9 retail innovators you need to know the names of (and one bonus)

Sometimes it seems like we can hardly move for innovations. Everyone’s got an idea and a company to go with it. The challenge is working out what’s worth your time and attention.

Enter these 9 retail innovators who we genuinely think offer some clues into the future of retail. It’s not just about what they’re doing now, although we think that’s pretty interesting, but what this suggests about the future. It’s looking at where these innovations could lead and how they might change everything about retail – especially in the case of our bonus category.

Video credit: Ivyrevel


Ivyrevel Coded Couture


What is it?

The H&M-owned Ivyrevel worked with Google last year to bring this data-driven personalised clothing project to life. Using the Coded Couture app, the company gets to know where customers live, work and socialise, and how they travel between these locations. It then uses this information to recommend outfits that are tailored to that lifestyle.

Its first product is the Data Dress. Customers have to initially select an occasion and a style. The ap then tracks their movements, locations and activities to determine the final style. You might get blingier materials if you go to fancy restaurants or out dancing. Your run route might become part of the pattern. The climate of where you live may determine the materials. The resulting dress is an insight into your life – although it is not mandatory to buy it and you can change details you don’t like.


What clues does it give us about the future of retail?

It’s a cool concept, right? A dress designed based on how we live our lives. It’s a bit like Tommy Hilfiger’s fashion project last year which let students design clothing based on social media.

Most of us carry our smartphones with us at all time. If we’re happy to allow companies like Ivyrevel access to information about where we go and what we do, then they can build up a better sense of who we are as individuals. This makes personalisation a whole lot easier.

We already know that data is an important part of the retail mix. But the Coded Couture project highlights new ways that retailers can capture this data and use it to improve their offerings. It feels like there’s scope for a single app that tracks this info and shares it in a secure way with companies of the customer’s choice.




What is it?

Appaparel makes smart clothing labels that can turn any item into a wearable device that can track interaction and usage. It’s still in development, but the idea makes the smart clothing revolution a bit simpler. Rather than having to develop the clothing from scratch, ala the Levi’s and Google Jacquard project, any retailer could add smart capabilities to any item at any time.


What clues does it give us about the future of retail?

For one, this is an area that is hotting up from the aforementioned Jacquard project to Tommy Hilfiger’s new Xplore range. It is a new frontier for retail. It’s also changing the definition of what a retailer is. Smart brands are exploring how they can create interconnected, smart networks that engage the customer and learn about them at every turn. The better these systems work; the better these brands’ retailing will be.

The way that Appaparel’s tech works could advance the wearables game significantly. It’s currently a bit of a classic chicken and egg situation where there isn’t really the demand for smart clothes because there aren’t enough smart clothes for people to get excited about the possibilities of. By making it faster, cheaper and easier for anyone to create smart clothing, Appaparel might just help nudge wearables into the mainstream.

Once our clothes are smarter this opens up a bunch of new opportunities for retail. Trainers that can tell when they’re wearing out and alert you to buy new ones? Delicates that can recommend what washing powder you should use? Tops that monitor your heart rate and vitals to personalise your health insurance? There’s going to be a balance between useful and intrusive, amazing and creepy, but data from what we wear could be a gamechanger.


Blue Yonder


What is it?

This is a hugely impactful quick win. Blue Yonder uses AI to help retailers optimise their prices and reduce out of stock rates. Its customers are seeing profits improve by as much as 5% which isn’t to be sniffed at when you’re a multi-million pound business. Blue Yonder achieves this by using AI to automate stock replenishment and optimise pricing based on its understanding of that specific retail business.


What clues does it give us about the future of retail?

That AI is going to be part of retail in the future shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone. What this does tell us is that there are a lot of ways that its impact will be felt – right down to seemingly simple everyday decisions.

It also shows that there’s still a lot of money that retailers can save by getting their operations in order. If you can increase profits by as much as 5% just by optimising pricing and inventory how much could you push them up by if you improved every part of the business.

This is the real value of AI to retail – getting the house in order. And the ability to do it quickly. No long waits for reports and discussions and strategies, but a retail model that can adjust things operationally on the fly as needed.

Beyond that there’s also a suggestion of a future where prices may not be fixed. AI might make it easier for retailers to adopt dynamic pricing where items go down in price if there’s too much stock and little demand, or up if they’re selling really well and the stock is running low.

Or if not that extreme, could it dynamically price products for certain customers like lowering them if you’re a member of a loyalty scheme or because you already bought the dress and are now back for the shoes? With so many retailers stuck in a cycle of endless discounting, the ability to determine the sweet price point for every item at the very beginning might be hugely valuable.


Video credit: MishiPay




What is it?

MishiPay is a self-checkout app that lets customers shop, scan their purchases, pay and walk out of the store – all from their smartphone, all without queuing. The company says that it has factored in theft protection, which is always a worry with these types of system. The app can even disable security tags once payment has been made, removing this possible pain point.


What clues does it give us about the future of retail?

