Nick Lansleyof Nick Lansley’s Innovation Lab, will be talking to The Retail Hive members at our upcoming meeting about the meaning of the verb ‘to simplify’ and what he has coined as the ‘innovation equation’. Ahead of his insightful talk at The Hive’s Innovation meeting on the 25th September, we caught up with Nick to get some initial insight into the relationship between Innovation and Collaboration in the retail sector. 

What does innovation mean to you?

To me, innovation is about making our human world better and more straightforward. The core to innovation is ‘to simplify’ – that is, remove unnecessary or repetitive complexity from our day to day tasks.

The key to innovation is to ‘fail and learn’; to try out new ideas in a controlled manner and see if they work, without breaking the bank if they fail.

Why is it essential for retailers to embrace a culture of innovation?

Many retailers could transform their business if only they dared to innovate.  Many are afraid of change, primarily because they work hard to maintain the small margins of profit they already make.

Hearing about innovation being about ‘failing’ sounds like the wrong message; yet, they can see their customers’ spending habits changing before their eyes!

Embracing the concepts and techniques of innovation would help them manoeuvre their business model to track that change and stay profitable.

What are the business benefits of collaboration?

Collaboration is a business way of saying to your colleagues, ‘let’s talk!’

From my many years at Tesco I know that for every issue we needed to solve, someone somewhere, checkout assistants, bakers, drivers, and shelf-stackers, already had the answer – or at least some.

We needed to find a way to ask them, and so the company chose a mobile-app based collaboration tool (Yammer) to do just that.

Putting things right became a vital responsibility for head office management – and that improved overall business efficiency tremendously.

How integral to success is implementing new technology?

Technology is evolving at pace to help improve the customer experience and simplify staff tasks.

A good example is machine-learning algorithms that detect opportunities to improve efficiency or tune a customer experience.

These computer processes are transforming businesses, and vary from applications that monitor checkout queues and alert staff to open more tills, to electricity monitors learning the ‘rhythms’ of refrigeration units that call out an early engineer alert if a particular unit is using more than the usual amount of power.

Are retailers using the technologies that are available to them effectively?

If we regard technologies’ purpose in retailing as delivering on innovation’s “to simplify” promise, I believe many companies are failing. Complicated phone apps, mad checkout queues, customers who can’t find the product they are looking for, nightmare returns process with delayed refunds… let’s just say that the opportunities for improvement are plentiful!

For every standout simplified colleague or customer experience, there must be half a dozen poorly implemented solutions. Retailers thought that innovative technologies would help them, but they forgot ‘to simplify’.

If only everyone said to themselves, “Does this technology simplify a colleague task or customer experience?” then so many retailers would step up to the next level of efficiency and their customers enjoy a better, simpler experience.

What will be the next most significant commercial impact in this field?

I see voice-controlled smart speakers as having a significant influence on retail – and not necessarily in a good way unless you are an early adopter.

Retailers need to work out how to have a conversation with their customers through these devices. So, when I want to replenish a product or find out the nearest location of a genre of retail (such as the closest DIY store), they are at the top.

Will you be there when I ask for nearby stores selling AA batteries, a new kettle, or I’m out of soap powder and I’m shouting from the utility room for a replacement to be ordered? Be there at (or close) to the first suggestion because I am unwilling to listen to 30 seconds of suggestions before I shout ‘stop!’

Nick will be speaking at our forthcoming Retail Hive Live: Collaboration for Innovation at London’s Skyloft on 25th September 2018.  To register your interest click here.