Silos can rescue or ruin retail empires

Silos are known to cause all sorts of headaches for executives, but now they could save a struggling industry


As the list of retailers in crisis grows this week, fears that the high street won’t ever be able to reconcile its dizzying overheads and sustained sluggish footfall with improved sales are growing. Brick-and-mortar debt, over everything else, has been given as the reason for the big names’ fall from grace.

Whilst this was certainly true for Toys ‘R’ Us, unmanageable retail debt is more likely to be a symptom of wider poor consumer engagement and weak buy in. The internet may have made the awkwardness of traditional retail experiences impossible to ignore, but that doesn’t mean it created the problem in the first place.

So how can it be that organizations aware of the issue can’t execute innovation, the one thing saving them from the shopping block? Resolving the retail crisis may be less intuitive than we think.

Customer centricity is only valuable when it delivers new experiences, but products created in the silo of an individual department often fail to translate into significant benefits for the end customer. That being said there is another kind of silo that has recently been brought into existence at a number of companies, one that could hold the key to saving retail empires currently under threat: the innovation lab.

According to Scott Emmons, Head of the Innovation Lab at Neiman Marcus and Keynote Speaker at the NG Retail Insight Summit, complete separation from the day-to-day priorities of the company enabled his team to focus on the holistic perspective of the customer. As a result, his team succeeded in producing one of the best examples of omnichannel experience in recent years and judging by their social engagement, consumers are starting to take note.

From the introduction of smart mirrors to buzzers that summon attendants directly to fitting rooms, it’s hard to imagine how these various innovations could have come to pass for executives in many organisations. It’s not that individuals don’t want to provide their customers with these experiences, the reverse is true. But it is the case that individuals within a function are more likely to believe the specific skill set they are equipped with, and best understand, is the quickest way an organisation can get ahead.

So remove them from the function altogether: enable them by placing them in the unique silo of the innovation lab, Emmons will argue, and let progress be delivered. Yet this is easier said than done and exactly how he achieved this, from acquiring the organization’s full support to building his team, is shortly due to be discussed when he joins us at our event in April.

Want to join the discussion? Register to attend our next NG Retail Insight Summit at the link provided.