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6 rules for retail innovation

Innovation is one of those words that is often misconstrued in retail. Those who avoid it, claim they want to stay away from gimmicks. And those who love it, often use it as a PR-driven initiative or as an opportunity for technology to be deployed without much strategy. 

Sadly, innovation in retail has been largely about bells and whistles and not true fundamental change. 

Innovation in its true sense of the word – implementing new approaches to generate a different result – should be critical for anyone operating a major retailer or brand today. But it’s definitely not. A recent study by Gartner shows companies typically allocate 90% of their tech budget to “keeping the lights on”, or indeed what we can call ‘incremental innovation’, and only 10% to that which is deemed transformative.

The question then is how do you get it right? And how do you do it to bring progress and actual results? Frankly, the first step is to move away from old approaches. Over the past decade, numerous retailers around the world have introduced internal labs, accelerator programs and incubators. And what we’ve seen time and again, is that while such programs start strong and sharp, over time they are devoured and diminished by surrounding day-to-day business processes. The outcome even with the right intention, tends to only be marginal. 

What the industry needs is a new mindset and a willingness for new ways of working. 

We believe innovation should be actionable by connecting the right strategies to the right solutions, and closely managing integrations to make them a reality. This ties to our mission of solving challenges and facilitating change. So here are six rules for industry executives to follow to make this a reality:

1/ Validate the challenge

Deploying solutions without a defined problem is an unproductive method of innovation. It’s too easy to get lost in a sea of internal objectives and cost-cutting exercises while forgetting about what your customers really desire or need. 

To successfully determine the challenge, you must align on a united vision. Innovation internally is hard – it’s often political and frequently siloed. The best case studies out there have come from companies who have validated their roadmaps through a process of internal buy-in so they can achieve a common goal.

2/ Bring the outside in

Establishing a team that can bring different perspectives, both from outside the industry and in, as well as varied cross-disciplinary inputs, is always going to lead to greater results. New ideas come from diversity of thought – taking different things that work from other experiences, and making a new recipe out of them. It’s about getting outside your own department and making sure you have people from other parts of the company involved. Cross-pollination leads to the best ideas and strongest results. 

It’s for this reason we believe in the notion of “open innovation”: stepping outside of the internal model of building to co-create with a broader innovation ecosystem. It’s about resource and expertise coming in from experts on the outside, connected to ideas from around the globe. And it’s about increasing your chances of success by leveraging the knowledge and harnessing the success of others.

3/ Avoid the one-trick pony

The most successful projects should be updated over time, as opposed to achieving one incremental thing for a singular moment. This is about PR being the icing on the cake and not the cake itself. 

We all know innovation should have a broader goal, and often the challenge is convincing stakeholders to invest in the long term, laying the groundwork so that you gain economies of scale, not to mention scale itself, for every integration. It’s better to deploy two technologies with a clear purpose and defined ROI, then 10 pilots without strategy or buy-in.

4/ Mentor your partners

Simply put, you can’t treat startup partners like traditional vendors. These are companies big and small that provide collaborative partnerships. It’s crucial to work in a more hands-on sense, and to get help to manage these integrations if your own bandwidth is limited. 

Even when it is clear what value a technology brings to a retailer, partnerships fail due to cultural differences and conflicting expectations. To avoid this, try making time to offer your mentorship to these partners. Startups are not going to necessarily understand how to navigate your red tape or be as flexible with payments or delivery deadlines being moved. But with a strong connection in place, they could give you opportunities to co-create a brand new offering or be first to market with a technology.

5/ Empower your store teams

One of the biggest missteps with innovation is the idea of dumping new tech into store, for instance, without fully training or driving advocacy among employees. New technologies are worthless without buy-in and understanding to help things work smoothly and ensure shopper engagement. In-store, we’ve seen this with everything from smart mirrors to immersive experiences. 

This is simply about demonstrating the benefits in place for sales associates. If all this piece of tech does is add more to the checklist of things they need to do and doesn’t help their day-to-day relationship with the customer, it won’t interest them to help you as a retailer. Innovation ultimately needs to be enhancing the lives of those who have to use the tech.

6/ Calculated risks are better than failure

Innovation is usually associated with experimentation and accepting the Silicon Valley notion of ‘failure’. We’ve seen retailers trying to emulate this approach by investing in labs and incubators that fail to impact the bottom line. After all, retail corporate culture doesn’t believe in the “luxury” of merely trialing projects that won’t lead to actual results. 

So how can you test and learn with more of a conservative mindset? We believe there is a way to strategize calculated risks that allow learning and innovation to take place. Setting out a clear path of KPIs and objectives from the get-go with real measurements is the smarter way to ensure success. There’s no way around it – true innovation today is about results.

How are you thinking about retail innovation? The Current Global is a transformation consultancy driving growth within fashion, luxury and retail. Our mission is to solve challenges and facilitate change. We are thinkers and builders delivering innovative solutions and experiences. Each of the rules referenced above is matched by one of our products and services. Interested in how? Get in touch to learn more.

