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 Dr. Amy Bolles, Global Head of Digital & Emerging Tech Strategy at Levi Strauss & Co.

In this episode, guest host Michelle Evans sits down with Levi Strauss & Co.’s new Global Head of Digital & Emerging Technology Strategy, Dr. Amy Gershkoff Bolles.

During their conversation, Dr. Amy and Michelle discuss retail tech innovation and the technologies that have proven themselves the most effective in scaling in today’s hyper-competitive market. Dr. Amy also shares some noteworthy examples of Levi’s recent digital transformation initiatives as well as her thoughts on Web3 and how can retailers leverage it in their customer journey

About the guest: A little more than six months into the job, Dr. Bolles has already played a critical role in refining Levi’s approach to the digital economy and in shaping how emerging technologies can enhance customer experience around the globe.

Prior to joining Levi Strauss, She has held positions as Founder, CEO and COO of several technology start-ups and sat on the boards of numerous tech companies.

About the host: Michelle Evans is the Global Lead of Retail and Digital Consumer Insights at Euromonitor International and one of RETHINK Retail’s top retail influencers.

If you enjoyed this episode, please let us know by subscribing to our channel and giving us a 5 star rating us on Spotify and Apple Podcasts.

Post Transcript

Michelle Evans:
Hello and welcome to another episode of the RETHINK Retail Podcast. I’m Michelle Evans, your guest host for today. I’m the Global Lead of Retail and Digital and Consumer Insights at Euromonitor International and one of RETHINK Retail’s Top Retail Influencers. Today I have the pleasure speaking with my guest, Dr. Amy Gershkoff Bolles. Dr. Bolles is the Global Head of Digital & Emerging Technology Strategy at Levi Strauss & Co. A little more than six months into the job, she’s already played a critical role in refining Levi’s approach to the digital economy and in shaping how emerging technologies can enhance customer experience around the globe. Prior to joining, she had held positions as founder, CEO, and COO of several tech startups and sat on the boards of tech companies as well. Welcome to the show.

Dr. Amy Bolles:
Thank you so much, Michelle, and thank you to RETHINK Retail for having me here.

Michelle Evans:
Wonderful. Can you share a bit about your professional journey and what brought you to Levi Strauss? Did your career take any unexpected turns? I saw in the past that you’ve been in advertising, politics and academia, so I’m assuming that maybe there was a unique journey for you.

Dr. Amy Bolles:
It’s a great question. So prior to joining Levi Strauss and Company, I’ve had a number of roles at high growth, venture capital and private equity back companies. As you had mentioned in my introduction, I’ve been a founder, a CEO, a COO. I’ve also been a general manager or chief data officer. So I’ve had both technical and operational roles in a number of high growth companies, but I’ve also had C level and executive roles at larger public companies as well and I currently serve as a public company board director. And previously I’ve also taught at UC Berkeley’s High School of Business, as well as at Princeton University. So I’ve had some background in academia as well. And I think what sort of ties all of my experiences together is really a couple of things. One is that I’m really excited about technology and about the opportunity for technology to impact the consumer experience.

I think technology in and of itself is obviously exciting, especially in the age we’re living in today, where there’s so much innovation taking place all over the globe. But I’m really excited about harnessing the power of that technology to improve consumer experiences in lots of different ways and I’ve applied that in the different industries that I’ve been a part of. And I think the other thread that sort of ties my journey together, a bit unconventional career journey together is that I really enjoyed mentoring up and coming leaders in the field. Whether that was as a professor when I was in academia, having the opportunity to mentor the amazing students that I had at UC Berkeley, and at Princeton University. Or whether that as a leader in the corporate space where I’ve had the opportunity to mentor and guide up and coming leaders in the field here.

And I’ve taken great joy in seeing some of my mentees go on to really exciting roles in senior leadership positions and some really prestigious organizations. And so I’ve really enjoyed the opportunity to have, in at least a small way, a positive impact on people’s career journeys as they continue on their own journey in this space.

Michelle Evans:
That sounds like a wonderful and robust experience that you bring coming into Levi’s. Tell us a little bit about your current role. I gave a bit of an introduction, but it’d be good to hear it from your perspective.

Dr. Amy Bolles:
So at Levi Strauss and Company, I’m responsible for our global digital and emerging technology strategy as it relates to our business, our consumers, and also our employees. So that also includes all of our digital up scaling programs as well. And as a kind of first step when I arrived in terms of where to start in this very exciting vast space, we started by thinking about what the best framework would be for making decisions about where and how to innovate in this huge space. Obviously, the world of digital and emerging technologies, when you look at Web 3.0 opportunities, industrial 4.0 opportunities for a retailer, an iconic brand, and a retailer like Levi’s, there’s so much opportunity. And so a best practice from the industry, if you’re looking for where to start, is to start with a framework for determining how you will make decisions about where to innovate, and then apply that framework to actually making decisions about where to invest, what innovation initiatives to prioritize and what to deprioritize.

