Fung Group’s Explorium probes the future

Fung Group has unveiled a new iteration of its Explorium research centre in Shanghai.

Dubbed Explorium 2.0, the 23,000sqm mock mall has been converted by the supply-chain specialist company into what it describes as a “value-generating ecosystem for commercial enterprises”.

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In a modern building that occasionally doubles as a meeting and event venue, technology and business-model innovation come together as an experimental platform for developing a full range of consumer products, supply-chain technology and services related to branding and retailing.

Originally, Explorium – described by Fung Group as a retail “omniplatform lab” – comprised a physical space with an interconnected digital network of services, providing brands and retailers with the chance to observe in real time how customers interact with new technologies, products and environments. This enabled them to gather valuable insights into customer behaviour along the way.

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For 12 months, such retailers as Build-A-Bear Workshop, Gymboree, Hello Kitty, Stride Rite and Toys R Us experimented at Explorium using data-analytics tools supplied by IBM as well as retail technologies from various startups.

Explorium 2.0 builds on the knowledge gained from Explorium in line with Fung Group’s strategic vision to build the supply chain of the future.

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Rapid prototyping

Now the platform will act as an incubator for companies whose ideas, innovations and technologies are relevant to the Fung Group’s businesses, allowing for rapid prototyping of new business models, products and retail technologies.

Explorium 2.0 has a strong focus on collaborative innovation, with such partners as the Beijing Institute of Fashion Technology, Microsoft Accelerator and TechNode, and has a mandate to showcase the capabilities Fung Group has developed over its 111-year history.

Fung Group says the goal of Explorium 2.0 is to move away from traditional approaches to provide a customer experience that balances content and interaction. The space showcases the full breadth of product categories covered by the group, as well as the retail channels it serves, with an emphasis on importing brands and retail concepts into China. In this sense, Explorium 2.0 serves the supply chain end to end, while Explorium focused on front-end retail.

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The new space features a range of elements:

  • A fabric library for apparel manufacturing, equipped with the latest digital tools offering 3D product rendering and virtual sampling

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  • A studio for photographing products, tailored to e-commerce business models, as well as a StyleShoots 3D photography studio for fashion shoots
  • A 3D printing experimentation platform based on the premise that in the future 80 per cent of items will be mass produced with the remaining 20 per cent being customisable
  • A multi-use space, The Maze, for product launches, demonstrations and sample sales
  • Showrooms for Macy’s China, a JV between the US department store and Fung Retailing Group, and Fung Omni, Fung Group’s omnichannel systems provider which helps foreign brands enter the Chinese market.

These spaces fall within the recurrent themes of the Fung Group and Li & Fung – digitalisation, innovation and speed – and will be open to strategic external collaborations.

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Go-to platform

The Fung Group’s goal is for Explorium 2.0 to become the go-to platform for retail innovation, connecting with stakeholders globally. Explorium 2.0 has already established partnerships with key players in the innovation and technology ecosystem in China such as the Microsoft Accelerator, GBLab and TechNode. Using the space, these partners will draw on Fung Group’s expertise in supply-chain management, logistics and retail to create synergies for the technology startups in their portfolios, as well as the Chinese ecosystem at large.

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At the same time, the goal is for Explorium to also become a bridge for technology companies entering China, and for Chinese startups ready to venture out into global markets, such as Europe and the US, where the group has distribution capabilities.

At the opening ceremony for Explorium 2.0, Fung Group chairman Dr Victor K Fung said the unit would play a key role in helping the group chart a course through the  transformation under way in the retail industry. The group expects the future of retail lies in omni-channel, as indicated by moves being made offline by Alibaba and Amazon, as well as moves by traditional brick-and-mortar retailers into the online space.

Dr Fung highlighted the importance of continuing to invest in technology and innovation to create more value across the entire supply chain, taking advantage of the capabilities of all companies in the group to shape the future of the industry.

  • Kiril Popov, senior analyst with research institute Fung Global Retail & Technology, contributed to this feature, which originally appeared in Inside Retail Hong Kong’s quarterly magazine edition. You can subscribe here to the print or digital version. .

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