Noam Levavi, our CEO had the honor of being hosted in Parsons famous “Retail Revolution” podcast series. In that podcast he had a thrilling deep-dive discussion Christopher Lacy on the future of retail and how we’re seeing it being shaped these days.
Full podcast can be heard here
Full podcast transcript is attached here for your convinience.
Retail revolution is a special limited podcast created specifically for retailing and service design, a unique course that is part of the fashion management graduate program at Parsons school of design in New York city. Each episode features in depth conversations with guests, experts in omnichannel retailing with myriad perspectives, technology, consumer engagement, data analytics, merchandising, and more. We pay special attention to the short- and long-term challenges and implications of covid-19 and potential opportunities to rethink retail’s future retail revolution has produced by Joshua Williams and hosted by Christopher Lacey, both our assistant professors in the school of fashion at Parsons
Chris: Welcome revolutionaries to another episode of retail revolution where we discuss all things related to retailing and service design. Today we are discussing how immersive visual technologies like 3D VR and AR are changing the customer’s experience. Joining us today is a serial entrepreneur with more than 20 years of innovations in user experience technologies, including several patents in the areas of personalized media delivery and user interfaces. Overly excited to welcome Noam Levavi, CEO and founder of ByondXR. Welcome, Noam.
Noam: Hey, thank you. Thanks for having me in these crazy times.
Chris: It most certainly is crazy times. Right. So, I know you’re talking to us from Israel right now. How is everything there?
Yeah, so we are in quarantine here – most of the population. I actually got back from New York three weeks ago and since then I’m kind of like stuck at home. I think it’s in the last couple of days it seems like it’s getting a little bit better and stabilized, but it’s hard to tell. It’s been crazy everywhere. And yeah, we see what’s happening in New York and we just hope that this is going all to go soon.
Chris: Yes, yes. We most certainly are. But before we get there, I would love for you to tell our listeners about you and your career trajectory of 20 years technologies and experiences. So, tell us what your story is.
All right. So I’m started as an entrepreneur when I was a young, likearound20 years old, basically, you know, got into the technology and the early days. We were playing with all computers and basically got into this tech world, incredibly early 30 years ago. Then I’ve been mainly dealing with digital media, working with many brands and retailers, helping them create a new type of customer experiences. I used to live in New York on my previous venture where we helped brands creating immersive experiences in their “in store” physical location . So we’ve been doing the project, like if you’ve ever been in one of the Microsoft stores, you see that, you know, hundreds of synchronized screens together, at AT&T stores, the largest LED screens in Times-square.
It runs by at the colleges that I’ve developed. So I’ve been doing it for many years, many iconic venues. We’ve basically implemented the solutions for audio visual presentations in many venues and got access to more than a hundred million people every month that been exposed to our systems. And I’ve been doing it for many years. And that actually led me to the new space of AR VR. I’ve been dealing with augmented reality 12 years ago already. But this was very, very initial. And a few years ago when we saw the new emerging of a virtual reality – I started this, a new company ByondXR to take it to a whole new level, taking that to the regular 2D feeds that we edit we used to have in the past couple of decades and creating new type of experiences that take you the consumer basically to a whole new 3-dimensional space that can be connected in a new way. It was the sellers and the buyers and the different products that you want to be exposed in different environments.
So, we’ve been working on this platform to enable brands creating a new type of customer experiences.
Chris: Yeah. I mean, I have to tell you, when I first started engaging with ByondXR, and you know, before all of this happened with the COVID 19 pandemic, our plan was to partner together for ByondXR to help us with a really cool pop-up presentation that we were going to do in conjunction with this class. And when we saw what it was that you could do, you know, for me, being in retail for over 20 years, I just knew this was something I wanted to partner with and to bring you guys on board. So, I want to ask, you know, what is ByondXR really, how would you describe your company to our listeners?
Sure. So ByondXR, it’s basically a retail tech startup. We empower brands and retailers to improve sales and customer engagement. So, we bring the new groundbreaking 3D visualization technology and using our Immersive commerce platform – brands can easily transform themselves into this new era of digital. Creating experiences to enhance wholesale merchandising and e-commerce that really boosts sales and improve efficiency and customer engagement. It’s all about how to create new type of experiences that bring customers to the three-dimensional spaces and let them experience products and collections in a whole new way.
Chris: I think that is the thing that you’re saying there that, that I want to hold on to is that it’s for customers to experience in a whole new way. Because I think the, the issue we see with technology is, especially in retail, is that the technology sometimes is quite passive. And this technology is not passive at all. It is extremely interactive and fun for the users. So how does beyond make digital commerce more human compared to what we, we’ve really seen over the last five to 10 years. And why is that so important and making that more human?