And so if you start with how, that enables you to gain alignment with key stakeholders across the organization and to develop a really disciplined approach to innovation. So we started by building an emerging technology framework for evaluating all of the opportunity in this space. And in that framework, we created a scorecard for how to evaluate these opportunities. Looking at factors such as the strength of the alignment between any innovation initiative, the strength of the alignment with our overall corporate strategy. We looked at for any innovation initiative, the strength of alignment with our brand and our company values. That’s very important to any organization, but especially values led company such as Levi Strauss.

We also, of course, conducted robust financial analysis as we evaluated innovation opportunities, and most importantly, we looked at innovation opportunities at how they could best deliver a positive impact for the consumer. It’s so important in today’s environment to be consumer first. So we were really looking at a number of factors, but most importantly, those four. And so we have been able to use this framework to evaluate all of the vast opportunities in this digital and emerging technology space as it relates to what’s important to us at Levi’s specifically.

Michelle Evans:
So in your role, you’re definitely rolling out new technologies, new initiatives and such. And I’d be curious, it seems to tie to your entrepreneurial past. Are there lessons that you’re pulling from those previous experiences into this role?

Dr. Amy Bolles:
Yes, absolutely. I think probably one of the most important lessons from my previous experiences that we’re definitely applying at Levi Strauss and Company is the importance of simultaneously ensuring that you’re testing and learning, while also always building for scale. Scale is what delivers value to both consumers and to the business overall. And so it’s critically important with any initiative, while you may be conducting a small test as you’re getting started. That you always have the north star in mind to be building for scale so that you can ensure any initiative is going deliver value for both your business and your consumers. But at the same time, a very agile test and learn approach is absolutely critical in today’s environment. If you look at, for example, the Web 3.0 space, the industrial 4.0 space, these are vast, vast spaces with a ton of opportunity and there are new innovations happening.

Ton of opportunity and there are new innovations happening every day. And so it’s very important to have a test and learn agile, nimble approach in order to be able to quickly evaluate any new innovation as it comes on the horizon and determine whether it’s right for your organization. And that’s why I have in my role at Levi’s, we started with what the right framework is to evaluate these investment decisions in the space so that it would enable us to move quickly to test and learn while also simultaneously building for scale. It’s also really important in today’s environment to have a consumer-centric mindset. Today’s consumers have so much opportunity in terms of where and how they shop that for any retailer, maintaining a customer-centric approach is absolutely critical to any initiative that you might undertake. And so we at Levi’s have always put our fans at the center of any initiative that we’re evaluating and making sure that positive impact on the customer is one of the most important, if not the most important criteria that we look at when we’re evaluating any opportunity in this space.

Michelle Evans:
Excellent. Well, emerging technology is literally in your title, so I have to ask you what emerging technology that you’re most excited about? I’ve heard you mention Web 3.0 a few times, so perhaps that’s it, but what tech do you feel like is really proven itself as being effective in scaling in today’s hyper competitive market?

Dr. Amy Bolles:
Yeah, I think in today’s hyper competitive market there’s some really interesting opportunities in both Web 3.0 as well as in Industrial 4.0. So on the Web 3.0 side, of course that’s a vast space in and of itself. It includes everything from decentralized web content to blockchain enabled applications. It’s a really vast, vast space with a ton of opportunity. And so the approach we’ve taken at Levi Strauss has been to apply this emerging technology framework to, as we’re evaluating the opportunities in this space, to look at, as I had mentioned, the value that any Web three opportunity can create in terms of improving the customer experience, sound financial analysis, ensuring it’s going to add enterprise value for our organization, and ensuring strength of alignment with our brand, our corporate values, as well as residents with our overall strategy. And as we’ve applied that framework in the Web 3.0 space, I’ve been particularly excited about some of the opportunities to enhance the customer experience.

So if you think today about helping our Levi’s biggest fans connect with our products and with our brands, there’s a number of exciting Web 3.0 based opportunities to enhance the customer journey. All the way from discovering new trends and new products that are exciting in the marketplace and thinking about what you might want to buy all the way through to finding the right size and fit that looks great on you, all the way through to that purchase experience, which is hopefully terrific yielding you perhaps a great pair of jeans, we hope that looks fabulous on you. And at every stage of that journey, there are opportunities for Web 3.0 technologies to enhance that experience. And there are a lot of really exciting startups in this space that have really interesting and exciting technologies that can help enhance every part of that customer journey. So we’re really excited about some of the opportunity there.

