Retail Insider held its latest Breakfast event this week with John Bovill, IT & e-commerce director at Monsoon/Accessorize, and Sam Barton, head of user experience at Shop Direct Group, discussing how to drive innovation in retail businesses.

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Senior retailers from the likes of Sainsbury’s, Tesco, Morrison’s, Laithwaites Wines and Aurora Fashions along with other high level executives from across the sector attended the event at the Gilbert Scott restaurant at the St Pancras Renaissance Hotel in London to hear about how businesses need to innovate and how it can be done.

Bovill kicked off with running through some of the innovations he helped introduce at his former employer Aurora Fashions including creating a single stock pot that enabled it to do lots of interesting initiatives like 90-minute delivery.

At Monsoon his desire to innovate remains undimmed and he recently introduced iPads into stores that have proved very successful at helping store staff to create outfits for customers.

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John Bovill, IT & e-commerce director, Monsoon/Accessorize

These innovations in-store aside, he admitted facing a major challenge as a multi-channel operation of dealing with the ongoing high cost of maintaining the company’s 1,500 stores. This is because the company is increasingly becoming an “e-commerce business with stores”.

Assigning budgets to R&D across the e-commerce divisions is a tough task facing all multi-channel retailers. Shop Direct is online-only and so can avoid such issues, which undoubtedly enabled it to quickly take the decision to innovate around mobile devices – especially tablets – as it saw its customers’ habits changing.

Such has been the shift that four years ago it distributed 29 million catalogues whereas today that is only 2.9 million – resulting in massive cost savings that have been ploughed into mobile.

Barton says Shop Direct works on a ‘test-and-learn’ policy and as such it is increasing its number of concurrent tests running on mobile devices from 50 to 100 over the next two years.

It has also created an in-house user experience team that interrogates data and questions customers in order to help it develop innovative solutions. This runs alongside its partnerships with start-ups of which some are based in Israel as Shop Direct is keen to tap into specialist skills from across a broad church.

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Sam Barton, head of user experience, Shop Direct Group

Bovill is also continuously on the look-out for new innovative solutions and presently finds iBeacons and 3D printing as potentially throwing up lots of opportunities – especially in the stores.

Despite his ease with technological innovation he believes there is now a paradigm shift taking place in how retailers deal with their legacy systems and structures and he regards the changes that retailers now face as being more about culture than technology and innovation.

Many thanks go to Bond Dickinson, PCMS Group, and K3 Retail for their ongoing support, which made this Retail Insider event possible.