LONDON, United Kingdom — Eight months after acquiring its rival Stylesight for an undisclosed sum, trend forecasting agency WGSN Group has debuted a wholly redesigned web platform that unites its products and services with those of its former competitor as part of a £50 million (about $84 million) initiative to drive growth and expand the company’s global reach.
“Over the past two years we have had a £50 million investment programme in people, content, technology and acquisitions to ensure we remain at the leading edge of trend forecasting and trading insight,” Steve Newbold, managing director of trends at WGSN, told BoF in an exclusive interview. “One of the things we loved about Stylesight was its products and the technology they were using. No question at all, it’s a really good platform and a really good product.”
The new platform, supported by a revamped backend infrastructure, incorporates Stylesight’s technology and includes new features like a customisable homepage and image and design tools. The deal has also enabled WGSN to acquire Stylesight’s customers in North America and Brazil, adding to its largely European client list to bring its combined userbase to 75,000 people at over 4,000 companies, according to figures provided by the company.
The move is part of a wider strategic bid to strengthen WGSN’s market position through synergies and product diversification. In 1998, when WGSN launched, Internet adoption was still in its nascent stages and the company’s subscription-based model coupled to digital delivery of its trend reports and analyses disrupted the physical trend books and papers that were prevalent at the time. But in the years since the group’s founding, the trend forecasting landscape, reshaped by sophisticated new technologies and on-going globalisation, has become increasingly crowded and complex.
Traditional agencies such as NellyRodi offer analogue solutions, while venture-backed start-ups like Editd have taken advantage of ‘big data’ to deliver robust trend analytics tools and retail insights. Brand consultancies have also stepped into the trend forecasting market. The Future Laboratory, for example, has launched LS:N Global, its own subscription-based trend forecasting and intelligence arm to complement its consulting services. And, of course, WGSN’s founder Marc Worth, who sold the company to Emap (now Top Right Group) in 2005 for £140 million, went on to launch another trend and innovation agency named Stylus, targeting consumer and design industries using a subscription model similar to that of WGSN.
With the new launch, the revamped WGSN aims to tackle the challenges posed by new competitors by growing its global client base, enhancing product flexibility and functionality, and tapping other design-based industries. The company has accelerated “the products we have in development,” said Newbold, and added access to existing products like Homebuildlife for interiors, Vogue Archive and Denimhead to the new platform.
WGSN has also diversified its product offering with its own data analytics tool, WSGN INstock, aimed at users outside fashion and design departments. “WGSN INstock is our first ‘big data’ product, launched in October 2013, that tracks over 750,000 products, seven million SKUs, across retailers in the US, UK and Australia to help merchandisers and buyers with their decision making,” said Newbold. “This means that we can support different functions across the industry – design, buying, merchandising, marketing, product development, C-suite – with trend information, data and analysis to support their design and business needs.”
To better cater to international users, WGSN has brought Stylesight’s translation expertise to the new platform; the website is available in five languages. “One of the other reasons to go into other countries is, of course, to serve our customers, but also content — to serve up global content locally but also local content locally,” added Newbold. Thirty percent of all content on the new platform will be produced specifically for local markets.
Alongside original content, curation is also set to play a larger role at WSGN. Feeds from third-party blogs and websites will sit on the new site’s homepage. “We know not all inspiration comes from us. More and more it’s about curating what’s out there, because there is so much,” said Sansan Chen, senior vice president of product and architect of the new platform.
But with this kind of inspirational imagery and content widely available and rapidly disseminated across the Internet, how will WGSN offer a unique perspective?
“Oftentimes with the amount of information out there and lots of people claiming to be experts on trend — everybody’s got an opinion and a blog — the validation and confirmation they get from a service like WGSN is invaluable, based on industry experience and past accuracy,” said Chen.
“Even though the platform and products have [changed], the core and heart of what we do hasn’t changed at all.”