Innovation, why we need it and how we get it

On 20th September at The New Era of H2H: e-Innovation, we were lucky enough to spend an afternoon with a group of experts exploring innovation, what it means, how we can embed it in our operations – as well as some examples of companies who have built new businesses on the back of innovation.

In this introduction to the session, we’ll explore the concept of innovation, why we need it and how best to embed it within operations. In the coming weeks we’ll be posting further snippets and learnings from the event.

Business models in retail have fundamentally changed. Market research firm eMarketer projects ecommerce sales will eclipse $3.5 trillion within the next five years. The web will account for 7.3 per cent of global retail sales this year, growing to 12.4 per cent by 2019. But ecommerce is still commerce – it’s about sales.

Innovation in retail is redefining the way retailers do business, as demand from customers for personalised experiences soars. New technologies abound, enabling retailers to respond to customer’s needs. As Adrian Moss at Monetate pointed out, the purpose of innovation is to create significant positive change.

The challenge lies not simply in listening to customers but in harnessing the right technologies and innovations for you. And, according to Nick Lansley, Innovation Insider, Innovation Lab (and Ex Head of Open Innovation at Tesco Labs) we do innovation fairly badly in the UK and in retail.

It’s popular with CEOs but it often takes the form of a small ring-fenced budget and delivers nothing of real use to the company. Lansley is focused on the mindset of innovation and the idea that there is a ‘destination utopia’ for retailers – the point where all customer experiences are positive. He says that there are five key innovation techniques which are critical to success:

Give your colleagues a voice, somebody in your organisation may already know the answer. And make use of collaboration tools such as Yammer and Trello

This means listen to customers – they are telling you their frustrations and unmet needs! Get ideas in front of lots customers early in the product development cycle. Go for ethnographic as well as quantitative studies. Make customers feel part of the ‘journey’ – they need to play a direct, maybe lead role and, most importantly, run projects with an immediate and tangible ‘win’ for customers.

As Soran Kaplin of Innovation Excellence says, “Experience design involves the practice of designing products, services, events and environments with an emphasis on the quality of the customer experience, not simply on form or functionality.”

Make innovation part of the DNA of the business, encourage people to try, to make mistakes but to always be learning. As Brad Garlinghouse, CEO of YouSendIt points out, “Innovation is the result of a culture that encourages risk and is tolerant of failure.”

Encourage everyone to join in. Let third parties help you build products or services. You can provide controlled access to product data and basket through an ‘API’ (application programming interface), and reward third party developers for their efforts (usually via affiliate programme).

Remember when you find a problem, identify a solution and then see what happens when you put it into practice.