10 ideas to keep retailers one step ahead

Adidas' 3D printing technology

The sector has rarely experienced tougher trading conditions, but innovative retailers around the world are still finding new ways to win and retain custom, as futurist Will Higham reports

01 / Fit for purpose
Adidas has introduced body scanners that enable consumers to try on its sportswear virtually. It has also started 3D-printing footwear (pictured above) tailored to the specific needs of individual wearers. What’s more, the retailer has created a one-stop lifestyle and wellbeing app aimed at women. The Adidas All Day app serves up guidance on health and fitness from experts across four categories of athletic performance: movement, nutrition, mindset and rest.

02 / Convenient stores

China’s e-commerce giant Alibaba has found a low-cost method of expanding its real estate: doing deals with the nation’s six million independent convenience stores. It’s offering its Ling Shou Tong retail platform as a free and rapid upgrade to the traditional “mom and pop” shops in return for signage, profile and customer data. It will also use the stores as fulfilment centres.

03 / Open all hours

Swedish company Wheelys began life as a coffee stand on a bike. It now works as an unstaffed, fully automated convenience store that never closes. The only time that employees have to enter the Wheelys 247 store in Shanghai is when it needs restocking. An app enables shoppers to enter the building and serve themselves. Its co-founder and CEO, Maria De La Croix, thinks that automated shops will soon become a high-street staple.

04 / Labelled with love

Kroger, the biggest grocery chain in the US by turnover, is installing digital tech to replace traditional paper labelling on shelves. The system, called Kroger Edge, can display both prices and nutritional data. In the future it will be able to interact with shoppers’ smartphones, highlighting favourite products as they walk the aisles and offering them tailored promotions based on their buying habits.

05 / Shop till you drop (off)

Japanese retailer Muji will soon be offering a “shop and sleep experience” at its eponymous hotel in Tokyo’s affluent Ginza district. The company will have its store at street level, but extend its trademark minimalist aesthetic to four floors of guest accommodation above. The hotel rooms will be packed with Muji goods, from furniture to toiletries, giving guests the chance to try before they buy.

Wheelys in Shanghai Innovative retailers

DIY stores:
Wheelys’ unstaffed shop in Shanghai is open 24 hours a day. Shoppers need to download an app that will enable them to enter the premises. To further deter shoplifting, CCTV cameras will record their every move

06 / Fuelling up

Foodary, the forecourt store brand owned by Australian petrol company Caltex, is known for its barista-made coffee and its partnership with salad-bar chain Sumo Salad. To provide more value to customers and encourage their loyalty, it’s offering a range of new services. People in rural parts of the country often have to drive long distances to go shopping, so a shop that also offers facilities such as parcel collection and laundry services has a definite appeal.

07 / Hire learning

Hervis is one of Austria’s leading sports goods chains. It recently started a service meeting a growing demand for access rather than ownership. Its mieten statt kaufen (“rent instead of buy”) facility enables shoppers to hire costly goods, such as bikes, trampolines and camping equipment, that they might otherwise be cagey about buying. This not only positions the retailer as forward thinking; it also attracts price-sensitive consumers.

08 / Retail mash-up

An inspiring development in “searchable image” shopping has seen magazine website Mashable team up with eBay. The pilot partnership enables readers to purchase goods they see in photos accompanying Mashable’s articles. A price-tag icon embedded in the images invites them to “click, learn and buy”. Echoing Asian messaging apps such as WeChat, the service also allows users to buy without leaving Mashable’s website – a first for eBay.

09 / Primed for fashion

Amazon is keen to boost its clothing sales – and Prime Wardrobe could be the answer. Beta-tested last summer, the service is scheduled to roll out later this year. Users can try out a “wardrobe” of up to 10 items for a week before deciding which garments to buy, with shipping free both ways. The online giant is pioneering this concept alongside boutique fashion retailers such as Stitch Fix and MM.LaFleur.

10 / Sweating the brand

Canadian sportswear retailer lululemon athletica has worked hard to increase customer loyalty by providing in-store fitness classes and holding bigger events such as the Sweatlife Festivals. Now it has even started hosting weekend retreats. These offer participants expert advice, the chance to meet other fitness enthusiasts – and, of course, further opportunities to buy more lululemon products.

Will Higham is a consumer strategist, futurist, speaker and founder of Next Big Thing. Share your thoughts on retail innovation with him via: next-big-thing.net 

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About author

William Higham

William Higham

William Higham is the founder and CEO of consumer trends consultancy Next Big Thing.

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