A Brief Overview of What Innovation Means in Retail

For those coming to the retail landscape with fresh eyes, a sensible place to start is with an understanding of where retailers are trying to effect change. Where are the stalwarts of retail lending their energies, or at least watching closely, to give them an edge? In other words, what’s new?

You’ll see these three themes popping up with some frequency: beacons, omni-channel and innovation culture.

Embracing location technology with beacons

Since Apple’s announcement of its iBeacon technology back in 2013, retailers have been exploring how location technology can speak to smartphones in order to enrich the shopping experience. The fast uptake predicted by industry watchers has yet to materialise, but the fact remains that beacons are still making headway into the shop floors of major retailers.

The beta version of Macy’s app uses beacon technology to greet shoppers as they enter the store; trials are taking place  in New York and San Francisco. The app creates a personalised experience by offering different discounts and rewards to the customer depending on which department they are in. The Hudson’s Bay Company is hot on Macy’s heels as they trial messaging that is also tailored to the customer’s location within the store. Target have taken things a step further by deploying their beacon technology across fifty stores. Chief digital officer of Target Jason Goldberger announced the launch commenting ‘We’re excited to start using beacon technology to offer real-time, relevant content and services that can help make shopping at Target easier and more fun.’

Examples of beacon technology in action are easier to come by in the United States, but beacons are already in use on London’s Regent Street, for example.

Omni-channel companies: meeting customer needs wherever they are

A 2015 report put together by The EconomistIntelligence Unit focused on the importance of an omni-channel shopping experience for consumers. Although the term is at risk of being misunderstood or loosely applied, the survey found that almost a quarter of respondents put available interactions over multiple channels, 24 hours a day, high on their priority list when choosing a retailer. Online retailers including Amazon and eBay scored highly in this category which comes as no surprise as they originated as web companies. They have the processes and platforms in place to connect with customers on any device at any time. In contrast, many traditional retailers have struggled to bring their online channels up to scratch; the undertaking likely requires fundamental changes to their interactions with customers.

Fostering a business-wide culture of innovation

Paying to bolt on a new technology is one thing, but modern business theory supports the idea that businesses should necessarily strive for an internal culture that supports innovation. PricewaterhouseCoopers doesn’t mince words: ‘A culture that inspires innovation and encourages a certain amount of risk is critical to breakthrough innovation.’ Their Global Innovation Survey canvassed executives to find that 93 per cent of them predicted that the main source of their company growth in the future would be from innovation. Many of them highlight the importance of fostering a culture that encourages employees to be experimental; it allows for the kind of daring that engenders true innovation instead of paying lip service to it.


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