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NRF Session: “Innovate or Die”

It’s not a secret that those who don’t innovate will get left behind, but those who don’t innovate the right way risk ending up in the same disadvantageous position.

At a National Retail Federation Convention panel discussion today titled, “Innovate or Die, but Don’t Die Innovating,” experts discussed how retailers can choose and implement the right customer-focused innovations without risking their business.

Kevin Blackmore, who leads retail service for LightHaus, a customer insights company that sponsored the talk, moderated the discussion with Brett Goffin, head of retail for Google, and Kevin Quiring, who leads sales and customer service for technology consulting firm Accenture.

With omnichannel steadily becoming the way of the retail world, Goffin stressed that retailers shouldn’t feel pressured to “go from zero to sixty” to match a technology company’s level of omnichannel implementation, for example, but they do need to get better at using the surfeit of metrics available to them. They need to be able to improve on listening to customers and being more agile and flexible when trying to match customer needs. “That’s where retailers could stand to grow a little,” Goffin said.

Quiring chimed in, adding that there are three critical success factors for innovation in retail today. First, innovation has to be data driven, he said. Educated hypotheses aren’t good enough anymore. Retailers invest too much money in data metrics not to be basing new value propositions on that data, Quiring said.

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“Innovation for retail today has to start with omnichannel,” Quiring said. “The customer expects it.” That’s the direction retail is headed in, consumers are everywhere and they want access to their potential purchases wherever they are. Before long, Quiring said, “Anything not omnichannel is going to be viewed as subordinate.”

The third success factor Quiring said retailers must get on board with is the notion that there is no room for isolation. Entire organizations have to be focused on the omnichannel experience, from advertising to customer service to call centers, every department has to be included in offering today’s consumer the experience they expect.

Retailers today are facing the advent of the “nonstop customer,” an evolution Quiring said he has seen in Accenture’s research over the last nine years. They will have to realize that a new model for business is upon us, applicable universally. “Customers are always in the channel,” Quiring said. They are always searching and always shopping. Retailers have to be “dynamic, accessible and continuous” as far as availability. “They are going to have to do five things to keep that nonstop customer,” Quiring added.

Goffin echoed the idea that all channels within a retail organization must play together. Customers don’t care if they shop online or in-store, they are more concerned about the experience had.

In order to get organizations in line with omnichannel retailing, Goffin said, the company has to accept it. It can’t be the “prove it” mentality where one department asks the omnichannel purveyors for numerical data to back up omnichannel’s success at the bottom line. “The entire enterprise has to buy into the omnichannel world,” he said.

When Blackmore posed the question of how data will change retailers, Quiring responded saying retailers will have to change their thought processes.

“Retailers have lots of behavioral data around purchase,” he said. “But to take it to the next level, they’ll have to look at the interactions customers have before purchase and after,” he added. It’s going to be about how the customer uses the physical channel and that increase in post-purchase involvement is going to be critical to competitive differentiation.

“It’s about metrics that matter,” Goffin added. Retailers have to adopt a new set of metrics. The ones that were relevant five years ago don’t matter much today and where metrics are increasingly important, like mobile data, the majority of retailers don’t even have a great sense of what’s happening with their own mobile traffic, he said.

The technology and the skills are there, Quiring said, so that isn’t what’s keeping most retailers back. “The biggest barrier is internal. Retailers just aren’t able to get out of their own way.” The traditional way of retail won’t work anymore; companies can’t just do what they’ve always done. And if the omnichannel idea isn’t being implemented across the entire organization, it’s not able to work or grow, Quiring said.

“Now more than ever, there’s a person in charge of omnichannel,” Goffin said, someone whose sole job it is to move the organization to the new way of retail and that’s good, he added. “Data is meaningless if the organization doesn’t share it. It has to be cross-functional.”

Each panelist left the audience with three takeaways for retail best practices that will be essential in the years to come.

The multichannel/omnichannel operations have to start at the top, Goffin said. Executive teams need to be responsible for championing the idea and ensuring that the rest of the company is on the same page. Secondly, operating in silos isn’t effective–everyone has to work together on this, he said. Lastly, Goffin reiterated that retailers need to be more agile. They can’t be married to inflexible notions of what the future will bring or unwilling to bend and accommodate for the benefit of the customer and, ultimately, the company.

Quiring closed his part of the talk saying that retailers need to become more relevant, they must consistently know what their customer seeks and be able to give it to them continuously, thus, staying at the forefront of their minds.

Secondly, he said, “Do not screw up the customer experience that’s working well today.” Loyalty is becoming more and more fleeting every year, he said, and retailers have to do everything they can to retain and continue to obtain loyal customers.

His final message to retailers and the audience was, “Get out of your own way.” He added, “Retailers have the right talent and vision and they just need to execute.”