The Secret to Rapid Retail Innovation

July 14, 2015
 

Retail is a rock’em sock’em business. Every day, it’s an all out effort to source outstanding products, get goods into stores efficiently, and provide customers with experiences that inspire spending and repeat visits.

Competitors are constantly evolving; a retailer can never rest assured. Another day, another dollar? Sure. It’s also, another day, another shift in the competitive landscape.

Retail is moving fast, and the pace of change is only increasing. Just think about what Amazon is doing.

If you’ve been paying attention to the news lately, you’ve probably seen a flurry of headlines about Amazon. Amazon has been innovating at a breakneck speed and releasing new products at an unprecedented rate. In the past year alone, the company has released:

  • Unlimited cloud storage for Prime customers
  • Fire TV Stick
  • Echo wireless speaker and voice-supported buying
  • Dash Button for one-touch buying of staples
  • Prime Now for same-day shipping
  • Amazon studios (free movies and tv shows for Prime members)
  • Amazon@Purdue (stores at schools)
  • Amazon Home Services (e.g., find a plumber)
  • Shopping app for Apple Watch 1

That’s a lot of innovation. Amazon is driving the pace of change that all other retailers have to match.

What are you going to do to keep up? It might seem impossible, but it’s not.

Your strategy most likely does not involve investing in a portfolio of other product lines like Amazon. You’re not going to launch a media empire or a global cloud infrastructure company. Realistically, you really need to focus on how to be innovative in your core market: selling products.

Innovation is not magic. It comes from experimentation, trying new things, tweaking them, and moving fast. In the realm of eCommerce, innovating and winning depends on two things: great people and great technology.

We’ll assume you are a great person. After all, you’re reading this blog post, right?

Still, no matter how smart or innovative you are, you cannot move fast using crappy technology.  Bad technology beats a good person every time.

If you are like most retailers, you have loads of old technology in your business already. You know, the kind of soul-crushing software that costs a ton of money and often prevents you from doing what you want to do. The version you’re on doesn’t have the cool new features, and upgrading is nigh impossible.

Do yourself a favor and make an oath. Right now. Close your eyes and repeat after me: I will never buy software with a version again.

That’s right. Whether hosted in the cloud by the vendor or hosted by you, the enemy of innovation is versioning. Once you get stuck on a particular version of enterprise software, you are doomed.

The only way a retailer can innovate fast is by using software that is automatically upgraded to the latest version for you by the vendor.  That way, you get the new features when they come out of development. You can deploy new customer experiences or cost-saving measures without budget approval or someone in IT to move mountains for you.

When buying enterprise software, just ask the vendor one simple question:

Are all of your customers always using the same exact version of your software?

There is only one answer you want to hear: “Yes!” Then you know the vendor will always give you the new features.

This blog post isn’t about Kibo’s software, so I won’t get into how “automatically upgraded” order management software makes a huge difference in the life of an eCommerce or Operations manager. (It does make a huge difference, though.)

We upgrade our software six times a year — all automatically — so our customers can move fast. After all, you know Amazon is upgrading their own software at least six times a year.

As an enterprise solution, of course, we give our clients the choice to deploy new features or not.  But the features are always there for them to deploy at a moment’s notice. Any leading automatically-upgraded software vendor should do the same.

If you want to innovate quickly in your retail business, you need new retail features in your software. You need to implement features at the pace dictated by customer demand, not by a sluggish software upgrade process.

Don’t get stuck with cumbersome, expensive and out-of-date software. Buy software that is automatically upgraded for you. You’ll be much more successful.

1 Source: Amazon’s roadmap for 2015: Move fast, launch as much as possible. http://bgr.com/2015/04/24/amazon-earnings-q1-2015-analysis-roadmap/