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Plugged in: How H&M Group collaborates with the tech community

The customer is key in everything at H&M Group. With a 75-year history of entrepreneurial spirit, the company encourages innovation. Discover how we are working with the tech community and how a recent data science competition helped us test new solutions for our customers.

Kaggle … what ..? Many of the most prominent tech startups are sporting increasingly quirky names and Kaggle — the world’s largest community of AI (artificial intelligence) enthusiasts connecting big companies to big-data scientists — is no exception. The Australian founder dubbed his company “Kaggle” by using an algorithm.

“I didn’t have any money when I started to purchase a domain name”, Kaggle founder and CEO, Anthony Goldbloom, has told media outlets. “… so I built an algorithm that generated all the pronounceable combinations of letters, whose dot-com addresses weren’t claimed”.

At the end of the day, there were two finalists. When asking family and friends for their preferences, the overwhelming response was Kaggle — which, by the way, is pronounced “‘ka-gəl”, which rhymes with “haggle” (not “kā-gəl” that rhymes with “bagel” — Google at your own risk), but let’s return to Kaggle later.

Explorers at heart

With a 75-year history of innovation, a creative mindset and an entrepreneurial spirit is part of H&M Group’s DNA. Erling Persson (1917–2002), grandfather of Karl-Johan Persson (1975-) the current Chair of the Board of Directors, founded the company in 1947, and the fashion retailer has constantly strived to develop new business models and test ideas to develop new ways for our customers to express themselves through fashion and design, as well as choosing a more sustainable lifestyle.

To meet today’s customer demands, H&M Group (which includes brands such as & Other Stories, Afound, ARKET, COS, H&M, H&M HOME, Monki and Weekday) connect their brick-and-mortar stores to digital shopping environments. This means, the company is also adapting to new ways of working and innovating tech solutions to power this transformation.

H&M Group has an ongoing commitment to continuously invest in and explore new technologies to realise our customer’s demands and to give customers a relevant and meaningful way of enjoying fashion.

Unlocking tech potential

So, how can a 75-year old fashion company collaborate, but also learn from and offer opportunities for the tech community? The tech sector is unique because they solve their most complex challenges — together. One of the pillars of this collaborative culture has been the open source movement, which makes a program’s code available to the public. This has removed barriers between innovators and promotes ongoing review, testing and development of programs leading to higher quality standards and new discoveries. Born out of the open source community, data and tech-related competitions and challenges, such as “hackathons” (a portmanteau of “hacker” and “marathon”) emerged in the early 2000s.

The intent?

To quickly generate new ideas, foster networking, mentorship and team building, and ultimately, deliver a tangible output, product or solution. This way of working is seen as one of the reasons technology has developed at such a rapid pace over the past few decades.

H&M Group’s goal is, and has always been, to build valuable connections and exciting pathways that deepen relationships with our customers. By harnessing the power of smart technology and integrating data into all we do, we can get closer to our customers and maintain our position as a leading fashion, design and services company.

Hosting a premier data science competition

H&M Group has always seen the value of collaboration — from our designer collaborations with the world’s high-end fashion houses to partnering with startups, and NGOs, such as the Ellen MacArthur Foundation (EMF) and World Wildlife Fund (WWF).

To welcome in outside perspectives and new ideas, this spring, H&M Group hosted a competition to enhance the customer experience with personalised recommendations for online shoppers. To launch the “Personalised fashion recommendations” competition, H&M Group collaborated with Kaggle — home of data science and machine learning competitions and the world’s largest community of AI enthusiasts.

“Kaggle is a premier channel for data experts. This was a great opportunity for H&M Group to give our data, AI and recommendation teams new ideas and insights for improving our recommendation engine, which will elevate the customer experience as a whole”, says Björn Hertzberg, Head of Data Science, H&M Group.

Björn Hertzberg, Head of Data Science, Antonia Tartamella, Chief Data Officer, and Joel Ankarberg, Head of Business Tech, H&M Group.

The Kaggle platform allows users to utilise real-world data sets, learn and build AI models, and compete to solve data science challenges while working with other data scientists and machine learning engineers from around the world. The community ranges from students to some of the world’s top data experts and researchers. Competitions are open to anyone and everyone.

“Data competitions like Kaggle give us the opportunity to enhance the customer experience while also connecting us with the best up-and-coming tech talent, as well as top data experts from across the globe. We want to encourage innovation through collaboration, and we know we can learn from outside our company”, Antonia Tartamella, Chief Data Officer, H&M Group, says.

From Kaggle’s perspective, the H&M Group competition was very popular and the outcomes were exciting.

