Stab at the Future – Vincent Ramsay-Lemelin

Executive Creative Director Vincent Ramsay-Lemelin is no stranger to commerce. He’s spearheaded some of our biggest accounts for 15 years, and he and his team have more than one award to show for it. That’s why we’ve asked him to take an educated guess on the next few years of retail.

These days, stabbing at the future feels more like throwing the proverbial knife a few inches in front of our feet rather than into the distant unknown. Time moves fast, and the future of tech and commerce are constantly upon us. When we first spoke with Executive Creative Director Vincent Ramsay-Lemelin last week, for example, Facebook was still…Facebook.

Still, Vincent manages to take on the increasingly herculean task of guessing what the next few years will look like in style. In our first conversation, he highlighted the dissolving lines between commerce and e-commerce as each becomes more like the other. One of the key things about business, he explained, is that it will constantly look for ways to evolve and grow. Traditionally, this has meant that brick-and-mortar businesses have adapted their online presence to strengthen their brands. But now we’re seeing businesses that began online (like Warby Parker) starting to open storefronts where they can show off their glasses in person even if they’re not truly for sale in store. So, the shift is happening from both ends.

We thought Vincent’s take on the future of commerce was fascinating, and we wanted to know more. Here’s how he envisions the future of online retail, e-commerce models, and the metaverse.
When it comes to commerce merging with e-commerce, there are obviously plenty of opportunities for businesses. What about the potential pitfalls?

Either way, there are risks for businesses that do not acknowledge this new reality. So, on one hand, you have people that are just ignoring that digital is here and are still investing in old models that they believe will return simply because they worked for them for 50 or 100 years. On the other end of the spectrum, with brands that are entirely online, there’s always the danger that they will lack character and soul, that products will be offered without developing a voice or brand integrity. That’s an important role that a website, for example, can play. It’s easy to just buy a pre-made site from Wix or Squarespace, but customers can tell. They want to see established brands.

For a growing number of people, convenience is not necessarily the main priority; they want to use their money to support local businesses that align with their ethics even if the products are more expensive. Considering this, do you think businesses should leave hyper-convenience models to giants like Amazon?

Right now, Amazon is leading the convenience business because it has invested heavily in last-mile delivery. Just yesterday I cancelled an order, then they re-sent the package, and it's already here. That’s pretty crazy.

That said, convenience is about more than just delivery time. I don’t have the perfect answer; every business is different and requires a different approach. But I know that if a brand wants to play on the convenience model, it needs to be closer to its customers and be a lot more personalized. That means truly knowing people. Amazon may know where you live and what you tend to buy, but I doubt anyone believes that Amazon knows them.

Let’s say you want to launch a local dry-cleaning business. To build convenience, you could start by learning your customers’ names, then what time they tend to come in to pick up their laundry or any other preferences they may have. All of these things matter to people and are a sort of convenience, making their days easier and more pleasant. You don’t even need to be local to forge this sort of relationship. Let’s say you order pants from a small company in Europe, and they send you a message afterwards asking if you liked the pants. Imagine being able to say, yes, I like the fabric, but I would like two pockets in the back, and they reply, sure, next time. That’s convenient.

It’s the proximity you create with your customers that truly matters, and it doesn’t have to be geographic proximity. We see lots of brands investing in this type of model. A good example is the cycling gear company Rapha. Everyone that follows Rapha feels like they’re part of the Rapha ecosystem—they all want to ride in the same places and have the same interests. You know if you interact with Rapha’s customer service the person on the other end of the line will also be a cyclist who shares your interests. In our research for a global client, we found that 20 years ago the music people liked in New York City was very different from what people liked in LA or Spain. Today, people share similar interests all over the world—Montreal, Tokyo, it doesn’t matter. Your brand doesn’t have to be constrained to what’s local; you can build proximity and convenience with your customers anywhere through interest.

Let’s talk Facebook. You’ve mentioned that it has massive potential to be the next leader in shoppable content. Do you think there’s enough public trust for it to make this transition? And if so, what will this look like?

I think in the past few years Facebook has not seen the opportunities that have come along. Its reach in terms of usability is huge, so if it plays its cards right I do believe it could be a leader in shoppable content. But trust is an issue.

To build back trust I think Facebook needs to let up on the reins a bit and offer more of a marketplace for brands. Then brands—huge players like Nike or Apple—could establish themselves in that ecosystem and build flagships. They’d bring their own reputations and trust, shifting the focus away from the platform. When Nike joined Amazon it helped tremendously, because everyone thought, “Well, if Nike is jumping on, maybe I can trust Amazon for other products.” The same thing could happen for Facebook. It has all the puzzle pieces: the technology, the base, etc. so it’s just a matter of whether it can put the puzzle together.

The announcement of Meta is a significant step in this direction. It shows that Facebook is committed to rebranding and re-imagining what might be possible on the platform and what it means for commerce. We’ll just have to see what’s to come.