Can Retail Giants Behave Like Startups?

Sophie Goddard recently attended the IGD Category Management Conference. The event was spread over 2 days with 300 delegates in attendance, here are her thoughts on Day 1.

It’s a challenging time for retailers. Promiscuous and demanding shoppers, discounters and technology continue to shift the shopping landscape. To stay competitive, retailers need to be agile, insight driven and most importantly collaborative in their approach. These aren't necessarily the traits you would associate with some of the largest brands.

“It is the long history of humankind (and animal kind, too) that those who learned to collaborate and improvise most effectively have prevailed.”  Charles Darwin

Reflecting on the day, it was interesting to see many parallels with concepts in growth hacking - the aim to identify the most effective and efficient ways to grow. Although growth hacking was born in the start-up world, so many of the principles can be applied to household names too.

Rob Owen of Unilever emphasised the importance of collaboration to unlock the creativity and innovation that shoppers and the industry demand. With a reported 85% of Consumer packed goods (CPG) failing*, it’s no wonder that businesses are seeking to be more effective in this area. As well highlighting how vital team work is to the process, he also echoed the Growth hacking concept of the minimum viable product or MVP. His advice was ‘not to present finished ideas to retailers, but instead to tease and inspire them, trigger the willingness to cooperate’. The key is to give people just enough to see if they are willing to go on the journey with you.

Another key concept in growth hacking is that of experimentation. By testing hypotheses as quickly as possible and using the subsequent data to inform decisions, you can adapt and grow. As you would expect, not all experiments are a success, but they are all valuable if you take the learnings and apply them going forward.

“Failures are finger posts on the road to achievement.” – C.S. Lewis

Unilever have adopted this approach, with Owen stating that you need to ‘create a safe environment to try new things quickly and inexpensively to help the organisation see new opportunities’.

Although the challenges are set to continue, the industry appears to be adjusting to its new environment. There was a definite openness to consider every aspect from innovation to understanding the shopper, internal processes and the adoption of technology to keep evolving and indeed growing.

It’s refreshing to see the willingness of the retail giants to adapt their approach and take some learnings from startups. Hopefully we’ll see more collaboration between the two over the comings months and years.

*Nielsen Innovation Report