Features, Technology

Calling the Retail Innovation/Disruption Bluff

One of the debilitating downsides of having been a card-carrying futurist with Faith Popcorn’s BrainReserve is learning the dirty little secret of big companies’ off-stated quests for innovation and their vociferous lip service championing of disruption. Here it is: Like the weather, everyone talks a great deal about retail innovation, but nobody (in these big clunky companies) ever does anything about it. Except, of course, when they swallow up some startup and then dumb it down.

Retail Woes

Retailers, designers, manufacturers: You know the issues you face. Nobody wants to go to the mall anymore. At least not to shop. Not to face a black-suited security contingent hovering at the entrance, scrutinizing each one as s/he attempts to come in to spend money. Not to be viewed as a wannabe thief at each attempt to try on an item. Not to be allowed to bring a mother or friend into the dressing room, just in case they want to pocket the item themselves. Not to…well you get it. A would-be shopper puts honor and reputation at risk just by entering the hallowed retail gates.

You know the cost of training and retaining sales associates. You know the statistics about how much of your shrinkage is due to employee pilferage. You know the per-foot cost of each retail store, the sunk costs dedicated to fitting rooms, the marketing costs of trying to enlist customers and sales people as “brand ambassadors.” You know your inventory management costs. You know it all. But you’ve got a jaundiced eye. “Seen it all before.” Other mirrors. Other rooms.

You know the hand-wringing 21st-century reality of customers’ shortened attention spans and demands for engagement brands. And yet, would you know a solution if one arrived in your inbox? Would you embrace it?

Look! There’s the Future, Lurking in Your Email Inbox

OK, here goes. Imagine you’re that big retailer. Or a well-known designer. Or a young, hopeful couturier. Or a stylist with a celebrity following. Or a fashion-challenged, newly recruited pro athlete. Or a hotelier with a luxe clientele. Then imagine a savvy young woman comes to you with a proposition. Imagine her name is Melanie Wagner and she’s CEO and Founder of an amazing thing called Matilda. It’s a technologically adroit mirror that reflects the customer and enables her or him to try on clothes, without trying on clothes. All from inventory loaded into its software. The choices and the look magically appear. “Oh, yes,” you say. “I’ve heard about these gizmos before.”

No. You haven’t seen this before.

Remember what Arthur Clarke told us: “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” Well, Matilda is magic. Sounds pretty fabby, right? Maybe a little “that can’t work” bubbles up in the thought balloon above your imaginary head. A bit of “too good to be true” leaks through. So, if you’re that big retailer or well-known designer, well, let’s face it, her smart, bold, visionary, fearless email probably hits your delete folder, doesn’t it?

But if you were to read her email or hear her pitch, you’d learn she’s getting traction at the hoteliers who know their penthouse suite-level patrons. Why? It’s the concierge’s job to know high rollers who want to avoid the messy reality of shopping and schlepping. They know there are designers who want an on ramp to reach their affluent audiences.

Melanie eagerly points out the financial impact Matilda ushers in. For retailers, consider the reduced footprint for fitting rooms, reduced shrinkage and reduced need for masses of inventory since the desired goods can be shipped directly to the customer’s home or hotel. Consider the expanded understanding of your shopper. All the shopping, fitting and selected/non-selected goods are stored by the tech. Think too about what else this tech can do. Matilda has a simple dashboard allowing a photo of your shopper wearing the item to be taken and sent immediately to friends and/or Facebook, making every shopper an ambassador.

For high-end hotels, it provides a high-touch mechanism for shepherding upscale goods directly to the suite. For emerging designers, it offers bespoke access without the expense of showrooms. Fascinatingly, for celebrity athletes and entertainers, it brings their stylists’ advice and suggestions to them wherever they are in the world.

Matilda: Brainchild of a Savvy Entrepreneur

If Matilda were as good as Melanie says, well gosh! Wouldn’t you have heard of it? Of her before now? In a WeWork office, this self-funded techno savvy disrupter, late of technology development assignments for major brands and businesses, is betting her farm on your ability to recognize serious disruption and innovation when it comes knocking at your door. I suspect, like the Raven, big retail will quote “Nevermore.” But I’d be thrilled to be proven wrong. Trust me, she represents a new generation of tech-savvy innovators who will change the retail conversation.

Making the Shift

We all know the definition of insanity. Perhaps it needs to be redefined. “To not just keep on doing what you’ve always done, but to double down and expect a different result.” Brick and mortar, even when awash with performance spaces and stairways to various nowhere, even with art installations and restaurants, have not reimagined the retail shopping experience in a way that will fuel genuine retail growth.

What is the current thinking? If we can just coax, trick, bait and switch some consumers to enter our shop and seduce them into buying something while they await the start of whatever in-store experiential activity we have planned, is that enough to lure the rest of the country to go back to the mall? What will change the mix? Honestly disrupt and innovate? A conversation with Melanie Wagner is one small step for you. One giant leap for retail.

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