Where will ‘disruptive innovation’ take the retail business? – RetailWire


Mar 31, 2021

Karen Herman, founder of Gustie Creative, is the author of the newly released book, “Solutions for Disrupting Disruption, COVID-19 Handbook, The Essential Guide for Brands and Businesses, is Timely and Actionable.”

Many believe that Clayton M. Christensen’s theory of “disruptive innovation” is one of, if not the most, important business ideas of the current century.

In an interview with Prof. Christensen conducted  last year by his longtime collaborator Karen Dillon for MIT Sloan Management Review, he called disruption “a process” that is “intertwined” with an organization’s resources, changes in customer needs and “the constant evolution of technology.”

Advancements in technology are being tested and adopted by retail and consumer brand businesses at a pace unlike any other in history. Those who embrace technology’s potential see tools enabling them to increasingly anticipate and meet future change from a position of relative strength. The shock that hit retail last year when the novel coronavirus pandemic spread across the U.S. and the world has borne out this hypothesis in practice.

Solutions enabling seamless shopping experiences and fulfillment, frictionless commerce and shoppable media are demonstrations to one degree or another of the disruptive innovation process in real time. Examples include:

Scan, pay and go: Transactions are conducted via mobile devices or self-directed kiosks to provide a contactless method for speeding the checkout process. Future advances in facial recognition technology (controversial, I know) and other biometric processes, including palm scanners, may eventually make payment via phone obsolete.

Smart vending: Fewer technologies have had their use cases proven more concretely than this method of contactless shopping. Today’s machines are definitely not the vending units of the past (not just candy, chips and soda) with many using artificial intelligence and cloud-based technologies to capture data in real time on the customers using these units.

Autonomous delivery: The move to autonomous cars, trucks, drones and robots moves inexorably closer to reality with each pilot program completed. Today’s technology learns right alongside the humans who create and use it. Maybe not tomorrow, perhaps not even in two years, but never is not an option. It’s just a matter of when.

Social commerce: Americans are staying home, and the demand for social media has never been greater with more retailers and brands looking to mine access to this audience and convert it into revenues and profits. Whether its Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest TikTok or YouTube, companies are developing shoppable content and moving into live-streaming events as another answer to providing convenience aligned with where, how and when customers want to shop.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Where do you think disruptive innovation will take the retailing industry? What promising technologies do you think will have the greatest effects on consumer shopping behavior and the customer experience in the coming years?


“Companies that want to pretend that it’s still 1997 will fail.”


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