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Four Ways Brands are Rethinking Innovation

Hubspot-author-headshotsWRITTEN BY
Kevin Kohler
VP, Retail Marketing Solutions

Retail branding, store design and the customer and associate experience were well-covered themes at Future Stores in June. Here are Miller Zell’s four major takeaways from the event.

Retail verticals continue to blur

Whether it’s brand partnerships, multi-brand experiences or reaching outside of its vertical, businesses often benefit from unconventional thinking, knocking down walls and seeking partnerships that are either product/service adjacent or unexpected.

An iconic union between two legendary American brands: Tiffany & Co. and Nike. (source: Tiffany & Co.)

Examples include Restoration Hardware and Crate & Barrel offering restaurant experiences where customers can sit and dine and then buy the sort of tables, chairs and utensils they used. Or the Nike and Tiffany collaboration that first inspired a “what?” then a “cool!” An open-ended one that will provide diverse opportunities are new EV charging stations considering what they can offer customers within a 20-45-minute idle dwell time.

Whatever the partnership, whether expected or unexpected, combinations that augment a great customer experience often lift both brands. A cohesive customer journey is still critical, and considerations like wayfinding, traffic flow, visual hierarchy, checkout and shared brand values should create a shopper experience that feels natural and engaging.

Whether it’s integrating a tech startup’s pop-up experience within a department store or weaving a local coffee shop into a furniture retailer, brands are looking for mutually beneficial partnership opportunities that co-create compelling retail narratives.

This unconventional approach leads to a more dynamic in-store experience, attracts a wider customer base and, ultimately, drives sales for all parties involved.


Double down on your brand philosophy

Talking about “brand philosophy” and asking, “What does our brand actually stand for?” are not academic or frivolous, new-age activities.

Your brand identity is the story you tell customers about who you are and what you stand for. When you consistently maintain and elevate this brand identity through your product selection, store environment, omnichannel experience, marketing, customer service, philanthropy/business practices and social media outreach you build trust and loyalty.

Girl shopping in modern store retail

Imagine a customer walking into one of your recently refreshed stores. They should instantly recognize your brand and feel a certain way excited, empowered, relaxed, etc., whatever your brand messaging intentions are. Customers who connect with your brand are more likely to increase their dwell time and basket size, become loyal, recommend your brand to friends and even become brand advocates.

Consistency is key. Every touchpoint, from your in-store displays to your website to how you answer the phone, needs to reflect your brand identity.

A strong brand identity isn’t just a logo. It’s the foundation for a thriving business.

AI is a tool with many uses right now

Yes, this is an understatement. Businesses that are not engaging with AI and asking what can it do for them, their productivity and their customer and associate engagement are going to feel like Blockbuster executives who dismissed the internet and streaming video.

AI is more than ChatGPT writing emails. Its uses are creative, generative, analytical and predictive. It can be used for training, store layout, data analysis, pricing, supply chain, compliance, personalization and merchandising. In fact, there are few areas within your store and corporate offices in which it can’t play a valuable role.

Just about every business — at the very least — is dipping a toe into the AI action. For retailers, it’s about innovations that create value, whether that’s in operations behind the scenes or with the customer and associate experiences.


"Just about every business — at the very least — is dipping a toe into the AI action."


Engage strategically and purposefully, just as you would with any other new technology. But recognize that AI is more like the international deployment of the internet from 2000 to 2010 and its takeover of the global communications landscape rather than a straightforward leap into a specific sort of technology.

It’s going to be useful, fascinating, complicated and, yes, sometimes worrisome.


Employee retention and “shrinkage” are common frustrations

“Shrinkage” — shoplifting, stealing, whatever you want to call the crime — is still a problem, at both a micro- and macro-level. 

Locking up products damages the customer’s in-store experience. New technology, which includes enhanced video surveillance and even AI technology, is expensive to deploy and hasn’t yet produced dramatic results. Maybe associate body cameras will work better. Retailers are still looking for solutions. 

Hanes underwear tank tops and t-shirts packages in locked glass security cases due to high crime theft at Target department store.

This pairs with another problem: associate retention. While more than a few retail executives say this is a challenge in corporate offices as well, it’s a longtime struggle at the store level. In fact, the shrinkage issue is part of the struggle to improve the associate experience (and sometimes shrinkage issues are on the associate side, too).

A big-picture solution integrates what we’ve been noting above, from AI uses to brand values. Empower your frontline employees through training, new technology, promotion opportunities and clear pathways for advancement.

Retail associates are not just cashiers who also stock shelves and direct customers to the bathroom. They are brand ambassadors and product experts, equipped with the knowledge to answer questions, provide personalized recommendations and foster connections with customers.

This store-level experience also could eventually provide a strong foundation for innovative thinking in the future at a corporate level.