Yeah. Before that e-commerce was available for many, many years the only option to purchase goods, was offline o in the real store environment there are lots of benefits for purchasing in the stores, you know, from the overall experience that they bring you, the design and music, the smell of having the store and other properties to the personal communication with associates, with the feel of the store. And of course, the ability to look and feel the actual product specifically in the apparel industry.
We only see a kind of a two-dimensional fit with images that don’t tell us the full story. And unfortunately, the technology continued to advance really rapidly, you know, the past two decades. But the experience has not been changed. If you think about even the biggest players like Amazon, if you look at Amazon today and 10 years ago, obviously a lot has changed, but the experience itself almost the same. And then when you look at different retailers, nothing has changed in the last 10, 15 years. It’s all using these two-dimensional fits with images. It’s not a real experience. And we basically think about how to bring the experiences and how to merge the offline and the online world. So at ByondXR , we think about buying experience when we think about how to merge those type of things that there is a store experience with the benefits of the online purchasing, taking their to a journey and fuse the real world with the virtual world and keep it all intuitive and easy to consume, both for the buyers and the retailers, but also for consumers at home.
So, when you think about the type of experience that you’re getting in store, we don’t get it today from our desktop. So mobile devices who we kind of trying to bridge this gap and bring it a better experience online and give you some of the benefits that you have in store, but without leaving your home and that technology we continue to evolve. To that end,
Chris: When you talk about the way you’re bringing this in, I want to make sure we explained to everyone the differentiation for those who kind of are like, all right, so virtual reality or what, what is it that they, they really mean by that? I think a lot of times we talk about virtual reality. We think of the headset, you know but new technologies that have come out that are being used such as clothes in 3d from a design perspective creates the other side of it. And so, I’d like for you to explain what, what is the difference between VR and AR in the retail space?
Sure. Yeah. And did it that the terms might be confusing. We have few – AR, VR or XR, you know different companies using different terms. You hear in Microsoft, they talk about hologram and, different types of terms. But just to make it clear you know, for how would you use it in the retail space in general, VR, virtual reality allows us to change our surrounding reality. Using 360 visuals and audio, we can bring a customer to a store or to a virtual showroom environment. When you use it just a regular two-dimensional screen, like we use our in our desktop and mobile devices, VR like he showed the virtual surrounding in 360, which is better than the 2D fit. But again, it’s not a fully immersive as you as you do in goggles – like different types of headsets when you actually immersed in the experience.
VR actually replaces the existing Reality in a new one. AR let you add or augment additional layers on top of the real reality we experience. It let us edit digital assets and information virtually that usually do not exist in the real space. But it still gives us the feeling like it’s actually there. When we think about brick and mortar and real stores, we’ll see more and more use cases for AR.
I think in the new future, specifically around product promotion assistance in the, in the store. Today it’s still not very intuitive requires users to actively be involved to launch an experience and interact with it. But in the near future we will have glasses that will automatically detect the surrounding using advanced computer vision algorithm and add in those digital layers on top of that.
It would be much more intuitive and easier to consume, In the physical space, I don’t see a lot of use-cases for VR. Specifically, for fashion or you know, in the apparel industry, I think it would be being many AR to date are like two separate domains, AR and VR, but in the near future all be combined to get fuses together. You wouldn’t have a set of headsets that you can, you know, sit a reality, bring in additional hologram or additional layers on top of it and maybe only some of it. It’s all going to fuse together and be basically taking us to a whole new type of reality today.
It looks that it’s very messy or busy, but in this new future we’re going to add a lot of information on top of it. And when we go to do shopping as consumers, we get instantly all relevant information and comparison.
That brings up a good point or a thought for me, which is, so from a customer experience perspective, and if you’re walking into an actual store, how does, how does a retailer make this technology easy for the customer, right? Because they do not necessarily maybe want to put down their phone to start playing with another device to experience AR. So is it really works well in store at the time, or is it something that should be leveraged on top of a retailer’s eCommerce platform so that someone is getting that kind of feeling of still being in an actual brick and mortar location even at home? Or is it doesn’t matter?
Yeah, so I think we were in a kind of a, like a transition period. So both Apple and Google you know, they push all these technologies specifically the past couple of years and they supported through their browser, who’s our key and AR Core, basically let you launch an AR experience very easily through a browser. You can use your phone, you don’t need to switch device, you just take your phone, you can look at a Twitter camera on an object. The object can be recognized by, by itself. I’ll just use a QR code or a unique code and we can launch an AR experience. So today to put into it the only thing you need to do is open your camera and experience can be launched.
