The Candid Voice in Retail Technology: Objective Insights, Pragmatic Advice

Who Drives Innovation?


Listen in on any current retail-related conversation, and sooner or later the notion of “innovation” will undoubtedly come up. We hear things like “retailers have to innovate or die” and on a daily basis get asked, “What kinds of innovations are you seeing out there?” But for all the focus on the need for innovation, some of the most important questions we see going overlooked relate to the basics: who (within the retailers walls) needs to be involved to bring about all this change?

So when designed our most recent research report, Keeping It Real, we made sure to ask retailers: who do YOU think have to be the players involved in bringing about the kinds of progress everyone keeps talking about?

First thing we found out: the majority of respondents (even at the Line of Business level) feel that when it comes to decisions about how to innovate, those decisions are best made by Senior Management. In an industry not known for its embrace of all that is new, we half expected this to be the case. However, we were excited to see that Winners have a different view: they spread the responsibility around much more equally. Only 25% of Winners (vs 56% of all others) identify Senior Management as being the sole bearer of driving innovation at their company. Instead, another 23% say they have someone on staff tasked with leading the innovation agenda (a Chief Innovation Officer or equivalent), while another 21% say this type of work falls squarely within IT’s reach. So while we hoped to see more examples of cross-functional innovation teams (only 12% for Winners and an anemic 8% for everyone else), we can still learn from Winners’ ability to get more players involved in the mission.

And By Whose Command?

However, we also asked several probing questions that we, quite frankly, didn’t have any expectations around. And one of the most telling relates to accountability. We wanted to know what role – if any - the Board of Directors is playing in the shift toward more innovative practices in retail. What we found helps explain why Winners have such an enhanced motivation throughout the full findings.

Figure: A Board Room Issue

Source: RSR Research, September 2019

Being known to consumers as an innovative brand is no longer a nice-to-have: Board members are demanding it. For Winners, the heightened pressure being applied by their Boards is exactly why they are (spoiler alert: the following are high-level findings from the full report) more focused while ideating, more interested in doing different things than their competitors, why they feel it is a viable way to add value to their overall brand, why they are more willing to fail fast – and ultimately why they are looking everywhere they can for inspiration and at every real-world solution that could possibly help in their efforts.

Board members are listening to the stories from fellow consumers in their offices, from family members in their own homes, and, as ever, in the publications they read. The word is out: what used to work isn’t working anymore. So Boards of Directors want to see more innovation from retailers. So do shoppers. So do we.

We hope you take a moment to read the full report. Like everything we do, it’s completely free to everyone, and we hope it helps ratchet up the conversation.

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Articles & Opinions October 21, 2019
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