Thinking outside the box: Innovation in retail

02 May 2017

If you were looking for one word to describe the retail world in over the last few years, innovation sums it up pretty well. Retailers have gone through huge transformations over the past year. Look at Sweaty Betty, which now offers workout classes inside its stores. Or Amazon, which has pioneered the idea of delivery by drone. And the pace of change shows no sign of slowing: Virtual Reality is probably going to take retail by storm, even if it’s not yet clear exactly how. And then there’s Artificial Intelligence, robotics, wearables…

With so much new technology, and so many potential areas for (expensive) investment, how can retailers ensure they make the right decisions?

First and foremost, a well-defined innovation strategy is key. The ‘latest big thing’ may not be right for your brand, and simply spending a lot and hoping for the best isn’t a good way forward. Think about how your business might be disrupted by new technology – whether that’s in terms of what people will be buying, or how they’ll be buying it. For example, 39% of the UK consumers we surveyed say they either own a wearable or plan to buy one. How could the popularity of wearable devices impact your business? Likewise, software robotics could revolutionise the way retailers manage their supply chains and Tesco is already using RFID robots to count its clothing inventory. How could that change the way you operate?

Smartphones are another key opportunity - 57% of UK online shoppers now shop using a mobile or smartphone and since 2014 there has been a 39% increase in the number of consumers using their phone for purchases at least once a year.  Despite this, almost one in three 18-24 year olds find that mobile websites are not easy to use. So it’s clear that there are still issues holding mobile shopping back; most notably the number of websites that still don’t work well on mobile. Retailers: take note.

The really smart operators are taking the power of the smartphone to a whole new level - the Snap Fashion app allows customers to take a photograph of something they like and then search for similar products. This is creating an entirely new way of shopping – one that’s genuinely personalised and perfectly adapted to the way that digital natives want to shop.

The real secret to the Snap Fashion story isn’t the technology – it’s the way it’s being used. The most important ‘innovation’ here is understanding how young people run their lives: the insight came first, the choice of technology second. That’s the best advice for any retailer looking to invest in new innovation initiatives. Start by asking yourself what your customers want. Then you can figure out how to deliver that in a way that’s appealing to them, and profitable for you.

To find out more about our Total Retail research, explore the 2017 findings here and our Innovation theme here.


Craig Skelton | Assurance Partner
Profile | Email | +44 (0)207 804 9418

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