And then on the Industrial 4.0 side, of course, Industrial 4.0 is another huge space with tons of opportunity, and that includes everything from design, manufacturing, supply chain, including operations and production. And in today’s environment, there’s obviously a ton of opportunity there as well. So we’ve been very excited about, again, applying that very disciplined approach and our emerging technology framework to evaluating opportunities in that space as well.

And as we look at all of these different opportunities sort of across Web 3.0 and Industrial 4.0, we’ve been particularly also excited about the opportunity to partner with Silicon Valley Bank. We hosted our first ever startup pitch day with Silicon Valley Bank in September. We brought in a number of very exciting cutting edge startups to talk to us about Web 3.0 solutions that could enhance the customer experience. We had startups from all over the globe from Buenos Aires and Prague, and London, and Paris, and Tel Aviv, and all over the US and a number of other cities as well. So we had truly global representation of the latest cutting edge emerging technology, and we were able to have a great discussion with these carefully selected startups about how they could help enhance the customer experience for Levi’s fans as they’re trying to discover the best pair of jeans or best t-shirt to buy. So it was a really exciting opportunity to think about how strategic external partnerships can complement some of our internal innovation efforts as well to help accelerate our digital transformation globally.

Michelle Evans:
That’s interesting. I was going to ask about that sort of balance between bringing in external versus what you’re doing in house. Out of curiosity, obviously Web 3.0 and Industrial 4.0, we’re still fairly early days in those conversations. Would you view, obviously Levi’s is definitely newly exploring a lot of this. Are there examples of where you’re actively deploying at this point, elements of this?

Dr. Amy Bolles:
Yeah, it’s a great question. And the approach that we took when I came in was really to kind of start with that framework and start with that very disciplined approach to how we’re going to evaluate opportunities in this space. Again, drawing from that best practices playbook from the industry of thinking first about the how and then applying it to the what. And so that’s the approach that we’ve taken.

And so now that we’ve established a framework with strong cross-functional alignment from across the key areas of our business, and we’ve started to engage in some strategic partnerships externally, like the one with Silicon Valley Bank that I mentioned, as well as accelerating efforts internally, we’re now I think really able to, in a very rapid and agile way, be able to evaluate quickly in an ongoing fashion, any new technology, application innovation as it comes onto the horizon, be able to evaluate what does that mean for Levi specifically. And how or if we want to engage with that technology as part of accelerating our digital transformation and as part of accelerating our overall corporate strategy. So we’re just in the early days of having begun this journey of leveraging this framework we’ve developed and applying it to the landscape, but we’re very excited about the results we’re starting to see from this very disciplined approach because it’s enabled us to really identify, for example…

Because it’s enabled us to really identify, for example, places in the customer journey where we think there’s real opportunity to optimize the experience for the customer, and so on. And that’s been by applying the framework in this very disciplined approach. So we’re very excited about what’s coming down the pike.

Michelle Evans:
Wonderful. It sounds like exciting times ahead. If we think wider with your digital transformation, beyond the Web 3.0 as we were talking about, can you share any examples of recent deployments of where your digital initiatives have come to life? I suppose some of this may have predated you coming into Levi, but just curious as a consumer where someone like me might have experienced the new elements that you’re bringing on board.

Dr. Amy Bolles:
Yeah. Well as we look at our digital transformation efforts holistically, our digital transformation is meant to accelerate our three strategic pillars as a company overall, which are to be brand led, direct to consumer first, and diversification by geography, by channel, and by category as well. And a best practice of course for any innovation strategy is that it’s meant to accelerate your overall corporate strategy, and in the best way possible. And so we’ve kind of taken a page out of that industry best practice playbook, if you will.

And so what we’ve been able to do is then leverage data AI digitization to accelerate digital transformation across a number of aspects of our business, including internally to support process automation, and efficiency gains for processes internally, which then free up our talented team members to be able to focus on more creative, more innovative aspects of their jobs, because we’ve been able to automate some of the other aspects of what they were doing. And then we’ve also looked externally at ways that data and AI, as well as digitization, can support commerce and deeper connections with consumers, whether that’s more accurate predictions for our assortment, optimization of our pricing, our promotions, things of that nature, as well as creating a more personalized and tailored experience for customers overall, especially for our Red Tab loyalty program members that have signed up for the loyalty program, as well as folks who are using our app, and our fans in general. We are always aiming to create the most fun and memorable shopping experience that we possibly can.

Michelle Evans:
Where do you see data playing the most critical role in these initiatives? Is it around personalization efforts or other elements?

