Unibail-Rodamco-Westfield has been working for almost a year with blisce/ to review and invest in the most promising direct-to-consumer startups in media and retail, that change the way people consume. In partnership with blisce/, Unibail-Rodamco-Westfield hosted a discussion to dive deeper into innovation in retail, how technology is changing consumption habits and the future of consumption, as well as purposeful leadership.
Held on November 20th, an exceptional conference gathered outstanding speakers to discuss the future of retail:Christophe Cuvillier, CEO of Unibail-Rodamco-Westfield, sat down with Alexandre Mars, founder of the VC fund blisce/and philanthropist who founded the Epic Foundation, for the first part of the conference. Their intervention was followed by a roundtable discussion on digital brands & media gathering start-up founders that blisce/ and the Group work with:
- CandidCo: DNVB revolutionizing dental care, with Nick Greenfield
- Brut: a leading media company engaging millennials, with Guillaume Lacroix
- Dice: the Netflix of live events, with Phil Hutcheon
- AdoreMe: U.S. fast growing lingerie DNVB, with Romain Liot
Physical retail is not dead: the future of retail will be omnichannel
Among the messages shared during the discussions, it was clear that of course, consumer habits are changing. Consumers are turning to more ethical choices, the boundary between online and offline retail has become blurred and technologies are accelerating change. In that regard, this partnership helps both partners anticipate and understand trends and spot the retail concepts of tomorrow.
Among the other messages conveyed, the complementarity of physical and digital retail was underlined. Although digital retail has an increasing influence on the way people consume, it does not make physical retail less relevant. Actually, many digital-native retailers, such as AdoreMe or CandidCo for instance, now turn to physical locations as it produces a halo effect around their brands. So the digital space and the physical world can complement and enrich each other by providing consumers with a more omnichannel experience. And that is what Dice, for instance, is doing: they are offering a seamless journey between the digital and physical world by helping consumers attend live events more easily thanks to their digital booking service. In another field, for CandidCo, that now has 24 physical locations for dental care, 95% of the demand they are driving into their stores is being driven online.
Unibail-Rodamco-Westfield and blisce/ share this common ambition to create the future of retail by linking start-ups with the physical world and offering them a platform through the Group’s shopping destinations. To do so, blisce/ is dedicated to identifying and sourcing promising direct-to-consumer online-born start-ups, while Unibail-Rodamco-Westfield can leverage its 1.2bn annual visitors to help start-ups enter and grow in the physical world. For instance, the Group has opened a first CandidCo store in the Group’s portfolio in the U.S. in Westfield Valley Fair in the U.S. since the partnership started.
In turn, the start-ups contribute to transforming shopping destinations by offering unique and immersive experiences to customers. For instance, AdoreMe is rethinking and renewing the physical experience in its lingerie stores in U.S. shopping centres, by giving more space to fitting rooms in the store to allow more digital experiences (a digital body scan to choose the right size of underwear, digital points to purchase the chosen items…). Brut, as a media company broadcasting information, is focusing on building a trust- and interaction-based relationship with its audience.
Thanks to the numerous partnerships with start-ups initiated by URW Link since 2015, the Group has become more agile in scaling innovation and aligning the start-ups objectives with the Group’s. This has led to great results: 50+ tests led since 2016, one third of which have scaled throughout the Group.
We have already invested [in three start-ups], and we are preparing a fourth investment with blisce/. For each of these investments, we have an investment committee that makes recommendations to the senior management team of whether we [should] go or not. It’s been very interesting because we are directly thinking of: “how can this become operational in our properties in the U.S. and in Europe?”Christophe Cuvillier
The purpose of business beyond profit: combining profitability and sustainability
Another important topic was tackled during the discussion: doing good beyond making business.
We back entrepreneurs who are really building mission-driven brands. All the entrepreneurs are trying to do something different. The world has changed (…) Profit is not enough. At Epic, we are trying to make people understand that sharing is everything. (..) It will be impossible to retain the best talents and to sell our products if we do not do this. (…) 87% of the Millennials do not see success only as a financial performance. They want something different, so it’s something we need to find.Alexandre Mars
Sustainability is obviously a central matter for the start-ups as Millennial consumers are more and more demanding:
At every generation, everybody is a bit more conscious. The new generations are more and more advocating for that and we need to adapt (…) to the customers, to [the] teams and it’s much more radical than what we think.Romain Liot
We’ve been raising awareness on issues for three years. Everybody knows [about] climate emergency, Brut should not be only raising awareness, Brut should have an impact. We’re going to launch a subscription model that promotes impact. We’re going to help, to decide with our community what to cover, to link NGOs to those topics, to cover editorially what the NGOs’ impact [is] to create virtual circles to have impact.Guillaume Lacroix
As mentioned by Christophe Cuvillier, Unibail-Rodamco-Westfield pays close attention to these questions as well and leads many actions in this direction: as a global leader, the Group seeks to bring the most sustainable partners to the shopping centres and also to lead by example.
Therefore, Unibail-Rodamco-Westfield is fighting to bring the most sustainable brands to its shopping destinations as shown by Pyramid. (which showcases 20 eco-sustainable digital brands in Le Carrousel du Louvre), or by successful partnership with Too Good To Go or the Red Cross (that are granted pop-up stores to collect clothes for reusing or reselling). And the Group also aims to empower employees and partners to do good: for instance, every year all employees participate in Community Days where they get involved in social actions in favour of local communities.
These types of concrete actions are crucial, because only through collective action can things change. And that is why this partnership is so important for Unibail-Rodamco-Westfield and blisce/: uniting their strengths will create synergies to generate not only profit, but also a social and sustainable impact.