While its business goes back nearly 170 years, Levi Strauss & Co. is focusing on the future by investing in the latest technology concepts like AI and Web3.
The apparel brand is increasingly using digital tools to accelerate its growth, especially in its direct-to-consumer business. In 2021, DTC accounted for 36% of Levi’s revenue; it wants to bring this number up to 55%. Over the past few years, Levi’s has rolled out a variety of tools focused on bridging its online and in-person experience including curbside pick-up, appointment scheduling and buy-online-pick-up-in-store services. It’s also introduced an app and loyalty program and accelerated mobile contactless and payment devices in its stores, Marc Rosen, then-head of Levi’s Americas business, told Modern Retail in 2020.
This year, Levi’s added more sizing features to its website and app, including the “What’s My Size” algorithm and “See It In My Size” tool. And this past August, Levi’s rolled out its Business Optimizing Of Shipping and Transport (BOOST) tool, which uses data, AI and machine learning to track inventory, fulfill orders and consolidate shipments.
Even more changes are afoot at the company. On Tuesday, Levi’s announced that Kohl’s CEO Michelle Gass will take over as its president in January. She will succeed CEO Chip Bergh within the next 18 months, a press release said. Besides her work at Kohl’s, Gass previously oversaw Starbucks’ European, Middle East and Africa business.
In the spring, Levi’s brought on Amy Gershkoff Bolles as its new global head of digital and emerging technology strategy. Prior to joining Levi’s, Bolles served as the chief operating officer at Tradesy, chief data officer at Bitly, chief data officer at Ancestry.com and head of global data science at Ebay, among other positions. She also taught at the University of California Berkeley’s Haas School of Business and Princeton University and serves as an advisory board member at the online interior design firm Havenly.
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Bolles told Modern Retail her job at Levi’s involves “overseeing our digital and emerging technology strategy globally, as it relates to our business, our consumers and our employees.” A key part of this has been developing a system for evaluating what types of technological opportunities Levi’s should pursue, Bolles said. Under her leadership, Levi’s hosted its first-ever start-up pitch day in September, in partnership with Silicon Valley Bank. There, Levi’s met with executives from leading tech start-ups in cities such as Prague, London and Paris and evaluated which companies would be the best partners for technological innovation.
Bolles spoke to Modern Retail about her past six months in the job and her vision for Levi’s future. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Could you talk about some of your goals coming into this job? Starting from your first day, what did you want to accomplish?
I’ve really been focused a lot over the last several months on creating our emerging technology framework… that focuses on how to collaboratively evaluate investment innovation opportunities, in both the Web3 space and the industrial 4.0 space.
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Web3 is really blurring the boundary between the digital world and the physical world as we know it today. [There are] tons of really exciting opportunities in everything ranging from decentralized web content to Blockchain-enabled applications and so much more. So there’s this huge amount of opportunity in the Web3 space.
And then on the industrial 4.0 side, there’s this amazing set of technology-enabled opportunities around design, manufacturing, supply chain, including operations and production… So, we’ve spent time developing this emerging technology framework to allow us a very disciplined way to evaluate all of the vast, rapidly changing, ever-expanding set of opportunities in this space.
Where is Levi’s right now, in terms of Web3 and industrial 4.0?
We as a company continue to always be continuously innovating. And so we’ve been focused on a framework for evaluating opportunities in this space… We’ve been particularly interested in elements of the customer journey where we’ve identified opportunities to enhance the experience for the customer.
As you know, today, the way customers shop is very interactive, from discovering the latest trends and products, all the way to finding the right size and fit that works for them. And so we’re really looking end-to-end at the entire customer experience, and looking for ways that digital and emerging technology can help enhance and improve the experience for the customer in a way that also drives enterprise value for us as a business.
What have you learned over this period while you’re building out this framework?
The best practice from the industry is that the best innovation strategies are really tightly coupled with your company’s strategy overall. Everything we’re doing with this emerging technology framework and with innovation is really designed to drive forward our three strategic pillars and priorities as an organization overall, which are: being brand-led, direct-to-consumer first and diversifying our portfolio in terms of geographies and channels and so on. Really, what we’ve done is position this… as a way to leverage digital and emerging technology to really accelerate our priorities strategically for the organization overall.
…Another best practice from the industry is to focus first on how you make decisions and to create a very disciplined framework for aligning stakeholders across the organization around these decisions. And then you can use that… to determine what to prioritize, what to deprioritize.
Our framework is really grounded in our company DNA and our corporate values. We’ve made sure that all the framework includes sound financial analysis, a lot of very consumer-centric insights. And it’s designed to be scalable and repeatable, so that as this whole landscape continues to evolve, we’re able to continue to apply this very disciplined… approach to evaluating all of these rapidly-expanding sets of opportunities.
What sort of factors do you consider when deciding whether to pursue a project?
We’re focused on — among others — the strength of alignment with our brand and our company DNA and our company values. That’s very important to us. We look at the strength of alignment with our overall strategy as a business. We look at financial analysis, of course, and ensuring we will generate enterprise value for the company. And then, most importantly, we look at the positive impact this will have on the consumer experience.