Dr. Amy Bolles:
Yeah, so what’s exciting is that data has the opportunity to really accelerate all of our digital transformation efforts, and to really play really a role across the board. So I’ll give you a recent example, is if you look at our stores in Milan and Rome, both of course major cities in Italy, not that far apart. Slightly different weather. Milan, a few degrees temperature difference from Rome. But it turns out we’ve been able to use data not only on weather, but also traffic and demographics and a number of other variables to make predictions using AI about what the clothes are that will be most exciting to our fans in Milan as compared to Rome. And through this analysis we discovered that consumers in Milan were more likely to appreciate some of the darker washes on our denim, as well as by more outerwear, even though, again, not that big of a temperature difference between Milan and Rome, whereas our fans in Rome were more interested in lighter washes, and you could sell women’s skirts a little bit longer into the season in Rome. And because some of the demographics in some of the stores there were a little bit younger, we would sell more T-shirts, and some of those type priced items.

And so it’s been really interesting to see how that’s just one example of how using data AI digitization you can actually create a different and better experience for the customer, helping connect our fans with more of the products they love, all just by leveraging the latest technology data and AI to drive those experiences.

Michelle Evans:
That’s a fascinating story. I love it. I think I’m going to keep that one around. It shows the value of data to really tell a story and help you make better decisions. For sure.

Obviously in your role you’re looking at all these new technologies that are out there, and I’m sure in some ways it’s mind blowing to think about where we’re at today versus 10 years ago, but also there’s the just the broader shift going on in retail, and I suppose retail tech is a sub-component of that. I’d be curious, what are the big trends that are front and center for you as you think about the overall digital strategy in context to the broader retail environment?

Dr. Amy Bolles:
Yeah, it’s such a great question because you’re right, the landscape is shifting so rapidly right now. Really, I sort of see two big trends that I think are really interesting and impactful for both businesses and consumers. The first is that all consumers today, but especially Gen Z consumers, are shopping in a much more interactive way. All the way from discovering the latest trends and products, to finding the right size and fit, to hopefully purchasing a great product and receiving it and trying it on. The whole process for consumers today is just much more interactive. And they’re looking for retailers to provide them opportunities to be able to interact along the way in all parts of that journey. And what’s exciting is there are a lot of really exciting technology companies that are building solutions to enhance every part of that journey and make it more interactive and more fun and personalized and memorable, which ultimately helps connect more of our fans with our products. So we love that.

Michelle Evans:
Do you think it goes as far as them almost becoming like a co-creator?

Dr. Amy Bolles:
I think there’s opportunities all along the way in this journey. We’re still kind of exploring all of the different ways that we could leverage digital and technology along the way in that journey, and that’s why developing framework was so important.

The line between the physical and digital worlds has been effectively totally erased at this point. And that’s been accelerated by the rise of Web 3.0. But all consumers today, and again especially younger consumers, they’re looking for a shopping experience that blends the physical and the digital worlds, and it does that in a really fun and memorable way. So for example, consumers today, especially younger consumers, they’re looking for ways to find the latest fashion trends and to leverage digital and technology to find, and uncover, and surface the latest fashion trends. Which they can then go into one of our physical stores to buy, or they could buy online. So that’s an example of blending that physical digital experience. Another example could be you’re standing in one of our stores and you want to be able to see the full assortment of every type of aspect of one of our product lines.

And in any store, we might only have a subset of all the available merchandise in a particular line. And so, in store you’re able to go online and see that actually there’s a whole bunch of additional customizations of that particular garment that might be available online. And so, that’s another example of you’re in the physical store but you’re leveraging a digital experience. Or when it comes to size and fit, there’s now a number of different technology solutions that can help you figure out how a pair of jeans will look on you specifically and help you in terms of being able to identify that best size and fit. And so, I think our job in retail is to help create this very fun, memorable, interactive shopping experience that’s bringing together the very, very best of the physical world and the very best of the digital world into one combined seamless exciting shopping experience that our fans and our consumers will love.

Michelle Evans:
And you mentioned in that, that certainly younger consumers, the ones that just grew up with the internet are going to have some degree of different and higher expectations. Just out of curiosity, do you see that variants, you’re in a global role, do you see it vary across the world? And do you adjust what you roll out? Do you roll out more sophisticated solutions in one market versus another, or are you to that stage yet?

Dr. Amy Bolles:
Yeah. As we look to roll out any new shopping experience, we’re always striving to make our shopping experiences as memorable and personalized as we can for any of our consumers. And so even if you look, we are a global company, even if you look within a single market, or a single country, or even city, all consumers are different in terms of what’s going to best resonate with them. What’s the size and fit that’s going to look and feel best to them? What’s the interactive shopping experience that will be the most fun and memorable for them? And it’s different for every consumer all over the world. And so we’ve really tried to take the approach of creating a personalized and memorable shopping experience that really feels personal to each individual consumer all around the globe. And we’re especially able to tailor those kinds of experiences for folks that are a member of our red tab loyalty program, because that enables us to be able to tailor the rewards and the experience that they have on the basis of their shopping preferences.

