How Can Retailers Inspire Innovation?
By Alicia Fiorletta, Senior Editor
Customer demands are changing on a dime, and it is up to retailers to implement the right teams, strategies and technologies to drive ongoing growth and truly evolve.
Some retailers are developing internal teams and partnering with startups to drive innovation. While Retail TouchPoints has honored a few retail innovators, it’s amazing to see how many retailers (even large brands) are striving to maintain a more progressive mindset.
During the Fashion Digital New York session, titled: Innovation Labs & Investments:The Future of Retail, Reimagined,we were treated to a great panel of retail executives who spearhead innovation within their businesses. Participants included:
- Will Young, Zappos Labs
- Eytan Daniyalzade, Walmart Labs
- Tricia Nichols, Gap
What really stuck out to me is how these participants defined innovation. Moderator Karen Moon of Trendalytics noted that it differs from company to company, but all three panelists focused on the customer experience.
Here is how the panel defined innovation:
Tricia: “Innovation is anything regarding defining the consumer experience. The consumer experience should surround everything we do. innovation is about making sure we understand what consumers want.”
Will: “We built a lot of our brand on great customer service. We really were focused on free shipping and returns and now we’re thinking about what’s next and great when it comes to the customer experience.”
Eytan: “It’s about being customer-centric, and creating an experience around customer needs.”
While all these retailers undoubtedly focus on pushing the retail boundaries, how did they get to this point? How did they drive their organization to maintain a new mindset and think outside the box?
The panel shared tips and best practices to not only get the funding for new projects, but also encourage ongoing collaboration.
Tricia: “In a large company and in talking with CFOs, you might be able to build upon past examples. Companies that want an ROI in everything you do, maybe try finding other areas where you took a leap of faith and use that as an example. We don’t actually know the insights we’ll get out of technology or a specific use case. but its’ high value in a world that is constantly changing. There definitely is an educational layer to get the CFO and other teams involved.”
Eytan: “In my opinion, the easiest ways to get budget approval is to postpone those conversations until there’s more clarity. Capturing ROI in the beginning is going to be very hard. Take an agile approach and use available resources to get something imperfect out the door and see if customers react to it. Analyze how the customer benefits.Then the conversation around funding will be more data driven versus just a hunch.”
Will: “If you’re going to create a team focused on this be clear on the goal. If you determine that your team is focused on creating new brand experiences or boosting sales, then the whole organization will be on the same page.”
Once the entire organization has a clear vision regarding what an innovation lab or initiative is designed to achieve, it’s important to maintain engagement and communication.
Eytan: “People from innovation teams are supposed to work together with the different teams. For example, we have a Hack Day where everyone drops everything they’re working on and they work on a product or prototype that’s meant to be complete by the end of those two days. We have people from different parts of the organization working together, understanding each other’s problems and learning how the technology works. Try really hard to have every department periodically talk about their key metrics, the challenges they’re facing and brainstorm on how technology can address those problems. It’s a common standard in startups but it has to become a bit more of a common practice in larger organizations.”
But will taking a more innovative approach to doing business impact the types of employees they hire? Absolutely.
Tricia: “Find empathetic people who are intellectually curious. It’s important for companies to employ those kinds of people and to keep a staff around them if they truly want to innovate and grow.”
Stay tuned for more coverage from Fashion Digital New York!