February 13, 2012

Going Rogue: Innovators to Follow – Day 1; Retail

In starting this series, I wanted to kick-off with an industry that is continuously adopting changes, both big and small.  Retail success is no longer solely dependent on great value and customer service.  Although, I will say, one can never understate the true value that one employee can have on customer experience…just read Cristene’s post about what one employee can do for customer experience.

Retail has certain advantages over other industries in their ability to incorporate new technology.  They rely heavily on word of mouth.  They are – at their best – a highly visual medium.  They focus, most often, on multiple transactions, with volume being a key driver of success.  Hence, they have needed to test and try ideas more frequently than others.  For instance, Lego’s in-store augmented reality – which we had a chance to experience first hand at the Northbrook Court store – brings new engagement to parents and kids of all ages in the retail environment.

The social revolution has sparked the retail industry’s ability to not only share interesting innovations, but also to mine all of the information that is shared.  Sharers, Tweeters, Pinheads like Covalent’s own Amber, Debbie and Cristene: we’re all supplying information for the retail world.  This revolution, coupled with innovative ideas and inventions have culminated to create a very interesting environment for the retail industry.  Here are a few leaders that you should not only know about, but follow:


Zara has always been known for their trend-watching abilities and supply chain management.  But did you know that they are thought to be able to go from concept to in-store products in just 2 weeks?  Absolutely amazing.  The industry average turnaround is 6 months.  Can you say “competitive advantage”?  By mining social data, along with performing massive amounts of primary research, ZARA has been able to supply consumers all over the world with the trends that haven’t landed in the rest of the retail world.

Just as you start to realize that ZARA is one of the most innovative retailers in the world, it gets better.  One view of their mission statement and you can see that they are extremely environmentally conscious.  Brains and heart, Using organic materials, recycling, and producing less waste are all major aspects of their personality.

Twitter: @shop_zara


Jack Dorsey (Square):

I went to a concert in Chicago a few months ago.  One of the opening bands really surprised me.  I walked to the booth that they had set up to ask them for one of their CDs.  Unfortunately, I didn’t have any cash on me…and there was no POS system there that I could see.

Wait for it….Square to the rescue.

The man behind the counter took out his cell phone, attached the Square device and ran my credit card through it.  This device has singlehandedly allowed small businesses to monetize on the fly.  Square’s founder, Jack Dorsey, is certainly a brilliant innovator.  By the way, did I mention that he also founded Twitter?

Twitter: @Jack


Christina Norsig (PopUp Insider):

Deemed as the “queen of pop-up retail”, Christina Norsig is an expert in creating a temporary retail environment.  “Pop-up retail” is where short term stores are created, generally to introduce a massive amount of buzz, and then it is gone before you know it.  This can be beneficial in building brand awareness, and is often very profitable because there is a massive swarm created in the short amount of time that the Pop-Up is there.

Christina is also the CEO and Founder of PopUp Insider, the first national online exchange for temporary real estate.  This helps businesses to find and plan their next pop-up retail experience.  And, to top it all off, she also founded eTabletop.com, an artistic table top decoration site.

Twitter: @CNorsig


Blake Mycoskie (TOMS):

It would be completely irresponsible to create a list of retail innovators and not include Blake.  Founder and Chief Shoe Giver at TOMS Shoes, Blake gained his passion for giving shoes when he was in Argentina and saw how many children grow up without shoes.  From this, he has started TOMS shoes with the mission of giving a pair of shoes for every pair that is bought – one for one.  Since, TOMS has given more than 600,000 (and counting) pairs of shoes.

Stay tuned to see what Blake has in store next.  I can only hope it will be as successful as TOMS.  Cristene will be doing a review of competitor Warby Parker – who focused on eyeglasses in the next few weeks.

Twitter: @BlakeMycoskie


What other retail innovators are out there?  Who is leading the way?  One thing is for sure, everything is changing.  Will you keep up?

Comment, and let me know your thoughts!

-Kevin (@cunningham_kev)