOTOWN the e-commerce platform. Tabata said, “We are aiming to be one of the top 10 apparel companies in the world.”
Their global website zozo.com launched in August 2018, and now ZOZO”s private label apparel is available in 72 countries. They also gave away 100,000 ZOZOSUITs to people worldwide. We can see many excited customers on social media who have already received their ZOZOSUIT.
Explaining the User Benefits is the Key to Success
While ZOZO is successfully building their customer base globally, they are also facing some challenges. Tabata explained that, “We definitely need to increase our brand awareness. In addition, educating potential customers on the benefits of perfectly fitted clothing is necessary.”
His point is very valid. Educating potential customers on product benefits is an essential part of our process at btrax too, when we helping international clients expand their businesses to Japan. Companies need to consider how their products or services benefit their target customers. Even though you have amazing products or technologies, customers will still say “so what?” if you don’t convey the benefits to them in a way that connects with the local market/audience. It’s about education and relationship building.
Does wearing perfectly fitted clothes make you feel more comfortable or look cool? They are still trying to find the right messaging that conveys the benefits of wearing perfectly fitted clothing. They will continue through trial and error and observing users’ responses.
Defining “Fashionable” in the Global Market
WEAR is a fashion coordination app that ZOZO operates. The app hit 10 million downloads and over 8 million styling photos are posted globally so far as of today. Fashion enthusiasts, models, and fashion store associates alike post their “OOTD” (outfit of the day), and users can purchase the exact same fashion items worn in the post from ZOZOTOWN and other e-commerce sites worldwide.
In the WEAR app, users can view coordinated outfits or user profiles, and posts can be tagged by product, making them shoppable.
WEAR was originally launched exclusively in the Japanese market and has been very successful. They launched the global version a few years ago, but it’s not as successful as the Japanese one yet, according to Kanayama. He thinks one of the reasons for the struggle is that they have not yet been able to define the key concepts in the fashion scene, such as “fashionable”, “cool” and “kawaii (cute)”, that differ depending on cultural backgrounds.
Interviewer’s Note: Democratize Fashion
Though “fashion-tech” has been a buzzword for years, we rarely encounter products or services that actually improve a user’s fashion experience or life. There is a sea of fashion-tech services and products that are equipped with cool high-tech features but don’t really look at fashion from a customer’s point of view and don’t really add value to their life. Do we really need smart clothing that can give you reward points or a dress that displays your tweets with LED lights?
I’ve been searching for an answer to my long standing question, “How does fashion-tech make our life better?” Through this interview, I finally found the answer: the democratization of fashion.
“Technology revolutionizes the value of a service. As a price goes down thanks to technology, more people can enjoy the experience of the service they otherwise could not have had access to” Kanayama said. Tabata also added, “now we are entering a world where everyday people wear custom-made clothes or outfits picked by fashion stylists on a daily basis. Technology democratizes fashion.”
Until now only the rich and celebrities could have such a luxurious fashion experience. Now all that’s changing thanks to ZOZO’s private label clothing and personal styling subscription service. We feel great when we wear outfits that look good on us. This is the experience the company strives to bring to everyone and this is how they embody their mission, “Make the world a better place, Bring smiles to the world”.