When you walk in store and you want to get additional information or you see a nice shirt and you want to see the actual model, like walking around you and see it like in real life so you can utilize those technology through a browser – taking your phone, open it and see additional information or additional imagery or real life models to see around you. You can also bring it to your home. I think we’re in a transition today we use the devices that we currently have.
Even this year, maybe it will be next year. We’re going to see the first new glasses coming from Apple and other big companies. It’s going to change the way that we perceive reality. But it’s going to take time. So, for now, in the next couple of years we’ve got to use smartphones . I think that within five-six years we’ll see mass adoption of this new technologies. They’re going to come very, very soon. And this is going to change the way that we consume, both on the in-store environment, but also at home, how we can bring all the different items and products to actually look bring them to our house.
Also, when you talk about fashion, a fit one of the most important things because of how it fits on myself- I want to see myself with clothing without actually wearing them. So, I can pretty quickly switch or select different items and see how they look like on my body
You mentioned Clo3D and there are few companies that actually helps designers today to design in 3D like CLO. There’s Browzwear & Optitex and other companies that a lot of brands are starting to adopt this new technology because it helps them on the product development. You don’t need as many samples as they used to do, but eventually you can utilize those assets. Also, for merchandising for selling and for consumer applications. So, the benefits are not just for product development but how you use it in marketing and in your full selling environment.
So essentially, you know, this technology makes a retailer and a brand as a whole more efficient than before – with this particular technology and platform that ByondXR has a retailer can leverage this and have a 3D model for each of their locations across the globe and the visual merchandising team can allow them to access this 3D model and create the visual merchandising accordingly. It also allows for a much quicker look at how designers want to design their product and how it gets to store quicker So it really kind of speeds up the level of efficiency that have. Right?
Absolutely. Using technology brands can improve efficiency, the experiment, time to market. And in fashion, you know most brands and wholesalers are using physical showrooms today, so to display their products, collection assortments. So usually buyers are coming into those showrooms to see all the new collections and the new products, or sometimes the salesperson has to go to the buyer. So the process can be very long and expensive. Some brands they’re so efficient and they can do this work very quickly. So they can bring from design to a finished product in the store within couple of weeks but other luxury brands, sometimes they need six or even nine, 12 months from design to be really have the ready, finished product available for the customers.
Creating samples is not sustainable and it brings a lot of waste and lots of pollution. Going digital has many other benefits, not just shortening the time. It’s more sustainable with digital assets. You can also share your design ideas on the same day – all the buyers can see the new designs. No large quantities of samples are needed. You can finish design and prove it and show it instantly with hundreds of buyers. You can easily apply colors and textures in real time without a need to wait days for new samples creation. When you design in 3D you can bring to life the outfits onto models, mannequins and avatars to show how like different styles can fit and look on different bodies.
Bottom line is that the technology really helps brands to be more efficient, shorten the time to market and have them to get the right insights to keep improving and optimize the designs and sales.
Chris: When we talk about insights, what type of key performance indicators does ByondXR provide to those brands so they can measure the success of it ? I think a lot of times retailers are, you know, it’s funny when someone invests in something, they want to see how quickly the return is on it. Is ByondXR able to provide certain analytics and data for them in that way?
Yeah, and that’s a great question. It really depends on the use case and how do you want to measure. there are many KPIs you can measure typically on the sales side. Brands are looking to improve engagement with, with an aim to increase conversion and basket size. You don’t want to sell them all and beyond. We are building an analytical engine that basically let the brands track everything so they can see what the buyer interactions are, know how they behave, everything is trackable. We can learn about interest interactions – what people like or don’t like, how much time they spend and look at different collections and styles. How many eye and other metrics is that we can combine into this. So you can track online, but it’s very difficult or almost impossible to do it offline.
You know, when utilizing online digital tools you can be fully accurate and actually start to measure the KPIs you know, utilizing Google analytics or other type of analytics. So, you know, like the engines that we build, you can start to track and actually bring those KPI to a real measurement so we can see the differences before you, you know, utilize the technology. And after, in other departments like operations or it, they sometimes look, you know, different KPIs. So, the KPIs are really related to the use case and to the persona that on the other side it actually needs to adopt this type of technology at ByondXR. We keep it all as an archive from season to season, from collection to the collection. So you’re getting more insights and it helps you also not just to understand, you know, and how to measure the KPIs, but how to optimize it for the future from buyer to buyer from collection to see what works and what doesn’t work can have and let you basically optimize the way that you display your catalog and collection.
