Tech Bytes: eTail West 2017: Three Takeaways

As the industry remains on its path toward frictionless retail, there is one clear way to achieve this goal: embrace innovation. 
 
There is no denying that innovative solutions are the industry’s ticket to transforming operations, and the recent eTail West conference was chock-full of ideas of how to make this transition. The hottest digital strategies that continue to shape retail run the gamut, from conversational artificial intelligence to redefined mobile strategies that center on personalization, virtual reality and digital payments. 
 
However, being tech-savvy is not enough for survival in an increasingly digitally-driven world. Equally important is a strategy that can support these initiatives for the long-term, and set the tone to embrace future solutions yet to evolve.
 
With an eye toward putting retailers on the path toward innovation-driven transformation, here are three key takeaways from Etail West: 
 
Integrate innovation into corporate culture. With so many disruptors at the industry’s fingertips, retailers must be more nimble than ever when it comes to adopting innovation. However, when companies fail to change their culture, processes, even individual associates’ daily tasks to embrace digital disruption, creating an innovation-driven enterprise will remain a mere pipe dream.
 
To support its innovation efforts, NY&Co. has appointed a head of innovation technology who is responsible for working with a team that embraces change, tests solutions and learns from small scale projects. However, this group is more than an isolated team. Their efforts have transitioned into a mindset that’s transforming an almost century-old specialty chain into a strong competitor. “We test and invest in new solutions, a move that doesn't let emerging technology get so far out of reach,” Chau Banks, the chain’s executive VP, CIO and channel integration, said at the conference.
 
Pursue truly personalization-based programs. Anyone can send a targeted email to encourage consumers to shop. However, its messages that “speak” to a shopper on a personal level that are bound to get the job done. Called program-based shopping, this concept uses collected shopper data to create customized engagement with individual shoppers. 
 
JustFab is testing this concept with customized videos. Based on merchandise that was “abandoned” in their online shopping cart, JustFab shoppers are receiving short videos personalized with their name and “forgotten” product, as a reminder to complete their transaction. The test, which was launched among 10% of its shopping base, started about a month ago.
 
Don’t forget to test, test, test. With so many technology solutions and disruptors influencing the path-to-purchase, retailers are inundated with options to pursue — and not all initiatives will be winners. However, all projects deliver actionable insights that retailers can learn from and apply to other programs. For this reason, “we are always conducting tests and using our findings to tweak and retarget our efforts,” explained Lindsey Morgado, director, customer strategy, Hot Topic. “You should always be learning something.”
 
Too often however, retailers are preconditioned for success — making failures hard to bear. Take a lesson from industry leaders who have “been there and done that:” Not every plan is going to work great. But the key is keep trying.
 
“You can’t be afraid to fail,” said Chris Woodard, VP, customer journey management, FreshDirect. “The good news is you don’t have to invest $1 million into an innovation project. Start small and do what you can. If it works, great! If not, learn from your mistakes and try something else. Just keep scratching at the surface.”
 
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