From the Reminiscence Mirror to the Fling Wall, the top of Neiman Marcus’ iLab opens the vault on its newest experiments, the success tales and failures, and the method that received it there.
It began with a faucet on the shoulder: “Hey, we’re going to do an innovation lab, and you’re going to do it.”
That’s how Scott Emmons describes how he acquired his position as the top of Neiman Marcus’ innovation lab in 2012. “That’s it. It was very exciting; also scary.”
The innovation lab, dubbed iLab, was one among Michael Kingston’s first huge concepts for the posh division retailer retailer. Kingston had simply joined Neiman Marcus three weeks earlier as its new CIO, and Emmons didn’t know him but. No boundaries have been set on the challenge at first, however the longevity of the challenge rested on discovering success. Although Kingston has since moved on from Neiman Marcus, the iLab and Scott Emmons have stayed put — and innovation has develop into each a narrative of success and failure.
In any case, progressive in all probability isn’t the primary adjective that involves thoughts whenever you consider division retailer retailers. The struggling division retailer area at this time is beset by challenges akin to falling foot visitors, shopper demand for quicker style and mounting debt points. Neiman Marcus itself is on shaky floor, just lately pulling plans for a long-awaited preliminary public providing and reporting its Q1 revenues fell 7.four% over final yr because of dwindling visitors.
“Not everything works. Most of the time, it won’t.” Scott Emmons, Head of the Innovation Lab at Neiman Marcus
In such occasions, innovation isn’t simply a good suggestion — it’s essential to survival. Altering purchasing habits and rising applied sciences deliver new challenges to retailers like Neiman Marcus — and whereas they’re no silver bullet, Emmons believes innovation labs might help remedy the issues dealing with retailers. “If you are encountering headwinds, one of the ways to counteract that is to look for a new or better way to deliver value to your customers,” he stated.
The long-lasting 100-year-old luxurious division retailer retailer is making an attempt to show know-how innovation right into a core worth, in line with Emmons. As Neiman Marcus makes an attempt to recapture shopper curiosity and drive visitors again to its shops, reimagining the in-store expertise is about one factor: the client of the longer term.
In an interview with Retail Dive, Emmons opened the vault on Neiman Marcus’ newest experiments, its successes and failures, and the method that obtained the corporate there within the first place.
How all of it acquired began
When the innovation lab first obtained off the bottom 5 years in the past, Emmons was a staff of 1 — and, technically, he nonetheless is. “I’d qualify that I’m an innovation team of one that just has to go find a lot of volunteers,” he stated. “An innovation team of one can’t be efficient. I have to be the champion that rallies the forces and goes and makes it happen.”
In turning into the top of the innovation lab, Emmons needed to evolve his understanding of the client. With an IT background, he had all the time considered the enterprise as his buyer; in his new position, the expertise of the consumer turned the main target. On the launch of the venture, Emmons began to construct up use instances, obtained new applied sciences and was given a bit convention room for his experiments. As soon as the fundamentals have been coated, he referred to as CEO Karen Katz to get her suggestions and hoped for the perfect.
“She saw value in having this kind of thing happening internally at Neiman Marcus and was excited about two or three of the ideas she wanted to pursue perhaps deployment into the stores,” he stated. “From there on, it’s been full steam ahead.”
Even earlier than the launch of the innovation lab, Emmons was closely targeted on reimagining the digital features of the in-store expertise at Neiman Marcus, working his means up via the IT division and ultimately founding the enterprise structure workforce in 2009. In planning Neiman Marcus’ first innovation lab, Emmons shortly realised the division retailer wanted a philosophical shift in its desirous about the connection between shops and knowledge: The thought course of must be much less about wiring up sure elements of shops and extra about delivering knowledge to factors of want in shops.
However that additionally meant the division retailer needed to put its cash the place its mouth was. “We had to get the business to start accepting the fact that it was probably going to require a bigger budget to do data into the stores in a way that we could deliver some new customer experience things and with data that was more than about inventory and transactions on the POS,” he stated.
Whereas essential, innovation doesn’t come low cost. Emmons has crafted an in depth course of that weeds out concepts that aren’t value piloting in shops: First, he begins by whittling down huge concepts with volunteers in an preliminary analysis interval. Then, the thought is reviewed by the Buyer of the Future committee — made up of a cross-functional workforce of executives, retailer managers and associates — and a prototype is created within the lab to check the proof of idea. If all goes properly, Emmons then finds a retailer to pilot the thought.
For a cash-strapped retailer like Neiman Marcus, return on funding is all the time a key concern through the vetting course of. “In the end, when you do technology right, you do have to pay for it,” Emmons stated. “There is a cost associated with getting into the store, so I have to think about the technology that is scalable, and the business is going to want an ROI on the technology. [Executives] want that. That’s the first thing we’re going to talk about probably, so that’s high on the list of how are we going to prove that.”
The ROI doesn’t all the time come within the locations and methods you may anticipate, he says from expertise. “You have to be creative about where that’s going to come from.”
The iLab’s success tales
There are often 13 or 14 concepts swirling across the iLab at any given time, with three deployed in shops. Emmons has an extended operating listing of concepts, which come anyplace from retailer associates to himself all the best way to the C-suite.
Not all innovation must be shiny, however it ought to make purchasing extra handy and make good enterprise sense for the retailer, too. Take ChargeItSpot, for instance: In 2014, Neiman Marcus turned the primary luxurious retailer to roll out free telephone charging lockers. As we speak, each Neiman Marcus retailer now homes at the very least one. The comfort to shoppers is clear, however what does the division retailer retailer get out of providing the service? As a result of the kiosk makes clients use their telephone numbers as an unlock code, it doubles as a buyer acquisition device. The shop can ship a focused textual content to buyers inside 30 minutes of eradicating their telephones from the charging station. “The value of that more than pays for the units,” Emmons stated.