Chris: That’s brilliant. And I, you know, considering we right now are an unprecedented global crisis that it has impacted a retailer supply chain. It’s impacted the ability for designers to even design and get product produced to it being shipped to brick and mortar stores are closed, but their online platforms are, you know, are still tracking. How quickly retailers decided to get on board with this – Do you think this crisis will speed up their desire to have platforms that work in this way?
Yes, definitely. I think we’re entering into a new era. You know, lots of things would be changing the near future – people realize the power of digital and the way we can communicate and make business from remote. Virtual showrooms are much more important now as critical part of the business. You know, up until a few weeks ago we did business in it in a different way and today are all looking for virtual solution. How I can continue to make business meet my customers and do it virtually. Until last month, about 12% of the total purchasing in the U S was done online only 12% right now it’s different in grocery, it’s much lower in fashion. It’s actually higher about twice then this number, like 20 to 25% online.
But the majority of the sales was still offline. I think in the next few months the online will increase dramatically. And for the near period, it will be actually bigger than offline because people can go out and do their regular shopping. We’ve seen this in Asia – we have customers in Asia where they basically closed their stores at the beginning of the year in some capacity they opened, but many of the stores actually are still closed and they probably they weren’t going to open them again and anytime soon.
I believe that the business online purchasing will increase in a much faster pace going forward. Especially also in B2B which was way behind eCommerce. Buyers that have never bought online and now they had to because they have to, you know, because that’s the situation we continue to buy also in the future, they’ll see the benefits of this and brands would have to adopt quickly.
We’ll change to kind of, I think that new models will emerge. I think that personal touch would be still particularly important. We’re going to see I think a much faster adoption for online purchasing and also the brands and the retailers would go online in new ways and they have to adopt this new world.
Chris: I wholeheartedly agree with you and I think it’s been a force in industry to think in terms of what does service look like now and here’s the challenge with that. It’s what does service look like now considering a consumer that is far more fearful than it has ever been before. And, and having to acknowledge that and go, okay, even after this and said and done, everyone’s coming out of their homes again to engage with each other. What does that look like? Is there still the fear of, you know, we just went through a thing where it was like, the only way you should greet somebody is by touching their elbow. But then from there it went from, you know, things six feet apart from someone, then it was don’t leave your home at all. When we come out of this, how do we want to engage with each other?
But how do we, how do we even navigate a retail space now? You know? And that’s something that, you know, I totally, think there’ll be this big push where people will want to be in brick and mortar locations again. But it’s also, what does that look like as they engage – do retailers have the ability to take on what the new expectation is right now? And I just don’t know that we have had the answer to that yet. When retailers are considering these technologies and these platforms, what do they need to really have as their core and their basis when they’re wanting to onboard a new technology? What do they need to consider so that it’s a successful adoption of a new technology and that it’s executed appropriately?
You know, we, they need to be open to, to change the way they work. And I think the current situation towards them to do that – to think out of the box they need to the right research before they adopt technology. There are many good and some bad tech companies, and each has its unique value proposition. So first you need to identify the needs and challenges that you have and then start looking for the right solution that can be integrated. When you think about onboarding new technology, looking for new technology you want to make sure it’s an easy onboarding process specifically these days that don’t take too much effort and time. It’s better if you can actually manage the tech internally and not be dependent on external studios, agency or other third party if possible.
Chris: Oh my God. Wait, I just, I’m going to cut you up because I think that’s something that I want you to go into just a little bit because a lot of times do you have a retail brand that they get something and then they’re reliant on a third party. And I want you to talk about just really quick why that is of, it’s not really the best way to go. Why should they really focus on being able to manage it internally?
Noam: Sometimes it’s good to rely on third party. For example, you better have cloud services then manage it your own. But the core business – to think about the designer, the fashion industry in general, I think that the core business has to stay in house. So, the designs and the wholesale process, or the manufacturing, the way that they think about it, the way they present it and sell it. You don’t want to be relying different agencies or to wait for them to do anything.
Instead of doing it in in house- the tools and the technology that you bring in-house should allow you to do this internally, but in an easy way. We don’t want to also to start training people on complicated systems and do that. So many different SAAS solution that help you do that easily. And also learn from your colleague, your competitors, see what they’re doing, how they adopt new technology because it’s a race.
