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Retail Innovation Conference 2019 – Driving Brand Preference Through Innovation

The Retail Innovation Conference, held each May in New York City, has become one of my favorite retail conferences on the calendar. For two days last week we heard from great minds in retail on how their organizations are seeking to not just maintain pace with an industry in the warp-speed lane, but to leapfrog their competitors and bring exciting new experiences to their customers. While the lessons were numerous, here are three key takeaways every retailer should be thinking about in their organizations today.

Innovation is a Process

One of the most captivating speakers during the conference was Brian Smith, founder of the UGG Australia brand. It was great hearing his story of bringing UGGs to the United States and the journey from selling UGGs to surf shops door-to-door to the brand we know today. While hearing him deliver Pink Floyd lyrics was entertaining, it was when he told the crowd “You can’t give birth to adults” that you saw the unanimous nodding of heads in the audience.

Innovation is a process. Brands may wish that it was quicker – especially in the age of “fail fast” – but the reality is that it takes time. A full-fledged, innovative idea, product, or strategy is the result of constant drive and improvement. Creating an environment where innovation is supported from all levels of the organization gives ideas time to grow into the true disruptors they are meant to be, rather than fizzle out as ideas that were rushed to the public.

Balancing Consistency with Surprise

Building a positive experience is the top priority for retailers today. In an omnichannel world, we preach having a consistent customer experience across channels so that every touchpoint a customer has with you feels genuine to your brand. But the question was raised: can consistency create boredom? Jeff Fromm, when discussing how to connect to next generation consumers, likened consistent experiences to taking a partner out on a date to the same location one hundred nights in a row.

Here’s the challenge – how do brands balance consistency with surprise and delight? The threat of being too consistent can actually be a detriment, which is why innovation is so important to driving brand preference. Retailers should be generating new experiences that build on the core emotions they seek to elicit from their customers. Finding something that is useful and new, regularly improving and reinventing their touchpoints, or simplifying an existing convoluted process are all devices that can allow retailers to maintain that consistency, but with an innovative flair.

Innovating within Loyalty Programs

I’ve written before about how holistic, experience-based loyalty programs are the future of retail. Shinola president Shannon Washburn took the stage on Tuesday and spoke about The Foundry – Shinola’s revamped, non-traditional loyalty program. Rather than stick with a traditional program that focused on exclusion and tiers, Shinola recently rolled out a new program that focused on inclusion, recognition, personalization, and surprise. A program like this feels less like a points club and more like a true community. While this type of loyalty program isn’t necessarily the best choice for every type of brand, it shows that innovation is now coming to an area that used to be nothing but punch cards and point balances. As younger generations seek to find brands they can trust, these experience-based loyalty programs will continue to prove to be valuable tools for retailers over the coming years.

No matter your stake in the retail landscape, each and every player is being disrupted to some extent. As brands navigate the future, the ability to effectively and sustainably innovate will be the bellwether of success for your business.

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