One among Neiman Marcus’ most buzzed about improvements is its Reminiscence Mirror, which Emmons started engaged on almost two and a half years in the past in partnership with MemoMi, a digital imaging software program firm. The know-how was first launched in shops within the form of a full-sized trend mirror; buyers might document a video of themselves twirling round in an outfit, and obtain or share it on social media. The pilots went so properly that Emmons helped adapt the product so it might be used for eyewear purchases final summer time. In December, the know-how moved into the sweetness division, with Neiman Marcus rolling it out at Le Métier de Beauté magnificence counters in no less than 20 places. Plans are to increase additional this yr.
“Customers can use the video to go back and look at the tutorial for how to use the beauty products. It solves a real problem for the customer, and that’s a tenet for any project,” Emmons stated. “It also solves problems for my brand associates. They have this fabulous clientele. She can go review a session and record all the products that were tried during the session.” That would permit retailer associates to personalise future visits.
The iLab can also be dipping its toe into visible search with its Snap, Discover, Store function on the Neiman Marcus cellular app. Google and Snapchat have pushed such know-how to permit shoppers to make use of their smartphone cameras to assist seek for info. Neiman Marcus is leveraging the know-how via its app, the place consumers can take an image of an merchandise after which search via the Neiman Marcus product database for one thing comparable, beginning with footwear and purses.
“It’s very Buck Rogers. It’s Shazam for shopping,” Emmons described. “As that tech continues to improve, we expect further experiments. You could take a pic of a whole outfit, and it would tell you about the pants or top or shoes you’re wearing, as the guys that do this get better at it.”
Whereas the venture hasn’t but paid off on its preliminary funding, Emmons hopes that being an early adopter of such know-how can pay dividends for Neiman Marcus as augmented and digital actuality applied sciences mature, and clients turn out to be extra accustomed to their presence in shops.
Voice assistant know-how can also be making its method into Neiman Marcus shops, simply as Amazon’s Alexa and Google’s House make their approach into houses. Neiman Marcus is testing voice-command know-how that helps streamline the in-store expertise by leveraging a Siri-like system that permits retailer associates to extra simply talk with the backroom. In January, the retailer rolled out of those Theatro voice-controlled wearables at a number of of its off-price Final Name shops.
“It’s a little wearable computer about the size of a key fob and when you press the button you give a voice command. It might be, ‘Hello shoes,’ and it’s going to connect you to an associate in the shoe department or you might say, ‘Hello register help’, and it sends out the all-call for register-trained associates to come man the registers in the store,” Emmons defined. “With future enhancements, it could be things like, ‘Hello SKU lookup,’ and I could then read an SKU number and it could tell me which stores had that item in stock. It’s all voice command-based, and I think very inspired by Siri and those kinds of interfaces.”
Whereas these experiments have grow to be a part of the in-store expertise, many others haven’t — and did not ship on their preliminary promise.
Studying from failure
Whereas failures don’t produce an instantaneous return on funding, they do present a beneficial studying expertise — and Emmons has discovered loads of classes. “Not everything works,” he stated. “Most of the time, it won’t.”
“Your companies are geared toward success, and you have to think about these experiments not as failures, but as learnings that can be applied to future projects,” Emmons stated. “It’s hard to let go and say, ‘This should have worked.’”
One clear failure from the iLab that has caught in Emmons’ thoughts is the Neiman Marcus Cellular Pockets. The iOS software, comparable in some ways to Apple Pay, was created to permit clients to make in-store funds with out truly having a bank card current. However the innovation was lifeless on arrival: “The tech was out of date by the time we got it built and launched,” he stated. “It was QR-based, and touchless payment had already taken off.” The cellular function is not out there.
One other innovation that fell flat on its face was the “fling wall.” The idea was to permit clients within the shoe salon to play with an iPad lookbook: Once they discovered types they favored, they might fling them from the iPad to a digital signal on the wall and curate their assortment. Emmons thought it will function an engagement software between associates and clients, in addition to between clients buying in teams.
“It mostly collected dust,” Emmons admitted. The lesson discovered? The fling wall didn’t remedy an actual buyer drawback.
The client of the longer term
Emmons was reticent to share the small print of any future tasks. However with the innovation lab’s successes and failures in thoughts, he did look forward to the tendencies which are influencing his considering in 2017.
Proper now, the business is abuzz with speak of chatbots and synthetic intelligence, and Emmons stated he’s desirous about a couple of tasks that may check these waters. “I think customer service is the ground floor for this. It would be more interesting to me to elevate that to ‘How do I use it in line during the actual shopping?’ as opposed to I would like to think about beyond ‘Where’s my order?’”
Emmons is considering augmented actuality as properly, notably because the know-how matures and turns into more and more financial. “There will be some great opportunities there in the next 12 to 24 months.”
Whether or not the iLab’s subsequent experiments sink or swim, no one has the magic answer to the in-store expertise, in accordance with Emmons. However in a time of retail disruption, it’s crucial to experiment, innovate and discover new methods to unravel buyer issues.
“We’ve gone in just a few years at Neiman Marcus from technology being just a back office utilitarian thing to a core value,” he stated. “Here I have this iconic luxury fashion retailer that has now embraced technology as our core — we’re going to be the best at that.”
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