There are a lot of different technologies. When we talk 3D modeling beside regular platforms from Adobe and Autodesk – there are special companies that now care for apparel designers. Like we mentioned Clo3D, Optitex and Browzwear. But once you do it – and you got into this, you can’t go back – you realize the benefits and things that actually led you that you couldn’t do before. When you adopt them though, you think about onboarding, I would suggest to look for the right type of technology that you can at least do it adopt quickly or do it in stages so we can value you quickly know that the metrics is the KPIs that we’re looking for before you scale this. Make sure that they will allow you to grow quickly and scale a business quickly, even if you start small.
Chris: This would be a great platform if you are a new and up and coming designer. This would be an ideal platform to kind of build out your own virtual showroom if you don’t really have the funds for a true, you know physical showroom. To really show what your merchandise looks like. This is a great option because now you can have this digital footprint that’s global and people can experience your brand in this way. It’s a worthwhile investment if you were an up and coming designer, because we’ve talked about bigger brands, but what about those that are kind of starting into the industry?
I think that going 3D is the way to go. It is going to go up dramatically. So today we use 2D photography for the physical items that we consume. Well you know, the garments or the different accessories. In the near future we’re going to start using the digital assets on our, the digital, the virtual wards that we see. I think that it may be, it’s a, it’s a bold statement, but within, I don’t know, 15, 20 years, people will buy more virtual goods than real goods, like physical. So there would be so many designers will design you clothing for your avatar or for your, you know, virtual environment that you’re going to be. So you’re going to go both way, both for the physical way that the way that we currently walk and you’ll work for virtual, you know, goods and implementation will be open.
We see that AR and VR getting momentum. We need those 3D assets and designers. That’s a really good – going to learn how to or be an expert in 3D since there are a lot of different platforms – I think it’s a safe bet because we’ll see more and more companies adopting 3D for showing the assets in the new future of the virtual world.
Chris: I think you made a really great point there where you said we’ll start buying almost more clothes that are in 3d design for our avatars. And it’s funny you say that because I just read the most interesting article – where saying that a couple they met in 2008 or so at second life platform (VR platform with Avatars). These two people meet in this second life world. And find out that they are amazingly connected. He lives in Ohio; she lives in the UK. She goes to her husband in the UK, says, I’m not in love with you. I wanted a divorce. They got married virtually in this second life world and then they finally met like months later realize that they actually do get along and then they got married in real life. And in this Second life they even did a whole like virtual pregnancy. Like it was wild. So why I’m bringing this up – is because we clearly are in a state where if we’re creating lives like that, then it’s pretty fast coming that we’re going to be buying clothes for our avatar. Right?
Definitely. It’s for ourselves, for our avatars. So the way that I think that the world’s going to evolve – I look at my kids – they can spend time in a game and then earn some virtual coins and spend so much time, for example to buy a new virtual sword, they are looking for those virtual goods more than the physical goods. In the future, when we think about AR and the way that it’s going to develop, and when we walk with glasses in the streets, so suddenly people will look at a one in one to judge each other in a way that you can define, you know, what clothing you actually are wearing also virtually.
So, the virtual augmentation opens a whole new way of us wearing multiple clothing in parallel, in different locations, virtually, not virtually. And I think eventually we’ll see more and more people are buying virtual clothing because you can get very quick access to this. You get a best fit, you know you can design in an hour, maybe add your own flavor and design and then you can change it instantly.
I think it’s going to happen not just in the games but eventually it will go out to the street to our physical reality with augmentation of different objects and closing on top of us.
Chris: Really cool. So, this has been an awesome conversation to have with you today. I’ve enjoyed it so much. I think our listeners will have enjoyed it so much because it really is forces us to think about how technology is really going to start changing our industry and much faster than we anticipated due to this, this current of think that we’re all experiencing. So how do our listeners hear about what is happening at ByondXR in the future?
We have our website; we have a mailing list so anyone can join. We also have all the social channels, from Instagram, Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn so you can join one of those channels. We also post on YouTube from time to time some videos. And feel free to write and ask any question or raise any topic in might have. We’ll be happy to share, you know, more insights and information. And anyone can reach me on LinkedIn.
Chris: Fantastic. Thank you so much Noam for your time today. This was great. And we hope to have you back again for retail revolution.
Thank you so much. Stay safe. Be well.
Thank you for listening to this episode of retail revolution, a special thank you to everyone who has helped make this podcast possible. Our guests, our students and fellow faculty at Parsons school of design, especially in such an extraordinary and unprecedented time. Our theme music was composed by Spencer Powell. You will, and stay tuned for our next episode.