There’s been a lot of buzz about automated retail stores. They’re popping up left, right and centre these days. Amazon Go wasn’t the first, but it was the one that has helped kickstart this recent influx.

The downside of automated, unmanned stores is the cost associated with the technology. It’s one thing to kit out a single small space in a functioning fashion and another to bring that tech to a chain of hundreds of stores of various sizes. Can you imagine outfitting a major department store with this sort of tech?

Now you might say that this tech was never intended to be used in all types of retail space, but there’s no denying that being able to speed up the buying process and skip the queue is an attractive proposition for all customers. MishiPay shows how this might become feasible in a much wider range of retail spaces. Not only does it offer a better experience for customers, it offers a huge cost saving for retailers over the alternative. Plus, there’s no need to invest in, and upkeep, a bunch of tech because it’s all done from the customer’s device.

The other thing to consider is that MishiPay isn’t all about what gets bought. The app lets customers scan barcodes to find out more about a product before they buy. With shoppers already using their smartphones to look up products and reviews while in stores, this is a more elegant solution. It could allow retailers to incorporate all sorts of value-added content in the future. And the retailer can use the data about what is scanned and not bought to improve its offering.

Video credit: AdsReality




What is it?

AdsReality creates AR experiences for brands and retailers. These range from large in-store and shop window screens that customers can interact with via their smartphone, to home catalogues. What’s brilliant about it is that AdsReality’s tech doesn’t require customers to download an app to interact with the screens. They’re a simple way of boosting interactivity and even mean customers can interact with the shop windows when the store is closed.


What clues does it give us about the future of retail?

Not that long ago, retailers and brands were going crazy creating their own apps. But on reflection most of those apps are a long way from successful. Usually this is because they serve no useful purpose for customers but simply serve up information they can already more easily access from elsewhere. AdsReality is showing that app-free experiences are possible and are more convenient.

After all, if you walk past a cool interactive display do you really want to spend 10 minutes or more faffing about downloading an app, logging in and setting it up? Or do you want to just hold up your phone and get stuck in?

The retail of the future is going to be all about removing barriers to experience. Because we all know that experiential spaces are really important, but if it comes complete with a bunch of hoops then it’s a failure. What customers take away from an experience is a perception of that brand, not a desire to use their sparkly app. Make it easy and fast and frictionless and you’ll leave them with a better perception.

AdsReality also shows us that the rush towards experience shouldn’t just be about physical stores. Retailers should be thinking about where they can add experiences in all their channels – advertising included. It’s all too easy to ignore traditional ads these days. Retailers need to be doing something creative and interactive to get real buy-in.

Finally, the tech is another indicator of retail leaving the store. It says you can shop from a store’s digital window display at 1am or from the flyer you were handed in the street or by snapping a photo of your friend’s shoe. It’s about not being restricted to certain channels or times, but having retail work to your personal schedule.

Video credit: Outernets




What is it?

Outernets has created a personalised, interactive display system that reimagines how shopfronts and malls communicate with customers. Think digital display screens but way, way better. By using machine learning and computer vision the displays can change what’s on screen based on who walks by, or the weather, or people’s emotions. They can also be used for AR, games and actual retailing via smartphone integration.


What clues does it give us about the future of retail?

There’s no getting away from personalisation. We all want it and the more we become aware of it in parts of our lives, the more we become aware when things aren’t personalised. Advertising is a big one for this. We quickly become bored by seeing the same old thing. And that means we find it easy to stop noticing the advertising.

By creating advertising that is more personal to the person viewing it retailers can see better returns. Equally, your shop window is one of the most valuable bits of your retail space when it comes to footfall. So why do you want to waste it with advertising that only targets some of your audience?

Systems like Outernets let retailers make more out of the assets they already have without spending lots more. It means you can switch up the messaging for different groups of people, or perhaps in the future for everyone. It also lets you quickly take advantage of environmental variables to sell more. If it’s sunny you can push BBQs, water sports, cold drinks, sunglasses etc and if the weather changes you can switch to umbrellas, warm drinks and wellingtons immediately.

Imagine a unseasonably warm October day. That’s a great opportunity for a travel agent to have a targeted ad that says ‘want more of this weather? Book your holiday to X today’. You can get emotional buy-in and this will be important for all retailers in the future. As we have more options of what to buy and where, we become more picky about who we do business with. We want a reason to buy from them.


warehousing on-demand

Image credit: Stowaga




What is it?

Stowga is making warehousing on-demand. Retailers can search their location to find available warehouse space across 10 countries when they need it. The great thing is that Stowga’s model doesn’t just cover space, but services as well. This is a major rethink of the warehousing model which usually requires long-term leases and has variable pricing.


What clues does it give us about the future of retail?

What Stowga does may not sound all that revolutionary, but warehouses are one of the biggest long-term fixed costs in a retailer’s supply chain. If their warehousing costs are more variable, in line with their needs at any given time, then retailers may be able to afford to take more risks and therefore be more innovative. It represents a significant shift in mindset.

