Let’s face it, most traditional retailers aren’t very good at innovation. There is no such thing as an R&D budget at most of them. Many barely even have any real process or tangible goals centered on bringing new things to market. Labeling your typical large retailer “reactive” when it comes to innovation is being generous and polite. Not surprisingly, most of the useful disruption in the retail space has come from outsiders and start-ups.
Recently we have seen a number of sleeping giants begin to awaken to the need to raise their game and pick up the pace. The digital transformation that has swept through retail, and the resulting blurring of the channels, makes it impossible for even the most conservative of brands to sit idle.
Yet, here’s the problem. Most of these retailers are merely focused on closing the gap between them and the obvious or emerging leaders. Once some new technology or marketing technique or experiential dimension begins to prove itself out, then these companies kick into action. Apple starts doing untethered checkout, a couple of years later mobile POS starts springing up nearly everywhere. A few brands have success with order online, pick up in store, and soon that is on everyone’s list of 2015 projects.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with being mindful of which new strategies are gaining consumer and economic traction and positioning yourself to be a fast follower. And to be sure, if a company finds itself in trouble, it is completely sensible to find the areas of innovation that can quickly deliver the greatest near-term leverage.
But most of these brands are really just innovating to parity. By the time their innovation efforts get to scale, the next big thing is beginning to emerge and once again they themselves behind. It’s the proverbial difference between skating to where the puck is, rather than skating to where it’s going to be.
It’s great that more companies are embracing innovation. But it’s not enough to merely step on the innovation treadmill.
Winning in today’s environment requires a commitment to anticipate, to leap, to experiment, to fail, to refine and get up and try again.
Leading from behind has never worked.
And hoping to lead from parity probably won’t cut it either.