The future of in-house retail innovation 


Imagine that you’re IBM Engineer Frank Canova and your team has just launched an innovation that will change the world forever: the smartphone.

It was no small feat. The technology took you years to devise, add two years to bring it to market, and you’re looking at half a decade of hard-fought radical innovation.

Of course, the smartphone has revolutionised the way we communicate. But imagine if it had been a big flop?  

As retail leaders, we know innovation is critical to survive and thrive, but can we risk dedicating a whole decade to bring it to fruition?

The answer is usually no. And that’s not to dismiss the importance of giving your ideas and innovations time to flourish, but can you afford to work on something for a decade with no pay-off in sight? 

Fortunately, looking at the future of in-house innovation, you may only need a matter of days.

What is the future of in-house innovation? 

As we head into a year clouded with uncertainty and instability, a fresh focus on incremental in-house innovation will be key to keeping the pedal flat to the floor on business growth.

Historically, in-house innovation has involved turning to dedicated teams in order to generate to-of-the-box ideas. However, this year we will need to evolve this definition to empower collaboration across the organisation – enabling every individual to become an innovator for growth.

By championing a hybrid mix of ‘open’ and ‘in-house’ innovation, we can remove the risk of your innovation becoming department-led and siloed, cast the net wider and enable ideas and voices across the entire organisation.

This is not a nice-to-have. This is precisely what organisations need to thrive in the future of retail and e-commerce.

Why is in-house innovation so powerful? 

Cost savings: Discover fresh ideas without the need to over-invest in external resources or consultants. 

Improved productivity: Encouraging employees to think creatively helps to foster a culture of innovation and productivity.

Increased employee engagement: In-house innovation can help employees learn and feel more invested in their work and the success of the organisation, as they have the opportunity to contribute their ideas and see them come to fruition. 

Better alignment with organisational goals: By encouraging employees to come up with new ideas, organisations can ensure that their efforts are aligned with the company’s overall goals and objectives.

How your team harness in-house innovation in 2023

To empower in-house innovation, you need to focus on three key practices. 

Incremental over disruptive innovation

Spending years working on an innovation before it hits the market is risky business. 

When budgets are tight there is no luxury of a long runway before launch. You need to tighten your innovation cycles and provide something sustainable that delivers quick results. 

It may not be grand to begin with, but over time it will compound into something great and your time to value (TTV) will dramatically reduce.

Knowledge sharing

Traditional outsourced innovation (when specialist consultancies devise solutions for you) is costly, however, it is undeniably strengthened by an objective view of your organisation. 

To combat this, the new era of in-house innovation needs to be hyper-collaborative and actively champion knowledge sharing. 

To devise fresh ideas, we need to draw from a collaborative pool of expertise and experience. And whilst it’s trickier to look beyond ‘how you’ve always done it’ when working with internal teams, it’s not impossible. This is where knowledge sharing becomes crucial.

Your organisation can champion knowledge sharing by making it a core part of your culture. Think participating in industry think tanks and events, forming close collaborative partnerships with solution providers, clients and fellow retailers, and actively encouraging all employees, regardless of role or seniority, to share their knowledge through reverse mentoring.

Cross-functional collaboration 

In-house innovation is powered by your people. 

When we outsource innovation, we overlook the insane talent in-house and over time this dismissal compounds and results in a workforce that feels undervalued and unheard. 

By actively encouraging cross-functional and cross-departmental collaboration, you are telling your workforce that their ideas matter. This leads to increased job satisfaction and engagement, which will improve retention and overall performance. 

Want to learn some strategies to champion in-house innovation in your organisation? 

This is your opportunity to attend a free one-day immersive masterclass on in-house innovation. MI Academy’s award-winning HackGames is returning to Retail Week for a third year. Apply to play today to join the leading minds in retail and eCommerce as they “hack it out” to find innovative solutions to our industry’s greatest challenges.

Player applications are closing soon. Click here to apply today (it only takes four minutes!)

About the author: Alita Harvey-Rodriguez is founder & MD of MI Academy.


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