Michelle Evans:
Wonderful. Well, thank you so much for joining me today. Such a great conversation. I wish we had more time, because I feel like there’s so much to unpack here. But I do appreciate your time, and the insights you shared.

Dr. Amy Bolles:
Thank you so much Michelle. And thank you as well to the RETHINK Retail Podcast.

Michelle Evans:
Hello and welcome to another episode of the RETHINK Retail Podcast. I’m Michelle Evans, your guest host for today. I’m the Global Lead of Retail and Digital and Consumer Insights at Euromonitor International and one of RETHINK Retail’s Top Retail Influencers. Today I have the pleasure speaking with my guest, Dr. Amy Gershkoff Bolles. Dr. Bolles is the Global Head of Digital & Emerging Technology Strategy at Levi Strauss & Co. A little more than six months into the job, she’s already played a critical role in refining Levi’s approach to the digital economy and in shaping how emerging technologies can enhance customer experience around the globe. Prior to joining, she had held positions as founder, CEO, and COO of several tech startups and sat on the boards of tech companies as well. Welcome to the show.

Dr. Amy Bolles:
Thank you so much, Michelle, and thank you to RETHINK Retail for having me here.

Michelle Evans:
Wonderful. Can you share a bit about your professional journey and what brought you to Levi Strauss? Did your career take any unexpected turns? I saw in the past that you’ve been in advertising, politics and academia, so I’m assuming that maybe there was a unique journey for you.

Dr. Amy Bolles:
It’s a great question. So prior to joining Levi Strauss and Company, I’ve had a number of roles at high growth, venture capital and private equity back companies. As you had mentioned in my introduction, I’ve been a founder, a CEO, a COO. I’ve also been a general manager or chief data officer. So I’ve had both technical and operational roles in a number of high growth companies, but I’ve also had C level and executive roles at larger public companies as well and I currently serve as a public company board director. And previously I’ve also taught at UC Berkeley’s High School of Business, as well as at Princeton University. So I’ve had some background in academia as well. And I think what sort of ties all of my experiences together is really a couple of things. One is that I’m really excited about technology and about the opportunity for technology to impact the consumer experience.

I think technology in and of itself is obviously exciting, especially in the age we’re living in today, where there’s so much innovation taking place all over the globe. But I’m really excited about harnessing the power of that technology to improve consumer experiences in lots of different ways and I’ve applied that in the different industries that I’ve been a part of. And I think the other thread that sort of ties my journey together, a bit unconventional career journey together is that I really enjoyed mentoring up and coming leaders in the field. Whether that was as a professor when I was in academia, having the opportunity to mentor the amazing students that I had at UC Berkeley, and at Princeton University. Or whether that as a leader in the corporate space where I’ve had the opportunity to mentor and guide up and coming leaders in the field here.

And I’ve taken great joy in seeing some of my mentees go on to really exciting roles in senior leadership positions and some really prestigious organizations. And so I’ve really enjoyed the opportunity to have, in at least a small way, a positive impact on people’s career journeys as they continue on their own journey in this space.

Michelle Evans:
That sounds like a wonderful and robust experience that you bring coming into Levi’s. Tell us a little bit about your current role. I gave a bit of an introduction, but it’d be good to hear it from your perspective.

Dr. Amy Bolles:
So at Levi Strauss and Company, I’m responsible for our global digital and emerging technology strategy as it relates to our business, our consumers, and also our employees. So that also includes all of our digital up scaling programs as well. And as a kind of first step when I arrived in terms of where to start in this very exciting vast space, we started by thinking about what the best framework would be for making decisions about where and how to innovate in this huge space. Obviously, the world of digital and emerging technologies, when you look at Web 3.0 opportunities, industrial 4.0 opportunities for a retailer, an iconic brand, and a retailer like Levi’s, there’s so much opportunity. And so a best practice from the industry, if you’re looking for where to start, is to start with a framework for determining how you will make decisions about where to innovate, and then apply that framework to actually making decisions about where to invest, what innovation initiatives to prioritize and what to deprioritize.

And so if you start with how, that enables you to gain alignment with key stakeholders across the organization and to develop a really disciplined approach to innovation. So we started by building an emerging technology framework for evaluating all of the opportunity in this space. And in that framework, we created a scorecard for how to evaluate these opportunities. Looking at factors such as the strength of the alignment between any innovation initiative, the strength of the alignment with our overall corporate strategy. We looked at for any innovation initiative, the strength of alignment with our brand and our company values. That’s very important to any organization, but especially values led company such as Levi Strauss.

