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Tips, advice on inspiring innovation in the retail environment

The retail environment, online and offline, is undergoing a rapid-fire transformation requiring retailers to be nimble and more innovative than ever.

But as experts will relate, nimble is a bit easier to accomplish as inspiring innovation, from the bottom to the top of an organization, requires strategy and process.

Retail industry leaders provided tips and advice on how to make it happen during the Interactive Customer Experience Summit held last week in Dallas. A panel session, featuring Frank Jewett, vice president, hospitality, at UIEvolution; Brandon Elliot, product engineer, Infusion, and Sarah Furnari, director of visual merchandising, BEHR, offered up a substantial list of recommendations.

As Elliot related the retail consumer is seeing the same thing but noticing something different these days and he expects to see emerging tools, such as virtual reality, soon playing a role in the customer experience.

“Experience is the world we are living in, a world of digital natives and new technologies are going to become part of the conversation in a real way so we need to know our customer and what they want,” he said. He suggested retailers develop a ‘heat map,’ pinpointing customer moments in the retail location and hold “question storm” meetings with staff.

“Determine what questions are not being asked, ask what is and why not, and put yourself into the customer’s position,” he said, adding rapid prototyping of ideas and value testing are key and consumer involvement in both can be beneficial.

At Behr Furnari runs her team through improv-based exercises to draw out ideas and embrace the unknown.

“Everyone needs to be innovative. You need to get people to open up as that creates a new opportunity and mindset and can drive ideas forward,” she said, acknowledging that it’s not a comfortable role for some.

“The focus is saying ‘yes,’ accepting ideas and building off. You need to trust your team and understand mistakes are opportunities,” said Furnari, adding it’s a matter of “missing the train on purpose.”

“Embrace the unknown, mix it up, remove negativity, connect with people, curate your team,” she advised, adding a key element to success is communication and getting support outside of the innovation team.

Jewett noted inspiring innovation means “leaving the human ego out of the process, failing fast and cheap.”

“You must let your mind run wild. Ask yourself, how do I create new opportunities.”

Judy Mottl

Judy Mottl is an experienced editor, reporter and blogger who has worked for top media including AOL, InformationWeek and InternetNews. She’s written everything from breaking news to in-depth trends. She loves a great pitch so email here, follow on Twitter and connect on LinkedIn.

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