“The Future is Now” — Lessons in Retail Innovation from the Experts


INITION partnered with Handle’s Digital and Technology Division for an evening exploring the Future of Retail, with presentations from guest speakers and leaders within their respective fields, Kate Ancketill, CEO of GDR Creative Intelligence, and Neil Tinegate, Head of Innovation at Argos.

INITION has a long and distinguished record providing world first solutions for the retail clients, most recently for Arcadia Group at London Fashion Week (with our VR catwalk show for Topshop) and SelfridgesFestival of Imagination (Gareth Pugh). The evening provided an excellent opportunity for key players within the retail space to see the latest technical and creative innovation first hand in our unique Demo Studio.

Neil Tinegate.

// Risk & Innovation

First up, presenting his thoughts on the necessity of risk for innovation, was Neil Tinegate, Head of Digital Innovation at Argos.

Argos has an impressive history of being at the forefront of the uptake of the latest technological developments, a feat which has seen the company evolve into what is arguably one of the most digitally innovative retailers in the UK today. From their first website – which won tech awards in its day, despite seeming relatively primitive by today’s standards – through to their current digital in-store revolution, Argos shows no signs of slowing down.

Discussing innovation in the workplace, Tinegate had this to say:

  • Innovation stems from work processes and work culture that embraces collaboration, risk-taking and out-of-the-box thinking.
  • Employees won’t take risks/experiment in businesses without cultures that encourage a ‘freedom to play’ – but also the freedom to fail. Things won’t always work out or produce the results you want and that’s ok too – as long as lessons are learned.
  • ‘Agile Development’ method of working — small teams of multidisciplinary individuals working on more projects, though on a smaller scale — a great way to generate more ideas whilst keeping things fresh. Tends to speed up the process of getting things done and getting new projects/ideas/products off the ground.
  • “Days of Innovation” that encourage employees to come together and brainstorm the more adventurous ideas they’re capable of – break out of the box, so to speak. From these ideas, often a handful of gems will arise that show the greatest potential. I.e. Argos’ successful kids’ Christmas wish list app which was the result of a ‘hackathon’ exercise, the results of which are in our image gallery.


Kate Ancketill.

// The Future is now.

As the CEO and Founder of GDR Creative Intelligence, Kate Ancketill is no stranger to innovative thinking. With an impressive track record providing intelligence, strategy and analysis advice for some of the world’s biggest brands and retailers, GDR ‘considers every aspect of the retail experience in the physical and digital space, including store and service design, brand communication and social media, to provide the inspiration, insight and advice that gives the world’s leading companies real competitive advantage.’ Suffice to say, Ancketill knows a thing or two about retail innovation.

So, what thoughts did she have on the Future of Retail?

  • Technological advancements will see an influx of brands and retailers introducing technologies, services and products that consumers can interact with on a deeper level – be it intellectually, by proximity and interaction, or physically via tactile feedback.
  • Artificial Intelligence or ‘cognitive computing’ could spur a growth in the use of in-store robots in lieu of actual staff (Lowe’s multilingual robot) digital personal assistants for the home (Jibo), learning engines to assist consumers with making more informed decisions/purchases (Fluid XPS for North Face) and workplace ‘cognitive knowledge workers’ (Amelia) that can reply to emails, answer calls and hold conversations. Already consumers have shown a great deal of interest in this type of technology, if the proliferation of smartphone assistants like Apple’s Suri, Microsoft’s Cortana and Google’s Now is any indication.
  • In-store service at home: expanding a brand’s remit by offering consumers retail-style service within the comfort of their own homes. For example, the Amazon Echo dispenses information and purchasing advice via voice activation, ordering products immediately from the Amazon store, or the Darty Button which, when pressed, puts the user directly in touch with a customer service representative offering assistance or repair services. The KLM #Happytohelp campaign worked in a similar fashion, putting distressed travellers in touch with travel consultants who organised travel arrangements on their behalf. Devices like the Amazon Dash and Waitrose’s Hiku enable consumers to scan the barcode of items in their house which, in turn, adds the items to their online shopping baskets ready to order. All such concepts offer consumers greater levels of convenience, whilst enabling brands to continue to expand beyond their traditional channels of retail.
  • Lastly, Ancketill discussed ‘gesture marketing’ – a trend that she described as a ‘new land-grab for ownable interactions’. Concepts like the Dorothy app are based around distinctive gestures – in this case, three taps of the user’s heels – which summons a service or product. For Dorothy, the gesture fulfils a pre-selected option to order an uber, generate a phone call or send a message to friends. Taco Bell’s app, meanwhile, lets consumers quickly and conveniently reorder favourite meals with little more than a twist of the wrist, whilst ‘Traces’ enables users leave secret, personalised messages to loved ones which can only be accessed when within the vicinity of where the message was sent. The benefit of gesture marketing is that it requires active participation on the part of the consumer – users have to physically engage with the product which could, in some cases, result in the gesture becoming associated with the brand.

Ancketill sums up her views on the future of retail into three clearly identifiable trends: AI assistance, in-home lifestyle support and gesture land-grabs.

From a tech perspective, where does INITION see the future of retail headed?

Adrian Leu, Head of Strategy & Innovation at SuperCommunications (INITION’S parent company) asserts that “there is no doubt that the retail sector is changing at a very fast rate. ‘Do or die’ has never been a more prescient mantra, especially within the high street sector which is under strong attack from online retailers like Amazon. Fluid and engaging customer experience together with a seamless union of the online and offline and a strong data-driven culture constitutes the ‘holy grail’ for many high street retailers. That’s where technology is the catalyst and driving engine.

Although for some of the more cutting-edge projects the jury is still out, it will be interesting to see how the unprecedented exponential curve of the technology advancement will find common intersection points with the more linear curve of internal business transformation. There has never been a better time for the retail business to embrace the culture of a ‘tech brand’.”

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