How to Remain Agile and Innovative in the Ever-Changing Retail Industry

3 Key Takeaways From Our Retail Trends & Insights Webinar

We have experienced seismic shifts over the last couple of years in everything from how we work to how we shop to how we choose to spend our time. The retail space has also grown exponentially in the past few years, and transformations have been accelerated—with online shopping and e-commerce experiencing the most growth. With these transformations have also come challenges from increased pressure on the supply chain to sky-high customer standards to labor shortages. This already fast-paced industry is in a constant state of change to keep up with evolving trends and shifting consumer needs. 

Propeller recently hosted a roundtable discussion featuring female leaders in retail and consumer products to discuss how they are driving innovation while adapting to constant changes. Deb White, Senior Director of Global Learning and Development at Peloton; Megan Zielinski, Director of Global Planning at Crocs; and Michelle Taylor, Senior Director of Strategic Enterprise Capabilities PMO at Nike joined retail expert and Propeller consultant Shanna Groh and Denver Managing Director Allison Torpey for an engaging conversation on retail trends and insights and ways to stay agile in a changing environment.

During the discussion, these prominent leaders in retail and consumer products shared first-hand experiences and insights on how to stay competitive and creative in an era of constant change. No matter your industry, the common themes of adaptability, creating safe spaces for innovation, and cultivating strategic outlooks, can be applied across industries to help your organization remain agile in a dynamic business environment.

1. Adaptability is a key differentiator in an environment of sustained intensity.

Megan Zielinski said it best when she shared “Unprecedented times are the new normal.” Instead of looking into the future to prepare and anticipate the next big challenge, we need to equip teams to be adaptable to disruption.

“The ability to be nimble is super critical,” said Michelle Taylor. There is a need to have agile systems or technology in place to pivot quickly and tackle change. Michelle continues, “Having systems that are antiquated and not nimble puts you in a position to spend a lot of time and money to pivot to the customer’s needs and wants.” Investing in singular technology and processes allows your organization to detect changes in consumer trends and address them quickly while also ensuring they’re strategically aligned.

Adaptability is critical for success. Change is inevitable and it's important that you’re ready to tackle it when it comes. As Megan shared, “Companies that adapt quickly are the ones that have won over the last couple of years.” One important area of focus is consumer engagement, and the ability to adapt to consumer changes promptly.

Watch Michelle's clip:

2. Create a safe space for honest communication to drive meaningful impact and better experiences.

Organizations should answer business questions by engaging in open-ended, creative, and challenging conversations frequently. Change has been an important driving force for creativity and invention. Fundamentally, businesses are operating differently now. So, how do you keep that creative mindset going?

“When you pull in groups from different functions of the organization and allow a safe space for conversations about what could be or what if we didn’t have this, then you come up with fantastic ideas,” says Deb White.

She has first-hand experience cultivating this at Peloton through the implementation of a value-driven supply chain. That means employees carry with them the brand’s ethos and challenge the current processes and systems accordingly. This conversational approach to improvement can take many forms: no silly questions/tell me what’s really on your mind mentality, leadership office hours, and hackathon-adjacent innovation sprints where no ideas are bad ideas.

Organizations need to understand the business value of supporting their people. As Deb shared, “Take great care of your people, and they’ll take great care of your customers.”

The antidote to attrition is listening, creating more feedback loops, cultivating connections in hybrid environments, and investing in your people’s future. An opportunity for creativity, a culture of innovation, and psychological safety help build creative minds and drive innovation for future growth.

Watch Deb's clip:

3. Go beyond mitigating risk and develop an inclusive and proactive strategic outlook.

Invest time as a team to strategically think through your organization's value proposition and desired future impact. Megan Zielinski notes this as a critical factor in building a durable strategic outlook.

“We can’t predict the future but taking the time as a team to really look at what things could be and asking what innovation looks like will allow many brands to stay more strategic, more agile, and more consumer-focused so that we’re constantly innovating and delivering what we need to for our consumers,” shared Megan. This highlights the importance of a strategic outlook that focuses on creativity and innovation to create conversations that ask people to build off company values, not products and services.

Another way to ensure all levels of employees are thinking about the company’s future value proposition is by examining current performance or “start local, build globally.” Ask yourself, are there ways to better serve our customers? What brands do we currently use and endorse and why? Understanding the future of products, work, and standards specific to your customer base will align your business strategy to the long-term values of your customers and provide something tangible for companies to invest in today. 

Watch Megan's clip:

Preparing for the next big disruption

So, what’s next? From last-mile delivery solutions to improved, seamless customer experiences and support to thinking about the environmental impact of retail and sustainability, there’s no shortage of new challenges facing the retail industry.

The retail industry is evolving at lightning speed and organizations need to keep up. While our conversation spoke about the retail industry, many of the challenges and solutions are universal across industries. The constant changes have forced the need for agility, which has impacted not only an organization’s operations but its values too. It has made organizations become more employee and consumer-focused. To continue innovation, organizations need to cultivate conversations to be strategic, creative, and forward-thinking. This will help companies become equipped to tackle the next big disruption.