We also, of course, conducted robust financial analysis as we evaluated innovation opportunities, and most importantly, we looked at innovation opportunities at how they could best deliver a positive impact for the consumer. It’s so important in today’s environment to be consumer first. So we were really looking at a number of factors, but most importantly, those four. And so we have been able to use this framework to evaluate all of the vast opportunities in this digital and emerging technology space as it relates to what’s important to us at Levi’s specifically.

Michelle Evans:
So in your role, you’re definitely rolling out new technologies, new initiatives and such. And I’d be curious, it seems to tie to your entrepreneurial past. Are there lessons that you’re pulling from those previous experiences into this role?

Dr. Amy Bolles:
Yes, absolutely. I think probably one of the most important lessons from my previous experiences that we’re definitely applying at Levi Strauss and Company is the importance of simultaneously ensuring that you’re testing and learning, while also always building for scale. Scale is what delivers value to both consumers and to the business overall. And so it’s critically important with any initiative, while you may be conducting a small test as you’re getting started. That you always have the north star in mind to be building for scale so that you can ensure any initiative is going deliver value for both your business and your consumers. But at the same time, a very agile test and learn approach is absolutely critical in today’s environment. If you look at, for example, the Web 3.0 space, the industrial 4.0 space, these are vast, vast spaces with a ton of opportunity and there are new innovations happening.

Ton of opportunity and there are new innovations happening every day. And so it’s very important to have a test and learn agile, nimble approach in order to be able to quickly evaluate any new innovation as it comes on the horizon and determine whether it’s right for your organization. And that’s why I have in my role at Levi’s, we started with what the right framework is to evaluate these investment decisions in the space so that it would enable us to move quickly to test and learn while also simultaneously building for scale. It’s also really important in today’s environment to have a consumer-centric mindset. Today’s consumers have so much opportunity in terms of where and how they shop that for any retailer, maintaining a customer-centric approach is absolutely critical to any initiative that you might undertake. And so we at Levi’s have always put our fans at the center of any initiative that we’re evaluating and making sure that positive impact on the customer is one of the most important, if not the most important criteria that we look at when we’re evaluating any opportunity in this space.

Michelle Evans:
Excellent. Well, emerging technology is literally in your title, so I have to ask you what emerging technology that you’re most excited about? I’ve heard you mention Web 3.0 a few times, so perhaps that’s it, but what tech do you feel like is really proven itself as being effective in scaling in today’s hyper competitive market?

Dr. Amy Bolles:
Yeah, I think in today’s hyper competitive market there’s some really interesting opportunities in both Web 3.0 as well as in Industrial 4.0. So on the Web 3.0 side, of course that’s a vast space in and of itself. It includes everything from decentralized web content to blockchain enabled applications. It’s a really vast, vast space with a ton of opportunity. And so the approach we’ve taken at Levi Strauss has been to apply this emerging technology framework to, as we’re evaluating the opportunities in this space, to look at, as I had mentioned, the value that any Web three opportunity can create in terms of improving the customer experience, sound financial analysis, ensuring it’s going to add enterprise value for our organization, and ensuring strength of alignment with our brand, our corporate values, as well as residents with our overall strategy. And as we’ve applied that framework in the Web 3.0 space, I’ve been particularly excited about some of the opportunities to enhance the customer experience.

So if you think today about helping our Levi’s biggest fans connect with our products and with our brands, there’s a number of exciting Web 3.0 based opportunities to enhance the customer journey. All the way from discovering new trends and new products that are exciting in the marketplace and thinking about what you might want to buy all the way through to finding the right size and fit that looks great on you, all the way through to that purchase experience, which is hopefully terrific yielding you perhaps a great pair of jeans, we hope that looks fabulous on you. And at every stage of that journey, there are opportunities for Web 3.0 technologies to enhance that experience. And there are a lot of really exciting startups in this space that have really interesting and exciting technologies that can help enhance every part of that customer journey. So we’re really excited about some of the opportunity there.

And then on the Industrial 4.0 side, of course, Industrial 4.0 is another huge space with tons of opportunity, and that includes everything from design, manufacturing, supply chain, including operations and production. And in today’s environment, there’s obviously a ton of opportunity there as well. So we’ve been very excited about, again, applying that very disciplined approach and our emerging technology framework to evaluating opportunities in that space as well.

