How can stores thrive alongside digital? At The Retail Hive’s latest meeting, over 90 retail leaders came together to discuss collaboration and innovation.

To succeed in the digital retail landscape, retailers must recognise that online and high street strategies need to be recognised as one customer journey, with mobile being the glue that binds both together. Innovation needs to simplify this, for the customer and retail staff.

This was just one of the topics discussed at The Retail Hive’s members-only Collaboration for Innovation meeting, which took place at London’s Skyloft on 25th September 2018.

Over 90 retail leaders from brands such as Clarins, Debenhams, Mulberry, John Lewis, New Look and Sainsbury’s took part in round table discussions looking at all aspects of retail innovation, from The Future of the Store and Integration of Data to AI in Retail and Customer Delivery Experience.

Nick Lansley, former Head of Open Innovation at Tesco Labs, opened the meeting by sharing his belief that at the core of innovation is ‘simplification’.  He explained that when we think about innovative and disruptor businesses, Apple, Uber, Amazon etc., the common thread between them has been to simplify the user experience.

While the technology behind the scenes may be complicated, for the user it’s now simple to hail a taxi with one click, or tell Alexa to add milk to a grocery order.  According to Nick, innovation should “remove unnecessary or repetitive complexity from our day to day task.”

Yet are retailers really simplifying through the innovations they introduce? This was at the heart of many discussions that took place at the meeting, as The Retail Hive members deliberated how they can ensure success through innovation.

Key takeaways from the round table discussions include:

  • The role of the store associate has changed beyond recognition; be aware they are not data scientists, and if you can’t impact change quickly in-store, then why spend hours mining data? Have a clear plan about what you will do and change with the findings before you start your data analysis.
  • Don’t worry if your budget doesn’t stretch to a film set; we know content can drive engagement and build loyalty and the best news is consumers don’t expect premium content. Be bold – many brands are surfacing content first before their product ranges.
  • When working with influencers on social media it is imperative they are authentic otherwise the damage to your brand could be monumental.
  • People still matter; the implementation of new tech should make your business more responsive and efficient but remember whilst robots may be great in the warehouse, they are not so welcome on the shop floor.
  • Customers will expect your site to perform brilliantly; research has shown that a one second delay in response time significantly reduces conversion. But it’s not just about speed;  your site’s uptime, navigation, mobile performance and content availability are all vital to conversion, so make your site performance a priority and create a real time performance dashboard so everyone has clarity and shared responsibility.
  • Get bricks (virtual ones); if you don’t have stable foundations you’re not going to be able to invest in innovative high-tech add-ons such as VR. Remember the story of the Three Little Pigs…
  • AI allows you to flip the 80/20 product rule; expose more products to the right people to unearth sales through your learnings and you could find some unsung heroes outside of your top 20% products.
  • In today’s world your fulfilment proposition is a fundamental part of your brand; it impacts customer retention, new acquisition therefore can positively or negatively impact your CLTV.

New for the Retail Hive Innovation meeting this year was the opportunity for our members to hear ‘Dragon’s Den-style’ pitches from three start-up businesses each promising to offer the latest in bleeding edge tech.

Sally Green, Editorial Director of The Hive Network, commented: “Whilst an awareness of the latest tech development is important, today’s discussions have highlighted that the brands who are focused on exceeding their consumer’s expectations are the ones who will survive in today’s Retail environment, regardless of R&D budgets.”

Commercial Director of The Hive Network Noj Mather agreed, commenting: “I would argue that a business’s culture and agility, are the transparent measures of innovation rather than whether AI has been adopted or not

In Summary

Co-Founders of The Hive Network Sally Green and Noj Mather believe retailers today need to become swans. “whilst they are gliding gracefully across the pond simplifying processes for consumers,” said Sally “all the hard work takes place in the shadows beneath.”

Our Collaboration for Innovation meeting was captured through insightful illustrations by the superb Joel Cooper (