It also shows how retail is embracing access over ownership more and more. Pop-ups have become a critical part of the physical retailing mix because of the flexibility that they offer retailers. There’s no need for an overly long or involved commitment, which creates space for trying things out. As Stowga proves, this approach can be applied to other parts of the retail industry as well.

Plus, it shows how the service-model is impacting the B2B side, as well as the B2C side. If it can be done with warehousing, then it can be done with all sorts. In the future you may be able to get IoT as a service, automated retail as a service, robots as a service and much more. By not having to do everything themselves, retailers free up resources and expertise for thinking bigger picture.


robot shelf scanning retail

Image credit: COSY




What is it?

If the robots are coming, COSY might be helping them. The company’s computer vision, perception and artificial intelligence tech helps robots become useful in retail. It means that they can learn to navigate a shop floor, manage inventory and ensure that stock is laid out according to planograms.

The beacon-free tech enables localisation and navigation in places without GPS – like your average store or shopping centre. It can map store layouts and architecture and then feed that information back to robots, so they can find their way around.


What clues does it give us about the future of retail?

We’re already seeing some retailers experiment with robots on the shop floor whether that’s to scan shelves for out of stocks or to help direct customers to the correct aisle. At the moment, COSY’s Scout Robots are focused on the inventory management side. But they may be able to do so much more in the future – if they have a better perception of their environment.

Imagine of a robot can fully understand where it is and what is in front of it. Imagine it can tell apples apart from oranges with ease. For COSY this means a future where online orders are also fulfilled by robots who move around the store among human shoppers to grab a checklist of items. This could be a key component of future online and click-and-collect shopping as retailers try to find ways to cost-effectively get items to customers faster and faster.

There may be other things retailers can learn from the tech too. For example, it could use the robots to map stores and identify problems in the layout and design. This could then inform better spaces in the future or refurbishments. The more that we’re able to understand about the spaces we shop in, the better they can become.




What is it?

Created by the Brain of Things, CASPAR is a truly smart home. Think the sort of futuristic assistant-enabled home of sci-fi TV and films. Each home is fitted with 100+ smart devices and powered by AI to learn about the habits and likes of the people who live there. It can then adapt and optimise the living conditions to them. The first CASPAR homes are being tested in California and Nevada.


What clues does it give us about the future of retail?

This sort of connected home could change the way we shop from where we live. If CASPAR knows everything about your life and your routine and what you like and don’t like, it’s not hard to imagine putting that data to good use in retail.

This might be automated retailing where CASPAR reorders things automatically on your behalf. It could be speculative retailing where it suggests things you might like to buy, or even orders them for you to try. Perhaps in the future it could identify when your clothes or shoes are getting a bit worn and suggest you shop for replacements. Or perhaps you might just choose to share the information CASPAR has about you with select brands and retailers. Then there’s the whole notion of allowing companies to deliver items inside your home when you’re away.

As our world and our devices get smarter there will be more and more data available about us. Retail is one industry that could massively benefit from it – not just on an individual level, but also when creating new stores and experiences. If you know that most people prefer a certain temperature or colour scheme or lighting or audio experience or any other number of environmental factors, then you can use this to inform design to create better, more pleasant spaces.



Image credit: Amazon


Bonus: Automated retail


What is it?

Ok so this isn’t a specific innovator, but more of an all-encompassing concept. The reason for that is there are so many companies trying to crack the unmanned, automated retail store from big names like Amazon through to start-ups. Essentially these are retail spaces where you go in, pick what you want and walk out without checking out traditionally or interacting with any staff.

The systems use everything from facial recognition to palm scanning to body tracking to QR codes to RFID tags to shelf weight sensors to image recognition and more. And there’s probably more ideas to come. Newbie on the block, habitat by honestbee in Singapore, does it via a station that scans the trolley of items, packs them and takes payment.


What clues does it give us about the future of retail?

A lot. As of yet, no-one is sure who the winners will be but we’re pretty sure it’ll come down to the most seamless, yet least creepy experience. For example, facial recognition and tracking may not go down so well with the mass public at this time. Systems that require you to scan every item may also be off-putting because of the time involved.

At the same time if the system is too ‘easy’ to use then people may be put off as it feels too much like stealing. We are used to certain social cues and human intervention when we shop – overriding all of that may be more difficult than you think.

Whichever model cracks automated retail at a mass scale will give us a pretty good glimpse into the wider retail world of the future. It will tell us what level of tech shoppers are comfortable with, what they’re happy to give away in terms of personal information, what sort of store they want – is it a fixed space or one that comes to them? It will tell us what sort of features don’t work or cause pain points. It will tell us what level of human interaction or support we still want or need.

It’s not a crystal ball or a how-to guide, but the successful automated retail concepts will have a lot to tell us. Even if you’re not investing in your own automated retail set-up, there’ll be something you can learn about human behaviour, preferences and store experiences. And that’s what all good innovations should be focusing on.


Who’s taking innovation seriously in retail? Find out with our round-up of the world’s 50 most innovative retailers. Plus, visit world-class innovative retail spaces on our Shanghai retail safaris. Book your bespoke experience now.