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Innovation doesn’t wait

For my final Drug Store News contribution for 2018, I wanted to wrap up my series on “The ideas I haven’t thought of yet,” with a focus on the topic of retail innovation.

Each day there’s another headline announcing additional store closures, slipping same store sales, or some hot new internet start-up capturing sales from the traditional brick-and-mortar market. However, buried deep inside the newspaper – well below the fold – there’s a different kind of story. A success story boasting of creativity and filled with enthusiasm. That’s what this article is about. Innovative approaches which are exceeding expectations and captivating the imaginations of shoppers.

Who ever imagined that buying a car from a vending machine could be possible? Well, get familiar with Carvana, a leading e-commerce platform for buying, financing, and selling used cards. On December 13th the company unveiled its newest Car Vending Machine in Indianapolis joining other cities in Texas, Tennessee, Florida, North Carolina, Maryland, Arizona, Ohio, and Pennsylvania that already were home to similar seven story-high towers.

The company claims that by removing the traditional dealership infrastructure and replacing it with technology and exceptional customer service, Carvana offers consumers an intuitive and convenient online car buying and financing platform.

Where else has convenience surfaced in the physical retail space? Can anyone say Amazon Go? With reported plans to expand its network to about 3,000 cashier-less Go stores by 2021, the convenience store will truly become convenient.

If you want to see a busy retail store that still resides in many malls across America, think Lush Cosmetics. So what are they doing about it – they plan to triple the size of their average store over the next three years. This, according to reports in the Financial Post about a year ago stating, “The retailer, known for showcasing its unwrapped rainbow-hued like baked goods in baskets and on shelves at its 250 stores, is grappling with an enviable business problem: after seven years of double-digit same-store sales growth, many of its locations have become too crowded during peak shopping times.”

What is the draw? An atmosphere that is experiential, fun, and engaging. And they’re paying attention to the trends in the market by offering products free of preservatives to appeal to the vegan or gluten-free shopper.

My favorite recent example of personalized shopping is from an unlikely mass market brand…Nike. A global brand, whose famous swoosh is as recognizable across the globe as McDonald’s golden arches, the bite from Apple’s fruit, or Google’s unique typography.

The retail landscape has shifted considerably over recent years, forcing Nike to consider innovative options such as their newest flagship program. Their new store design energizes the in-store experience and offers opportunities that consumers simply can’t get online, such as testing out new products in real sporting activities before buying. Most importantly, the store also bolsters Nike’s digital strategy with full integration with the Nike app, meaning that even if customers walk out without making a purchase, their data is stored and accessible, and a path to future purchases.

And, if it’s customization that the shopper wants, Nike’s NIKEiD customization service allows customers to design shoes unique to their tastes — at a premium, of course.

Although I’m neither a fisherman nor a hunter, I love Bass Pro Shops/Cabela. Why? It’s largely because their staff is absolutely passionate about everything outdoors. They simply look like they are having a grand old time and are knowledgeable, engaging, and sincere. This winning attitude combined with one-of-a-kind displays and store imagery makes these environments nothing short of magical.

Their website boasts, “We are driven by our passion to inspire people to enjoy, love and conserve the great outdoors. We work together based on the essential values of respect, teamwork, quality and ingenuity to create extraordinary experiences for our customers and guests.” It is this unique attitude that makes their expertise shine.
Make no mistake, innovation is all around. All that a person has to do is look around at other industries and other consumer touchpoints and then apply it to the retail supply chain. Here are a few out-of-the-box examples to get your creative juices flowing. I’ll be eagerly watching to see what innovation you bring to your retail operation, your brand, or your team.

Washington, D.C. Metro
Although beleaguered by its share of challenges through the years, Washington Metro has also received its share of accolades, including best metropolitan transportation system in the country. What I believe is a learning opportunity for retail is the navigation system that makes traversing the vast subway relatively simple and painless. How can a similar navigation system be developed in the visual brick-and-mortar, virtual, or mobile space to ensure shoppers are managing their path to purchase as effectively as possible and being presented logical “connections” along their journey?

Although other frozen yogurt shops could have been cited, the concept of providing healthy choices, customization, and unique experiences describe the Pinkberry operation. Shoppers not only demonstrate their loyalty by frequenting this shop, they also engage, promote, and encourage others to experience Pinkberry. What are retailers doing today to create this type of brand advocacy and evangelism?

Certainly “please” and “thank you” matter. So does an organization that remains true to its values and extends their commitment consistently through the in-store experience, their social media, website, and all other touchpoints.
What’s most important to your retail operation? Are you so deeply committed to your core values that they are shared across all of your interactions with your shoppers?

Dave Wendland is vice president, strategic relations and co-owner of Hamacher Resource Group, a company focused on improving results across the retail supply chain located near Milwaukee, Wisconsin. He directs business development, product innovation and marketing communications activities for the company and has been instrumental in positioning HRG among the industry’s foremost thought leaders. You may contact him at (414) 431-5301 or learn more at
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