A few words with Rene Fang, iStaging CEO
Rene Fang (RF) is the Chief Executive Officer of iStaging Corp. Previously, she held senior leadership positions at Financial and Capital Market companies across Asia and Taiwan building transformational companies and leading new initiatives. The last 2 years, she is leading iStaging to success at first as COO and now as CEO.
The Fashion Retailer (TFR): What is iStaging?
RF: iStaging is an early-mover in the VR technology industry and virtual tours. Our strong and core competence is to enable people to create VR easily without investing in expensive hardware and tiresome editing operations. Our business model is B2B4C (Business-ready Optimised for Consumers) aiming to help the business user to improve their sales and marketing efficiency by adapting the VR and AR technology fast and easy.
TFR: What is the entrepreneur story that inspired the launch of the company?
RF: Imagination to reality. At first, iStaging launched to bridge the gap between imagination and reality in real estate. We spotted the need to improve the communication and information sharing between buyers and sellers by leveraging on advanced technology. Nowadays, buyers and decision makers require more and more information, selling a house is not just 2D photos.
This was the initial opportunity we saw and launched iStaging. Since 2014, we have acquired the know-how and expanded in many different industries including luxury retail, in-store training and window display, supported by a variety of solutions such as AR visualization, virtual exhibitions and showrooms.
TFR: The Fashion Retailer commented about the social impact, and the short to mid term strategy to face Covid-19 by fashion retail companies. Even stores will have to reinvent their purpose. New Retail requires changes in all areas: people and processes, and technology is a key pillar and enabler of that adaption.
How do you feel Covid-19 impacted the way traditional retailers see technology?
RF: The pandemic has shifted the industry and impacted the companies that weren’t technologically equipped. We have seen a big wave of interest towards all the products we offer: virtual tours, live guiding, 3D models, AR and our newly launched virtual exhibition / gallery / showrooms.
COVID-19 drastically changed the way traditional retailers use technology and not only for selling products but also in virtual training, display, merchandising, press days, internal communication and so on.
Fortunately, the ones who adapted fast will see the benefits of technology and virtual reality. Our mission is to introduce them to ground-breaking solutions that will help to achieve efficiency, client engagement and sustainability.
TFR: You have mentioned iStaging launched a new solution for virtual exhibitions and showrooms. Could you please tell us more about it?
RF: Virtual Exhibition by iStaging is our brand new solution for event organizers, showrooms, and galleries. We had a big launch in June, which attracted a lot of interest. Given the pandemic, we needed to find a solution to our clients to adjust to the market as quickly as possible. Since people cannot interact as before, Virtual Exhibition became a solution between the buyer and the seller in retail, traditional exhibitions, etc.
We help brands to tell their story through VR, we provide them the space to pitch their products and spread brand awareness. Leveraging our existing technologies allows us to provide a high-value and complete solution to our existing and new clients. Virtual Exhibition is not a replacement of the physical, but helps to minimize the impact of pandemic. However, companies are adapting to this new standard, and we believe the virtual exhibition, even after the pandemic, will be a part of the physical one.
Virtual Exhibition offers a wide range of benefits such as connecting buyers worldwide for press days, providing data for product optimization, and enhancing the client-buyer relation. Another positive aspect of virtual exhibition is that it can be available 365/24/7. The accessibility will help companies to provide instant updates and interact with clients anytime.
Therefore, this new solution can be used in pre-event, during the event and post-event campaigns. Pre-event for attracting audiences, during the event for engaging and post-event for follow up and data analysis. We believe this transformational opportunity to the industry will continue to grow.
TFR: How iStaging faced Covid-19? What were the most demanded capabilities by fashion retailers?
RF: Fashion retailers will always need to show their new collections and products fast, so turnaround time becomes a challenge. As long as the products are ready, they want to attract media and journalists as soon as possible, and make it available at a speed of light. Given the pandemic, iStaging meets the expectations of Fashion retailers by providing sustainable digital solutions: digitize fast and share physical showrooms and point of sales in high quality.
Information such as high-resolution images, videos, 360° product spins, detailed product descriptions, integration with eCommerce and wholesaling platforms, data analysis and many more. Besides operations such as sales, buying sessions, press days, our customers use iStaging for internal communication: store communication, visual merchandising, connecting stores from around the world, simultaneous e-training. Our goal is to increase the productivity, engagement and knowledge retention.
Given the technical power and know-how we have accumulated throughout the years, it enables us to react fast and support the needs of the biggest fashion retailers in the market, so Covid-19 is a productive period for our customers and us.
TFR: What is your vision of the future of fashion retail?
RF: We will change both internally and externally for the fashion retailers. Internally, we are expecting to see more and more fashion retailers adapting to virtual store management, especially global brands, systems for the HQ-Branch supervision. Also training will keep being an integral part of the brands. We believe they will continue to expand and focus more on the cost and time efficient solutions to enhance the brand’s store management. Externally, global brands have global buyers, who will be expecting to join the fashion show online, and visit showrooms virtually.
TFR: In AR and VR for fashion, I commented that omnichannel shopping demands a totally different approach to the customer and the way products and services are delivered. Customer experience demands the reinvention of product display and information (traceability and transparency), customer service, store layout/architecture, stock management, etc.
Brands such as Burberry, L´Oréal, Zara or GAP are amongst the ones that have already created VR/AR experiences through smart fitting solutions or AR shopping Apps. Walmart introduced in 2017, VR to the world of employee training and development by using the technology to upgrade training at Walmart Academies nationwide. Also, Decathlon used VR to show their Quechua Tents.
What are the benefits of VR/ AR from a customer point of view? What role does it play in the customer journey?
RF: VR has presence during the whole customer journey, pre-buying event, purchase and post-event. At different stages, virtual reality offers different value.
Pre-buying event aims for more comprehensive information, better attraction and worldwide press days.
During the show or buying process, real time response. TourRing our live interaction tool of brand-client helps to elevate the interaction and build rapport. Another use of TourRing is in a more exclusive environment, between the personal stylist/shopper, it can be used to help stylists engage with their overseas clients in real time. AR can help with indoor navigation and information-objects can pop up in the space illustration products and information.
Post-event, virtual reality can help in after sales, customer satisfaction. Brands can also get data to analyze the behavior of the visitors and buyers for product optimization process.
TFR: Executives that are still “technology laggards” might see VR/AR solutions as “too marketing oriented” with a low ROI or not playing an important role in the daily operations. How iStaging is adding value to business operations, productivity or performance?
RF: iStaging solutions are used in different departments in a fashion retailer. We have technologies that are used in store training and supervision, in window display communication and management and we also have customized solutions for visual merchandising, online sales and press days.
Specifically, the challenge of communication between HQ and branches. We have solved the issue of how and where to display products in the showroom, make it easier for the branches to follow the guidelines of the HQ. A proven example, that VR and AR, if used efficiently, can bust the myth of “marketing oriented” solutions. The flexibility we offer as a company, offers our customers the freedom to be creative and think outside the box.
TFR: The startup environment is highly competitive. what do you think are the key success factors that brings you to compete in the market?
RF: We highly emphasize on user experience attracting the business user to adopt our solutions faster and smoother. Another part of our competitiveness is our strong technology power and know-how. We have been working with luxury retail brands for years, we have proven that we are able to adjust and provide flexibility according to the brand’s direction and requirements.