And as we look at all of these different opportunities sort of across Web 3.0 and Industrial 4.0, we’ve been particularly also excited about the opportunity to partner with Silicon Valley Bank. We hosted our first ever startup pitch day with Silicon Valley Bank in September. We brought in a number of very exciting cutting edge startups to talk to us about Web 3.0 solutions that could enhance the customer experience. We had startups from all over the globe from Buenos Aires and Prague, and London, and Paris, and Tel Aviv, and all over the US and a number of other cities as well. So we had truly global representation of the latest cutting edge emerging technology, and we were able to have a great discussion with these carefully selected startups about how they could help enhance the customer experience for Levi’s fans as they’re trying to discover the best pair of jeans or best t-shirt to buy. So it was a really exciting opportunity to think about how strategic external partnerships can complement some of our internal innovation efforts as well to help accelerate our digital transformation globally.

Michelle Evans:
That’s interesting. I was going to ask about that sort of balance between bringing in external versus what you’re doing in house. Out of curiosity, obviously Web 3.0 and Industrial 4.0, we’re still fairly early days in those conversations. Would you view, obviously Levi’s is definitely newly exploring a lot of this. Are there examples of where you’re actively deploying at this point, elements of this?

Dr. Amy Bolles:
Yeah, it’s a great question. And the approach that we took when I came in was really to kind of start with that framework and start with that very disciplined approach to how we’re going to evaluate opportunities in this space. Again, drawing from that best practices playbook from the industry of thinking first about the how and then applying it to the what. And so that’s the approach that we’ve taken.

And so now that we’ve established a framework with strong cross-functional alignment from across the key areas of our business, and we’ve started to engage in some strategic partnerships externally, like the one with Silicon Valley Bank that I mentioned, as well as accelerating efforts internally, we’re now I think really able to, in a very rapid and agile way, be able to evaluate quickly in an ongoing fashion, any new technology, application innovation as it comes onto the horizon, be able to evaluate what does that mean for Levi specifically. And how or if we want to engage with that technology as part of accelerating our digital transformation and as part of accelerating our overall corporate strategy. So we’re just in the early days of having begun this journey of leveraging this framework we’ve developed and applying it to the landscape, but we’re very excited about the results we’re starting to see from this very disciplined approach because it’s enabled us to really identify, for example…

Because it’s enabled us to really identify, for example, places in the customer journey where we think there’s real opportunity to optimize the experience for the customer, and so on. And that’s been by applying the framework in this very disciplined approach. So we’re very excited about what’s coming down the pike.

Michelle Evans:
Wonderful. It sounds like exciting times ahead. If we think wider with your digital transformation, beyond the Web 3.0 as we were talking about, can you share any examples of recent deployments of where your digital initiatives have come to life? I suppose some of this may have predated you coming into Levi, but just curious as a consumer where someone like me might have experienced the new elements that you’re bringing on board.

Dr. Amy Bolles:
Yeah. Well as we look at our digital transformation efforts holistically, our digital transformation is meant to accelerate our three strategic pillars as a company overall, which are to be brand led, direct to consumer first, and diversification by geography, by channel, and by category as well. And a best practice of course for any innovation strategy is that it’s meant to accelerate your overall corporate strategy, and in the best way possible. And so we’ve kind of taken a page out of that industry best practice playbook, if you will.

And so what we’ve been able to do is then leverage data AI digitization to accelerate digital transformation across a number of aspects of our business, including internally to support process automation, and efficiency gains for processes internally, which then free up our talented team members to be able to focus on more creative, more innovative aspects of their jobs, because we’ve been able to automate some of the other aspects of what they were doing. And then we’ve also looked externally at ways that data and AI, as well as digitization, can support commerce and deeper connections with consumers, whether that’s more accurate predictions for our assortment, optimization of our pricing, our promotions, things of that nature, as well as creating a more personalized and tailored experience for customers overall, especially for our Red Tab loyalty program members that have signed up for the loyalty program, as well as folks who are using our app, and our fans in general. We are always aiming to create the most fun and memorable shopping experience that we possibly can.

Michelle Evans:
Where do you see data playing the most critical role in these initiatives? Is it around personalization efforts or other elements?

Dr. Amy Bolles:
Yeah, so what’s exciting is that data has the opportunity to really accelerate all of our digital transformation efforts, and to really play really a role across the board. So I’ll give you a recent example, is if you look at our stores in Milan and Rome, both of course major cities in Italy, not that far apart. Slightly different weather. Milan, a few degrees temperature difference from Rome. But it turns out we’ve been able to use data not only on weather, but also traffic and demographics and a number of other variables to make predictions using AI about what the clothes are that will be most exciting to our fans in Milan as compared to Rome. And through this analysis we discovered that consumers in Milan were more likely to appreciate some of the darker washes on our denim, as well as by more outerwear, even though, again, not that big of a temperature difference between Milan and Rome, whereas our fans in Rome were more interested in lighter washes, and you could sell women’s skirts a little bit longer into the season in Rome. And because some of the demographics in some of the stores there were a little bit younger, we would sell more T-shirts, and some of those type priced items.

