Exclusive Q&A: Brian Solis Reveals Five Keys To Real Retail Innovation

As a digital analyst, anthropologist and futurist, Brian Solis strives to get to the heart of not just how the art of doing business has changed, but more importantly, why. In his latest report, titled: Leading Trends In Retail Innovation: Insights from Some of the Most Progressive Retailers Changing The Game, Solis, a Principal Analyst at Altimeter, a Prophet Company, investigates how the “Retail Armageddon” and other headline-dominating trends are changing the industry as we know it.

The report was “shaped based on my experience in innovation and transformation,” Solis explained. “When I’m interviewing people responsible for retail innovation, I’m often surprised, even disappointed, in how very little innovation is taking place. There is no sense of urgency around the topic. So, I put myself in the shoes of someone in this role. If I’m tasked with finding ways to better compete in the digital economy, who would I want to talk to? Who would inspire me to think differently?”

In an exclusive interview with Retail TouchPoints, Solis shared insights into which findings surprised him (and which didn’t). He also delved into:

  • Why and how he adjusted the research methodology for this report;
  • How internal change can make or break innovation initiatives; and
  • The five strategies that all best-in-class retailers engage in.

Retail TouchPoints (RTP): How was this report different from other research you’ve conducted?

Brian Solis: For any report where I discuss digital transformation or innovation, I don’t follow a standard scientific methodology process. I’ve been covering this space for so many years that I know the problems and I know the opportunities, so I felt like I had to humanize the story. I wanted to capture why some companies are failing, why some are succeeding, and determine what the differences were between the two. That was the underlying story arc for this report.

RTP: You interviewed several retail innovation experts and executives who are tasked with driving innovation within their organizations, including Charlie Cole at TUMI and Scott Emmons of the Neiman Marcus Innovation Lab. How did you determine who you wanted to speak with?

Solis: Every industry has a cast of characters who are change agents. I sought them out because I wanted to illustrate to the readers that true innovation is possible. Right now, we’re thinking about innovation in the context of the past. Retail executives overall are looking at what’s possible through a limited lens of perspective. But there are change-makers who are on the front lines and showing what’s possible.

RTP: After you completed your interviews and outside research, which findings surprised you the most?

Solis: What surprised me the most is how pervasive legacy thinking is with any innovation conversation, and how often innovation is tied to trying to push existing models forward. I was also surprised by how frequently retailers are confusing innovation and iteration. Iteration is finding ways to do the same things better. Innovation, however, is finding new ways to introduce new value.

I’ll use Walmart as an example. The retailer has progressed in such a short period of time, with its acquisition of both Jet.com and Bonobos. Walmart is integrating these execs into HQ and has to disrupt how it manages itself. I thought…