eTail West: Build A Repeatable Process For eCommerce Innovation

By Tinuiti Team

This post is a recap from Rick Watson’s session at eTail West:

Rick Watson

General Manager Marketplace

Barnes & Noble

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Elevate Strategy At Your Company: How To Build A Repeatable Process For Innovation

Most retailers are overworked and structure their days around their current to-do list. This style of management is 99% reactionary and leads to a lack of innovation.

A different filter is needed:

You can’t keep up with the rest of eCommerce by only focusing on improving your KPIs (key performance indicators). There is more to your business than your current action items.

The goal of this session is to change your view of the world so you can focus on the larger trends that are impacting your business.

General Framework For Thinking Big:

1. PEOPLE – Start with the people. Think critically about your customer’s needs.

2. INDUSTRY – Capture the larger trends inside/outside your industry.

3. EXECUTION – Brainstorm at the intersection between your target audience & your industry. This requires you to:

-Think outside of your current sales funnel.

-Think outside of your current action item bucket list.

PEOPLE Analysis (define your target audience based on their needs, not yours):

Focus on: emotions, decisions, and priorities in their lives.

-What jobs are they hiring you to solve?

-What else have people in your industry done to solve their problems?

-What types of people are not able to access your industry’s products?

-Who can’t use your products?

Think about the questions your customers are already asking. If you know the market well enough, each one of those questions is a market opportunity.

INDUSTRY Analysis:

Focus on: The larger industry trends that are impacting your business.

-What types of products are people using more of? less of?

-What types of products are getting more or less expensive to produce?

-What do you know will be certain 10 years from now?

-What things did you grow up with that are now completely irrelevant to a 10 year old?

PEOPLE / INDUSTRY Intersection Analysis:

Focus on: The point where your target audience meets the larger industry trends.

This is the hard part and it requires you to use a part of your brain that rarely gets exercised but this intersection is where true innovation happens.

It’s easy to see the end result of innovation but the hard part is learning from the process that was used to get there.

Now that you are thinking critically, let’s apply this innovation theory to customers that purchase strollers:


PEOPLE Analysis:

-Stroller customers have ZERO time in the day for themselves

-Stroller customers ask – What will I do with this stroller when my kids grow up?

-How does the stroller purchase define the character of the parents? How does it make them look?

-They must be asking – I wonder where my babysitter goes when I’m gone?

Broad Industry Trends:

-Economy doesn’t look like it will improve quickly for most people

-Suscriptions services are becoming more popular rather than buying everything upfront.

-Most people are starting families later in life

-It’s 10x easier to manufacture your own product today than it was 20 years ago. It’s SO much easier for retailers to build a private label than it was 10 years ago.


-What if there was GPS tracking on Strollers viewable on mobile devices?

-What if you built a stroller that’s only purpose is to travel on a plane so you could carry it on a plane?

-What if there was a stroller trade-in service?

Now that you have some ideas, you need a way to evaluate them.

Evaluating Your Ideas:

-Does this idea open up access to a new set of customers?

-Could you see yourself tinkering with this idea 5 years from now?

-How much would it cost you to get a minimum viable product for this idea? Could it profitable in the first 6 months? Every company needs MORE, GROWING ideas that could be profitable some day.

Once you’ve honed in on your best idea, it’s time to EXECUTE:


Goal: Select one major idea a year to execute.

-Look for a new market and find those early adopters.

-Your idea needs to have a clear owner and you need an early adpoter group to bounce your ideas off of.

-Independence is critical. Your idea needs to NOT take existing resources from other departments.

Here are the full slides from Rick’s eTail West Presentation:

My Take On The Presentation:

I thoroughly enjoyed Rick’s presentation and I fear that its message will be lost on a lot of retailers. With Amazon rapidly taking market share from all online retailers, the eCommerce middle class needs to be thinking about ways to differentiate their businesses.

I highly recommend making two bucket lists for your action items. One for your daily action items (reactionary list) and one for your long term initiaves (big picture list).

This will force you to process both lists independently and will help you to carve out more time for innovation.

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