And so it’s been really interesting to see how that’s just one example of how using data AI digitization you can actually create a different and better experience for the customer, helping connect our fans with more of the products they love, all just by leveraging the latest technology data and AI to drive those experiences.

Michelle Evans:
That’s a fascinating story. I love it. I think I’m going to keep that one around. It shows the value of data to really tell a story and help you make better decisions. For sure.

Obviously in your role you’re looking at all these new technologies that are out there, and I’m sure in some ways it’s mind blowing to think about where we’re at today versus 10 years ago, but also there’s the just the broader shift going on in retail, and I suppose retail tech is a sub-component of that. I’d be curious, what are the big trends that are front and center for you as you think about the overall digital strategy in context to the broader retail environment?

Dr. Amy Bolles:
Yeah, it’s such a great question because you’re right, the landscape is shifting so rapidly right now. Really, I sort of see two big trends that I think are really interesting and impactful for both businesses and consumers. The first is that all consumers today, but especially Gen Z consumers, are shopping in a much more interactive way. All the way from discovering the latest trends and products, to finding the right size and fit, to hopefully purchasing a great product and receiving it and trying it on. The whole process for consumers today is just much more interactive. And they’re looking for retailers to provide them opportunities to be able to interact along the way in all parts of that journey. And what’s exciting is there are a lot of really exciting technology companies that are building solutions to enhance every part of that journey and make it more interactive and more fun and personalized and memorable, which ultimately helps connect more of our fans with our products. So we love that.

Michelle Evans:
Do you think it goes as far as them almost becoming like a co-creator?

Dr. Amy Bolles:
I think there’s opportunities all along the way in this journey. We’re still kind of exploring all of the different ways that we could leverage digital and technology along the way in that journey, and that’s why developing framework was so important.

The line between the physical and digital worlds has been effectively totally erased at this point. And that’s been accelerated by the rise of Web 3.0. But all consumers today, and again especially younger consumers, they’re looking for a shopping experience that blends the physical and the digital worlds, and it does that in a really fun and memorable way. So for example, consumers today, especially younger consumers, they’re looking for ways to find the latest fashion trends and to leverage digital and technology to find, and uncover, and surface the latest fashion trends. Which they can then go into one of our physical stores to buy, or they could buy online. So that’s an example of blending that physical digital experience. Another example could be you’re standing in one of our stores and you want to be able to see the full assortment of every type of aspect of one of our product lines.

And in any store, we might only have a subset of all the available merchandise in a particular line. And so, in store you’re able to go online and see that actually there’s a whole bunch of additional customizations of that particular garment that might be available online. And so, that’s another example of you’re in the physical store but you’re leveraging a digital experience. Or when it comes to size and fit, there’s now a number of different technology solutions that can help you figure out how a pair of jeans will look on you specifically and help you in terms of being able to identify that best size and fit. And so, I think our job in retail is to help create this very fun, memorable, interactive shopping experience that’s bringing together the very, very best of the physical world and the very best of the digital world into one combined seamless exciting shopping experience that our fans and our consumers will love.

Michelle Evans:
And you mentioned in that, that certainly younger consumers, the ones that just grew up with the internet are going to have some degree of different and higher expectations. Just out of curiosity, do you see that variants, you’re in a global role, do you see it vary across the world? And do you adjust what you roll out? Do you roll out more sophisticated solutions in one market versus another, or are you to that stage yet?

Dr. Amy Bolles:
Yeah. As we look to roll out any new shopping experience, we’re always striving to make our shopping experiences as memorable and personalized as we can for any of our consumers. And so even if you look, we are a global company, even if you look within a single market, or a single country, or even city, all consumers are different in terms of what’s going to best resonate with them. What’s the size and fit that’s going to look and feel best to them? What’s the interactive shopping experience that will be the most fun and memorable for them? And it’s different for every consumer all over the world. And so we’ve really tried to take the approach of creating a personalized and memorable shopping experience that really feels personal to each individual consumer all around the globe. And we’re especially able to tailor those kinds of experiences for folks that are a member of our red tab loyalty program, because that enables us to be able to tailor the rewards and the experience that they have on the basis of their shopping preferences.

Michelle Evans:
Wonderful. Well, thank you so much for joining me today. Such a great conversation. I wish we had more time, because I feel like there’s so much to unpack here. But I do appreciate your time, and the insights you shared.

Dr. Amy Bolles:
Thank you so much Michelle. And thank you as well to the RETHINK Retail Podcast.