Three brands pioneering retail innovation

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NRFtech13-icon-blogWhether a retailer has a physical or online store, the panelists on the NRFtech Leadership Summit Fast Track relayed the same message – a devoted, engaged community of customers should be the cornerstone of commerce.

OpenSky, STORY and LittleBlackBag.com all have unique aspects of retail innovation. With the Fast Track theme in mind, here are a few quick takeaways from each speaker.

  • John Caplan shared a few stats about the shopping website, OpenSky, that has over 35,000 products and is 3 million members strong. The website is similar to what a customer would see on social media. Brands share Facebook-like posts of their products and members follow updates that spark their interest. Of course, more followers can equal more sales for merchants. Caplan said merchants who post more often sell six times more than those who post infrequently. The average member is worth 27 times more to a brand than a Facebook fan or follower, according to Caplan, and 80 percent of these connections cross-category shop. But don’t let the numbers fool you— OpenSky thrives as more than a social community. It’s a movement democratizing commerce by connecting small businesses and shoppers who crave quality and diversity. It’s no surprise OpenSky made Fast Company’s Most Innovative list last year.

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    Little Black Bag CEO Dan Murillo (right), talks retail innovation with STORY Founder Rachel Shechtman and OpenSky Founder and CEO John Caplan.

  • Some may have heard Rachel Shechtman’s story before. But that’s the beauty of STORY – it changes so often that there’s always something different to discover. Like OpenSky, Shechtman built STORY from a concept that already exists and made it uniquely hers. The retailer takes a magazine’s point of view, changes every eight weeks like a gallery, and sells merchandise like a store. Content, community and commerce are the foundation of her vision. One might say this fourth generation entrepreneur was raised to think innovatively. Perhaps that’s why she called the square footage metric sales “archaic” and replaced it with her own measurement. Using heat map technology, Shechtman measures “experience by square foot” at her New York store. Seventy-five percent of STORY’s square feet can be experiential displays or events at a given time, not something you can buy, she added. Content and community, driving commerce.
  • Dan Murillo concluded with the origin of LittleBlackBag.com. The online retailer is loosely based on a Japanese tradition known as the “Lucky Bag sale”, where retailers sell mystery bags of products. Customers buy these bags and trade the items inside with friends. The concept took off in the U.S., due in large part to the elements engrained in the brand. Using social media, online fire sales and gamification, LittleBlackBag.com is driven by what Murillo calls entertainment commerce. SneakPeeq, Poshmark and Lolly Wolly Doodle are all unique styles that bring the shop, swap and ship ideas to life. But the fundamentals driving people to buy – the scarcity of products, discovery, friendly competition, feeling of accomplishment, and discussions that happen after purchase – are not new to consumers. But making these all successful within online retail is.

During the question and answer session, Shechtman contended that younger generations consider the Internet a utility over a technology. Thus, it’s important for retailers to ensure their physical and digital presence work seamlessly. This just might be the next big innovation in retail.

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