Innovation and Partnerships Go Hand in Hand

memory mirror

If you want to sustain a creative and productive innovation pipeline, you must have great partners. In some cases, you will be dealing with mature organizations that have established business processes and workflows for partnerships.

However, I have found that frequently, you find yourself working with new companies that have genius ideas but are still building their internal organizations and developing their business plans. I love it when I encounter the latter as it is often an opportunity to build a strong relationship with the partner.

This is the perfect time to offer mentorship that not only helps mold the relationship into a productive one, but also helps to guide your partner’s young organization toward overall success. The end result is a win for everyone involved! The Neiman Marcus iLab’s relationship with Memomi falls into this category. Memomi’s Memory Mirror lets you see yourself in back and side views of a particular outfit, change the color of your clothing, share style sessions, and more — all with simple body gestures.

I sat down with Memomi’s founder and CEO, Salvador Nissi Vilcovsky, to discuss the Memory Mirror project and partnership with Neiman Marcus:

How did you come up with the idea for the Memory Mirror?

A decade ago when I was living in Milan, I worked on a project about transforming the shopping experience. I was looking for the right idea that would combine technology and interaction design. The vision of the Memory Mirror came to me in a “eureka moment” during that time.

How did you get connected with Neiman Marcus?

We had just finalized our first prototype and we were working with Gensler Architecture. They invited us to set up and test our prototypes in two locations: Washington, D.C. and New York. One of the principals at the New York office, Kathleen Jordan, introduced me to Karen Katz and Ignaz Gorischek of Neiman Marcus. They loved the Memory Mirror idea and I was introduced to Neiman Marcus Innovation Lab, which started to refine the idea and work with us on the project.

The Memory Mirror has received a lot of coverage in the press and created a lot of buzz in the retail industry. Why do you think it has captured so much attention?

Mirrors have been the same for thousands of years. The quality of the reflection may have improved but the basic functionality and user experience of the traditional mirror had not evolved. Previous attempts to create new experiences with mirrors were not convincing or engaging and did not stray far from the original experience. The combination of our technology and software creates a very similar experience to what we used to have on a regular mirror, but since it is a digital mirror, we can now deliver the memory functionality as well as a lot of other experiences to the user. When I originally had my idea, some of the necessary technologies for this fusion were not there yet, but I was patient and recognized when technology had caught up with my vision.

You work very closely with the Neiman Marcus iLab; can you describe how this relationship works?

Scott Emmons, the head of iLab, is a great partner: he really understands that innovation is something that you craft and create together with your partner. It is about making new experiences, breaking boundaries, being the first, and daring to take a chance. During our journey, Scott and his team worked with us very closely and helped us to refine the experience and the solution. We have a very close relationship.

You now have 38 mirrors deployed in Neiman Marcus stores. What were the challenges in delivering this rollout? Were there any unexpected learnings?

We started with just five mirrors in three stores. We used this proof of concept (POC) to find out what worked and what did not. We needed to see what delighted customers and where we could make improvements. We constantly released improved versions of the software. We had great cooperation from the store management and associates, who all provided us with constant feedback. This allowed us to improve and finalize our product. The improvements made in the POC led the way to the largest deployment in history for this kind of innovation. When the decision was made to expand the mirror deployment, we set a pretty strict and demanding timeline to deploy the 33 mirrors across the U.S. — and we actually made it in around 45 days.

How have the mirrors been received by Neiman Marcus Customers?

People love the mirrors. It is fun to watch how excited they get as they discover the features. Now that we have them in more locations, we will bring to life more capabilities that will deliver even more excitement.

Do you have any advice for entrepreneurs that want to deliver innovative technology solutions for retail?

Pick your early partners carefully — don’t be tempted just by big deals or working with big names if it doesn’t makes sense. In retail, having the sales associates on board is also very important for success!

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Scott Emmons is Head of the Innovation Lab and Enterprise Architect at Neiman Marcus, where he is focused on IS innovation for the Neiman Marcus Group (NMG). He built the NMG innovation lab (iLab) and(...)

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