“H&M Group provided high quality data and devised a well structured problem for our community of more than 9 million data scientists who found the competition challenging and interesting. With interesting visualisations and deep data feature engineering, the solutions offer H&M Group greater insights into their data”, says Maggie Demkin, Customer Success & Partnerships, Kaggle.

This is H&M Group x Kaggle

The challenge

H&M Group’s online stores offer an extensive selection of products to browse through, but with too many choices, customers might not find quickly what they are looking for. To enhance the customer experience, product recommendations are key. More importantly, helping customers make the right choices also has positive implications for sustainability, as it reduces returns, and thereby minimises emissions from transportation.

The H&M Group competition asked “Kagglers” to design algorithms for product recommendations based on data from previous H&M transactions, as well as from customer and product metadata. The available metadata spanned from simple data, including garment type and customer age, to text data, such as product descriptions, to image data from garment images.

The results

According to Kaggle, the H&M Group competition had impressive engagement — both based on the number of solution submissions and the volume of competitors participating in the competition.

  • 3,831 competitors
  • 90 countries participated
  • 39,499 solutions submitted

The winning solution

Source: Kaggle

The customer is always key

For customers, the H&M Group x Kaggle competition resulted in an improved product recommendations, but this initiative was not the first tech collaboration and data science competition within H&M Group.

Starting in 2018, H&M Group hosted a two day tech conference called techSpot Summit featuring sessions on technology topics, success stories from within the organisation and more. The event aims to create a strong community among tech colleagues and spark innovation across the company. In addition to inspirational speakers and presentations, colleagues also have the opportunity to participate in a data hackathon and “Ideation cup”, which focuses on a challenge related to the company’s business goals and colleagues test solutions together.

“At H&M Group, we believe everyone is a leader. techSpot summit connects people and ideas so we can improve collaboration, generate new perspectives for key challenges, and advance our tech culture’s strong entrepreneurial spirit”, says Joel Ankarberg, Head of Business Tech, H&M Group.

H&M Group hosts data competitions and encourages tech colleagues to participate in hackathons and other AI events outside the company in order to test ideas, challenge our existing approach and develop new perspectives.

360° tech collaborations

H&M Group tech colleagues also participate in ongoing industry events, conferences and hackathons. For example, in June 2022, H&M Group attended the AI Summit London, a conference dedicated to the practical application of AI for enterprises. Within the company, H&M Group hosts data competitions, such as the techSpot summit, and encourages colleagues to join hackathons and AI events outside the company.

Outside perspectives, and opportunities for colleagues to explore new perspectives, is critical for the company to continue providing customers seamless, sustainable and inspiring ways to experience fashion.

What’s your experience collaborating through tech events at H&M Group?

“We are a vibrant, global organisation with brilliant minds across the world, being able to share best practices and ideas with colleagues is a core to success. Connecting on our topics of expertise and interest, regardless of geographical location, gives us the possibility to learn, grow and develop. Our tech community/techSpot summit plays a key part in doing this”.

Cathy Andreasson, Project Manager, H&M Group

“Participating in tech events allows H&M Group to demonstrate our expertise within the AI, analytics and data domain on advanced topics and complex data science problems. It also sparks curiosity within the tech community to collaborate and join us to solve these problems”.

Frida Rimark, Senior Data Scientist, H&M Group

“Data hackathons connect our tech community by bringing data people together around creative ideas and accelerates innovation through intensive focus and active collaboration. Participating in our internal data hackathon raised awareness of valuable competence within H&M Group. It gave me insights, learnings and motivation. I also had great FUN!

Chelsea Liu, Data Analyst, H&M Group

Mini tech dictionary

  • Algorithms: A set of rules or instructions used to solve a problem or to perform a computation.
  • Artificial intelligence (AI): Utilises computers, machines, and data to mimic problem-solving and decision-making capabilities of the human mind.
  • Hackathon: An event or contest where developers, programmers, product designers, data scientists, and other technologists collaborate to problem solve, learn, build, and share their ideas.
  • Kaggle: Known as the de facto home for data science and machine learning competitions, Kaggle is the world’s largest online community of AI enthusiasts, and data scientists, and machine learning practitioners. With over 10 million users, Kaggle, the platform powered by Google, allows users to utilise real-world data sets, learn and build AI models, as well as compete to solve data science challenges while working in teams from around the world. The community ranges from students to some of the world’s top data experts and researchers. Competitions are open to anyone and everyone.
  • Machine learning: Models that make accurate forecasts, predictions or decisions based on historical data.
  • Metadata: Data that describes, or provides more information about, other data. For the H&M Group x Kaggle competition, an example of product metadata is a garment type, size and colour.
  • Open source: A type of licensing agreement where a program’s code is made available to the public; allows anyone to modify, enhance or re-engineer a program’s code.

Join us!

Are you interested in joining teams within H&M Group that are passionate about tech?