Becoming a disruptive retailer

gentle-monster-8A disruptive innovation is a technologically simple innovation in the form of a product, service, or business model that takes root in a tier of the market that is unattractive to the established leaders in an industry.

Clayton M. Christensen

If the future of retail is to be decided by the innovators and disruptors, what style of retail organisation and leader (and advisor for that matter) does the new landscape actually require?

If thinking about retail growth models, we start perhaps not with the known, rather the unknown; the why rather than the what. With this thinking we can quite easily see the rise of tech-based business that have led and continue to lead disruption.

This week our team have been discussing the retail store ‘Gentle Monster’. Founded in 2011 and inspired by US optical disruptor Warby Parker, Gentle Monster is an avant garde eyewear brand, headed by Hankook Kim. The company swept into retail in 2016.

Every retail store in their ecosystem is completely different; from ‘Platform’ in Hong Kong; designed like a train carriage, to ‘L’Artisan’ in Shanghai and ‘Secret Apartment’ in Beijing.

Each store is a three dimensional still life, with its own back themed story. A masterclass in how to avoid the ‘cookie cutter’ and keep retail exciting.

However evolving a model from its current state to a moderate improvement is not strategy per se and certainly not innovation or a disruptive play per se, rather a tactical improvement.

gentle-monster3Disruptors and innovators must start by definition with the simple question of, why not?

Adaptors and tacticians start with what do we need to do to improve.

Both are responses to the changing, demanding, savvy experience thirsty customer – one walks the trail at a faster pace and one can build the trail.

If you’ve invested in real consumer insights, you are consequently moving one large step to being a disruptor base. By understanding your consumers’ personalities and subconscious drivers, you are removing an element of risk and therefore have the space to really push some boundaries in your strategy and concept development.

‘Design thinking’ is an ethos being explored by many of the most disruptive retailers in the sector in order to drive innovation.

Developed by David Kelley, the founder of IDEO –a global design firm and a leader in this space– design thinking is defined as “a human-centered approach to innovation that draws from the designer’s toolkit to integrate the needs of people, the possibilities of technology, and the requirements for business success” – in retail speak it’s living and breathing customer centricity in everything you do.

Design thinking describes a repeatable process employing unique and creative techniques which yield guaranteed results — usually results that exceed initial expectations. Extraordinary results that leapfrog the expected. This is why it is such an attractive, dynamic and important methodology for businesses to embrace today and is the reason so many start-up businesses are overtaking the ‘traditional’ big players as ‘innovation leaders’.

Design thinking is not “design a chair”, it’s…”create a way to suspend a person”.

gentle-monster7So what’s the message here?

We have been vocal in advocating  real consumer insights for some time now, to underpin your design thinking  to really excite and delight, your customer  to be a true ‘disruptor’ and innovator. It is the implementation of those insights, the strategy building process, where the magic truly happens. Investing both time and money in design thinking, idea generation and constantly questioning ‘why’ and ‘what’s next’ will allow your business to push boundaries and offer your customer something they didn’t even realise they desired.

There’s a little gentle monster in all of us.

Brian Walker is founder and CEO of Retail Doctor Group and can be contacted on 02 9460 2882 or [email protected].


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