If retailers want to know where to focus next, look at the Internet of Things and virtual reality. Both are poised to explode driven by fast-growing consumer adoption of the technology and rapidly decreasing cost to create the 3-D content needed for the virtual reality experience.
That’s the finding of the Center for Advancing Retail & Technology (CART) in its Q1 2016 Retail Innovation Report. Imagine a shopper being at home, sitting on the couch and using a headset to go shopping just as if in the store. It’s coming this year, according to CART, which monitors retail trends.
Among the other report findings:
The issue is implementation and being able to act quickly enough to deploy game-changing technologies, the report notes. We spoke with Gary Hawkins, founder and CEO of CART, about how marketers can effectively keep on top of the hyper-warp speed of change.
As a marketer, how do I keep up?
Companies of any size can create a "skunk works" team drawn from people across the organization. The team should be diverse in terms of work areas but also demographics. Bring them together for even an hour each week to talk about what they are seeing in their lives and areas of responsibility. The young person from another department may clue you in to a new social media startup you should be aware of. The dad with kids in high school may mention a new VR education program offered by the school; that knowledge causing you to speed up focus on VR. Somebody else may be experimenting with 3-D printers at home or buying 3-D printed products.
The other thought is to create pilots or learning labs wherever you can within your organization. For example, a larger retailer can test different in-store technologies in a few stores to quickly garner understanding. We are seeing a growing number of companies adopt this "innovation lab" idea.
How do I find time?
Any executive today has to devote some time — even an hour a week — to reading about new technologies and trends. New technologies and new capabilities can go from "interesting" to mass consumer adoption very fast today.
Historically, industry innovation was largely driven internally by improvements in process or product. Today, more and more industries are forced to adapt to new innovation and new expectations driven by consumer technology adoption. Each week, CART hosts a "Coffee with CART" webinar. We spend 30 minutes discussing tech and innovation in the news and its implications for the retail industry.
Whose job is it?
Part of the answer depends on how large your company is and what resources you have to work with. An increasing number of larger companies are creating a new position, chief innovation officer, to focus on the challenge.
I very strongly believe the CEO, along with the executive team, must be aware of the big picture here. The vast majority of industry people have not yet grasped that the world has forever changed.
Retail has entered new territory in which the pace of transformative and disruptive innovation is constantly increasing. Human beings have a difficult time getting their head around this concept but it is critical for CEOs to understand. They need to think about how to restructure their organizations for a world of ever-faster, non-stop change.
Adding to the challenge is that disruptive innovation is happening everywhere. How products are manufactured and distributed is being impacted by 3-D printing. The role of the brick-and-mortar store is being questioned in nearly every retail vertical. How you market to shoppers is changing almost by the week.
In this new environment, large size and scale can be a detriment. Smaller companies can be more nimble and adapt to new ways of doing things much faster than large companies. While big companies might be able to have a chief innovation officer, they simply can’t adopt new processes, capabilities, or business models quickly. Smaller companies have an opportunity to use their nimbleness to create advantage.