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product Startups technology

Telekom Fashion Fusion challenge searches for fashion of the future

Telekom Fashion Fusion
Telekom Fashion Fusion

Deutsche Telekom has launched its second annual ideas competition supporting the future of fashion and technology; inviting young talent to realise visionary concepts for high-tech apparel through to digital lifestyle products.

The Telekom Fashion Fusion challenge, as it’s called, is looking for creative ideas from across Europe in three categories: connected devices and smart accessories, haute couture and show fashion, and business solutions and smart services.

Entries are open until November 17, following which a shortlist of 10 finalists will be empowered to develop quality prototypes of their concepts in the Fashion Fusion Lab in Berlin from February to May 2018, before presenting them at an exclusive award show at Berlin Fashion Week in July 2018.

International coaches from the nexus of cutting-edge fashion and technology, including designers Pauline van Dongen, Julia Körner, Jasna Rok and Danit Peleg, will support the initiative.

“In our Telekom Fashion Fusion competition, young talents are given the unique opportunity to realise their dream of high-tech clothing, wearables or digital lifestyle products and bring them to market with the help of experts from the industry, the fashion world and the start-up scene,” says Antje Hundhausen, VP of brand experience at Deutsche Telekom.

The 2016 edition of the challenge saw 120 applicants from 25 countries. Trainwear, a virtual personal trainer integrated in smart fitness clothing, emerged as the winner, closely followed by Mimime, an augmented reality app that allows consumers to add patterns, accessories and artistic forms to clothing. Third place went to TranSwarm Entities, which combines 3D printing and drone technology, alongside music producer Beorn Lebenstedt (Newk), to curate a fashion performance.


This year’s entries will be judged by an esteemed jury including Dirk Schönberger, creative director at Adidas and Anita Tillmann, managing partner at Premium Group.

True to the slogan for this year’s edition – Technology becomes Fashion – the seamless integration of technology and the need to keep an eye to marketability of a product, all the way from initial concept to readiness for market, will play a central role in choosing the three eventual winners.

The Telekom Fashion Fusion competition is sponsored by Adidas, Intel, Lufthansa, Zeiss and Wired Germany. It is open to start-ups, entrepreneurs, engineers, fashion designers and students of the European fashion, design and technology scene, to apply either individually or in teams.

To do so, they need to send in information about their idea of concept, illustrative material that supports and visualises it, and information about the people behind the project and their motivation to participate.

The challenge can also be followed on social media via Facebook, Twitter and Instagram and by using the hashtags #FashionFusion and #Telekom.

(This is a sponsored post)

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Blocks mobile

Harrods enters gaming space with shoe-based app challenge

Harrods_stilettowars

Harrods is celebrating the opening of its new luxury shoe salon with the launch of a mobile game called Stiletto Wars.

Introduced as part of the Harrods magazine app, which has been downloaded over 100,000 times worldwide, the game challenges users to form as many rows of three of more designer shoes against a timer. Scores can be sent to a leaderboard where prizes are up for grabs including gift cards and VIP shopping experiences with the department store.

“We are delighted to be adding this fashionably fun game to our ever-evolving app. Every secret geeky pleasure needs a stylish outlet – and Stiletto Wars brings together the fun of game playing, the luxury of designer shoes and the possibility of winning prizes – a perfect combination,” says Harrods’ director of creative marketing, Deborah Bee.

A giant interactive version of the game will also be in the store’s windows on Brompton Road from August 27 – September 22.

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technology Uncategorized

Fashion Hackathon set for MBFW New York, winning app to be launched by CFDA

fashionhackathon_decoded

Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week New York is set to host a “Fashion Hackathon” this February, tasking teams of tech hackers with building an app that solves a challenge facing the industry.

Hosted by Decoded Fashion, who has previously run conferences focused on fashion and technology in both New York and London, the initiative will see fashion and retail executives joining 30 teams on the morning of February 2 to discuss their pain points, the technology they currently use, and the technology they wish existed.

These conversation will inspire the hackers to come up with the new apps, designing and building them within the space of 24 hours.

The best three will then have until February 14 to prepare (with mentorship) for a finale due to take place at MBFW. There they will present to a panel of judges from both the technology and fashion worlds, including Steven Kolb, CEO of the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA), Harrison Weber of The Next Web, and Benita Singh of Source4Style.

The winning team will win cash in the region of $15-$25k as well as the opportunity to have their creation launched by the CFDA.

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Uncategorized

Calvin Klein to reveal interactive digital challenge for new fragrance

Calvin Klein is set to launch an interactive digital campaign to help celebrate the release of its new men’s fragrance, Encounter Calvin Klein, this September.

“Dare to Encounter” as the initiative is called, encompasses a virtual journey and a series of challenges for users to unlock and engage with on a dedicated website.

Fronted by True Blood actor Alexander Skarsgård, who was announced as the face of the scent in June, it follows a tale of desire with the brand’s other campaign star and supermodel muse, Lara Stone.

It uses animated GIFs (as shown) to “capture moments from the television advertising shoot and bring them to life in an unexpected way”.

All those who complete the challenge will be granted access to watch the Encounter Calvin Klein short film, and be entered into a prize draw.

The campaign was created by Fabien Baron of Baron + Baron, alongside Calvin Klein’s in-house advertising agency CRK, and interactive media and technology agency AKQA.