In today’s retail environment, brands must always be working on new, exciting ideas to bring to the market. The digital revolution has changed the behavior and demands of consumers; and while many retailers are busy playing catch-up, others are leading the way, and creating new, higher expectations in consumers.
Here are five brands that have emerged as leaders in their industry thanks to their ability to implement new ideas and technology that constantly delight and surprise their customers.
Sports apparel giant adidas is all about the customer experience. The company’s products, services and channels are designed with a “consumer-obsessed mindset”, as former company CEO Herbert Hainer put it. For years, adidas has been at the forefront of innovation, implementing advanced tech in its products and stores, with a clear goal: creating engagement and brand desire within consumers. In the past few years, we have seen the sports retailer build shoppable windows, through which customers can browse products and shop outside of opening hours; we have seen them implement body scanners that allow consumers to try clothes on virtually; they have even started producing 3D-printed shoes tailored to the needs of each individual runner’s foot. And the innovations shows no sign to stop.
The winning idea: For adidas, it’s all about the customer. The company is at the forefront of innovation, and yet tech is implemented only if it supports the brand’s goal: to make retail more convenient, engaging and personal for its customers.
To know more about the latest devices adidas has introduced to personalize the service in-store, take a look at the brilliant keynote session that Dominik Meier, Senior Software Engineer at adidas, and Petur Sigurdsson, Product Director LS Omni at LS Retail, presented at conneXion Madrid.
Amazon is one of the great disruptors of the retail industry. The “most innovative company of 2017” according to Fast Company, Amazon has been shaking retail, speeding up the pace of change in the industry, for at least a decade. From making one-day (and most recently one-hour) delivery an industry standard, to creating one of the best loyalty programs in retail (despite charging a yearly membership fee, Amazon Prime can count over 66 million members!), Amazon has grown from an online bookstore to a digital giant. Besides being a retailer, today Amazon produces TV shows, builds hardware products and even has its own Artificial Intelligence, Alexa. Interestingly, the digital company has begun expanding offline, with pop-up stores as well as with its revolutionary no-lines, no-checkout Amazon Go shops.
The winning idea: Amazon constantly finds new ways to give people an experience characterized by speed and convenience. At Amazon, customers can find everything they need in one place – from hardware, to homeware, to food, to entertainment. The website’s recommendation engine helps consumer find all they need with just a few clicks, making shopping for any type of item simple, quick, and hassle-free.
Home improvement chain Lowe’s has a strong focus on creativity and change. The company runs an Innovation Lab where engineers and technology experts are constantly at work to find new ways to make the shopping experience in the DIY chain more engaging and exciting. Some of the ideas that have come out of the lab include the Holoroom, a virtual reality (VR) design tool, and Lowe’s Vision App, an augmented reality (AR) visualization tool powered by Google Tango that helps customers easily design the room of their dreams by juxtaposing virtual items on real-life spaces.
On top of the innovation going on in the lab, Lowe’s has also created a strong social media presence, with great informational content. The brand has especially been active on YouTube, where they publish easy-to-follow tips to remodel the home, and even run a video series called “The Weekender” with DIY ideas and practical tricks.
The winning idea: With novel ideas and vibrant content, Lowe’s has set itself as a leader in a traditionally static industry, home improvement. The brand uses an omni-channel approach to position itself as a DIY authority online, reaching groups of consumers that do not traditionally patronize do-it-yourself stores. In-store, the innovations the brand has developed help engage even the least DIY-savvy shoppers.
Kroger, the largest supermarket chain in the U.S., uses technology to make the in-store experience closer to online shopping. In order to shorten waiting times and make brick-and-mortar shopping interactive, the retailer has deployed different types of technology in its physical locations. Cameras and infrared sensors are used to monitor foot traffic; the traffic information is then analyzed, and used to understand customer behavior, as well as for internal organization – for example, to schedule cashiers in real time. Kroger’s mobile app analyzes shopping habits in order to offer each customer digital coupons that are relevant to them, based on their tastes and previous purchases. Kroger is now testing smart digital shelves with embedded sensors that can track where shoppers are walking, and give them a personalized experience – for example highlighting interesting products or special prices on the shelf displays, or sending relevant product recommendations and offers to shoppers’ mobile devices.
The winning idea: For Kroger, data is key to creating a better shopping experience. The company has increased speed and personalization in-store by digitizing its locations and making them responsive to single customers through data. Using the same tech as e-commerce retailers, Kroger can now offer a more efficient, interactive and ultimately enjoyable supermarket shopping experience. If data is the currency of the future, Kroger is already banking on it.
Cosmetics chain Sephora is a leader of innovation in the beauty industry. The brand’s digitalized stores feature technologies such as the Fragrance IQ kiosk, where a computer guides customers to find the perfect perfume, and the Color IQ kiosk, where customers can discover the right foundation or lipstick for their skin tones with the help of a touch screen. Most of Sephora’s tech is implemented with the goal of acknowledging and rewarding its loyal consumers. In store, Sephora uses beacon technology that recognizes app users when they come through the door, and provides them with an in-store map, promotions and their online shopping cart and wish list. On its official website, Sephora runs “The Beauty Board”, a space where customers can post pictures of themselves with various makeup styles, tagging the products they used for that look. The company also runs Play!, a beauty products subscription box that is delivered monthly to subscribers’ home. Play! subscribers can also attend exclusive events where they can mingle with other Sephora fans, try out new products with the help of makeup specialists, and get free product samples.
The winning idea: Sephora grows loyalty by making customers feel part of an in-group. This is done through technology that recognizes and rewards loyal customers, as well as with subscription boxes and exclusive events. The subscription economy has grown 3,000 percent in the last three years, Crimson Hexagon reports – Sephora uses it well as part of its strategy to create a crowd of happy, loyal customers.
Although operating in different industries, the five retailers above have one thing in common: they constantly challenge themselves to find new ways to make the customer experience more exciting and inspiring.
Creativity and speed are key in today’s retail world – but having a clear strategy when implementing innovative technology is, perhaps, the most important part of the equation. “Consumers are looking for retail stores to be creative spaces. They are looking for experiences. Digital is a critical element in retail — however, it is not just for the sake of adding new, cool technology,” says Bridget Dolan, VP and Head of the Sephora Innovation Lab. The success of these brands has a lot to do with their ability to understand the customer journey, and transform it – making it simpler, quicker, and more exciting – with the right tech.