Accelerating Innovation in Retail

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What does retail innovation actually mean? According to the panel at Accelerating Innovation in Retail, it’s about delivering anything, anywhere at any time. When a consumer wants a product or service, retail brands need to find a way to streamline the path to purchase. Whether that’s by challenging the traditional online user journey (search to cart to checkout) or bringing online tactics such as retargeting into the physical world with technology like iBeacon, innovation requires investment.

A fearless commitment to evolution allows some forward-thinking companies to be at the edge of the next innovation. Whether it’s Adobe offering a startup kit and funding to any employee with a good idea, or the North Face launching an innovation lab, it still comes back to the notion of investment.

Sometimes the best innovation evolves from experimentation without any known ROI. For example, Zappos recently purchased three 3D printers for their employees to play with. The nominal $6k investment could yield a discovery of how to apply the technology to the business, but at the very least, it will make for some happy employees.

Exploring the future of retail through non-traditional experiments is not free. It’s from Zappos’ own innovation lab that they launched their #nextOOTD program. Believing that social shopping will be the big trend of 2014, Zappos is building off the 26 million organic “outfit of the day” posts on Instagram. They recently launched their own version of the OOTD hashtag which yields a personalized shopping cart based on the user’s post. It requires a human to generate the response so it’s certainly not scalable, but if the experiment is successful, it will provide a vision to build on.

Innovation doesn’t need to be “sexy” to be effective, either. For example, Nasty Gal built a huge warehouse in Kentucky that allows them to push their same-day delivery cutoff from 10am to orders received until 2pm. Just bringing value to the consumer is innovative.

On the technology side, the key takeaway was as expected– the future of retail leverages connected devices to deliver more accessible, predictive shopping and a multi-dimensional customer experience.

What was really interesting to me, was the consistent connection between Innovation and Investment. The retail companies that will connect best with their consumers are those that open channels to help identify problem areas… and follow through on a nurturing, experimental environment to incubate ideas and potential solutions.

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