Innovation – What is It?

According to German research, 50% of homeowners have fun in the garden, 25% feel they have to garden and 25% hate their garden.

The role of the retailer is to create more fun opportunities for the fun lovers and to convert the other 50% into fun lovers.

This means you have to be an innovator. Keep doing what you have always done and we will not change the paradigm. But, it is easy to say become an innovator, but how do you put this into practice?

Firstly, you need to listen to your consumers. I would recommend you listen to at least two groups. Firstly, talk to your existing customers, the ones having fun and ask them how you can enhance their experience. This can be done via questionnaires, newsletters or simply talking to customers one to one.

The other 50% may need to be invited into what the Germans call a Customer Parliament. This is where a group of people are invited to an open forum to discuss ideas and solutions. I have been involved with customer parliaments or focus groups with numerous businesses.

I have found the best formula is to set a time frame for the meeting, for example, thirty minutes, and then keep to that time frame; we should respect peoples’ time pressures. I would restrict the group to a maximum of 20 people. Provide them with coffee/tea and biscuits, but do not bribe them with discounts or gifts for attending. In my experience, when you start a session, you rarely get comments that are valuable; usually you get pats on the back. But, by carefully constructing questions, eventually people open up and provide the valuable information you need. The key is to listen, but don’t justify anything.

Having listened to your consumers, you now have an opportunity to be an innovator. There are various definitions on innovation and when I checked my dictionary I came up with the following definition.

Something newly introduced, such as a new method or device;
novelty; modernisation; improvement; advance; originality

I would like to look at innovation from a retail perspective. Innovation is providing what the consumer does not expect, in a positive way. Innovation is surprising people and as a result stimulating word of mouth marketing for your business.

Innovators listen to customers, finds out what they expect and then provides the unexpected.

In many businesses, innovation is held back by middle management. Fear of the unknown is the biggest reason innovation fails to take place. What happens if it does not work? Or even worse, what happens if it makes us look foolish in front of our peers, in the industry and in front of our customers.

The problem is consumers do not want you to play safe, they want you to be an innovator, and they are daring you to delight them in new ways.

Having listened to the consumer, it is essential that you brainstorm the ideas with the team and get the majority on board to support your innovation. If you do this, you will find that team members will join in with the innovation process.

When innovating, there are key questions you need to ask yourself and your team:-

1. If we were the best of the best at what we do, what would consumers expect from us?

2. Having defined that expectation, what do we need to do to exceed it in the customers’ eyes?

3. What innovative ideas are occurring outside our industry sector, that we could introduce into our industry sector?

4. Has anyone already introduced this idea into our industry? If so, it still may be worth doing, but it is not an innovative idea.

5. Will the investment in this innovation be justified based on the return on the investment that we should expect?

The problem or opportunity with innovation is that when you introduce such an idea the consumer loves it, but others in the industry could laugh at you and mock your ideas. Innovators have to be a bit crazy and accept initially that they may be belittled by other members of the retail sector.

Want Some Crazy Ideas that Worked?

These ideas were innovative ideas, but now they are in place, if you copy them you’re a “me to”:-

1. Introducing a wine cellar into a public library – Botany Downs Library, New Zealand.

2. Offering a drink and sports T.V. at a men’s hairdressers – Klouriz Rotorua New Zealand.

3. A piano player above the oranges playing your favourite tune in a fruit and vegetable store – Pete’s Frootique, Nova Scotia, Canada.

4. Introducing a Choco Pass in your city to enable consumers to visit chocolate shops – Turin, Italy.

5. Enclosing coins with air tickets to use trolleys at foreign airports – Travel Agent, United Kingdom.

6. Sending out ‘thank you’ cards and a complimentary meal at a restaurant if you purchase a bed – Jape’s Furnishings, Darwin, Northern Territory, Australia.

7. Placing a giant bear outside your convention centre peering into the convention centre – Denver Convention Centre, Colorado, USA.

8. Offering freshly cooked muffins and coffee in a dental waiting room, Paddi Lunds Dental Surgery, Queensland, Australia.

9. Introducing yellow wristbands to support cancer research – Lance Armstrong, Tour de France winner.

and the list goes on.

All these innovators were first in the field and accept others will copy, for example, there are various coloured wristbands for different charities now on the market, but it is the yellow one everyone remembers and admires.

Do you Want to Innovate?

My Seven Step plan to be an innovator would be as follows:-

1. Really listen to customers and consumers

2. Brainstorm the results with your team

3. Plan to exceed consumer expectations

4. Look outside your retail sector

5. Be first in your retail sector

6. Don’t listen to the soothsayers within your industry

7. Be bold, be different, do it with panache, but do it.

Once the competitors start visiting your store and taking notes, you know you have cracked it and you know it is time to move on. Innovation is a mindset; it is a journey; it is not a destination.