To innovate on the part of retailers, technologists must be more connected to the world in which retail takes place. The world of technology is a far cry from the sales floor. Tech experts often have little contact with the mass of humanity that walks into stores every day. Chief Technology Officers (CTOs) seeking innovation partners should look for tech firms that are willing to put hours into walking the sales floor with an associate or shadowing a manager. Technology experts will find their own creativity sparked by working a shift as a pick-and-pack specialist at a client’s warehouse. Taking the time to gain this level of on-the-job understanding is a key way innovation is fostered, and it must be a key priority of the retail CTO.
When Nordstrom hired a CTO, it looked for more than just a history of tech knowledge; it recruited specifically for an individual with a successful history of experimenting.
Experimentation will be a vital tool in the transformation of retail for the mobile age. It will be the way CTOs turn their hunches into smart actions. Nordstrom is hardly the only retailer following this path. Walmart acquired Jet.com last year to access the start-up’s innovation and experimentation talent. Then Walmart tested its own mobile app payment system in a selection of stores before rolling it out nationwide. Retailers such as Staples and Home Depot have created innovation labs to test and tweak technology. The ability to create, run, and learn from experimentation is a key skill for the retail CTO, one that will only become more critical as new technologies emerge and shoppers look for new ways to engage with their favorite brands.
Individual technologies might ultimately catch fire or they might wither, but they’ve already succeeded in demonstrating a new dimension of in-person shopping: providing a convenience and magic that have faded from the retail shop floor. Retailers shouldn’t shy away from experiments with technology. They are not gimmicks; they are the process of innovation at work.
For more on this topic, read my book Makeover: How Mobile Flipped the Shopping Cart.