A strategic steal might just bring you home. Okay, so this is retail, not baseball. The idea of “stealing” isn’t necessarily the same. But what if we’re talking about swiping inspiration? What about delving into the innovative concepts that are working for others and twisting, turning and morphing them into your own?
The last 12 months have brought great gains in creativity — so much so that we’ve been taking notes. These 20 ideas are what we consider the most innovative, insightful and inspirational — ready to be “stolen” in the most general sense.
So go on: Step up to the plate and see how your business can score.
Anticipate Customer Needs
Your child is going away to college and needs all the basics. But who wants to pay airline baggage fees to transport pots, pans, sheets and towels? Bed Bath & Beyond took a multi-pronged approach to ensuring that students’ first days on campus carried all the comforts of home.
In some locations, the home goods retailers set up pop-up stores on or near select college campuses. It also created a “Shop Here, Pick Up There” option, allowing students to choose what they wanted at a store close to home and pick up the packages at the location nearest their campus. Online, BB&B offered checklists and informational videos as well as a shopping option that allowed customers to choose the ship date.
It was a smart strategy that paid off well. While NRF anticipated that back-to-college shopping would be down year-to-year in 2013, Bed Bath & Beyond closed out its second quarter ending August 31 with a 3.7 percent increase in same-store sales. — S.S.
Reward Consumer Input
Baskin-Robbins has the customer-input conundrum licked. The Massachusetts-based ice cream specialty chain announced the return of a popular online voting contest in late 2013.
The contest, last held in 2011, allowed consumers to choose which of their favorite classic flavors should be brought back. The winning flavor from “The Big Thaw” will be available in ready-made quarts for a limited time — and those who voted received a “buy one cone, get one free” coupon.
Among the flavors in the running: Apple Pie a la Mode, Boston Cream Pie, Fluffernut and Lunar cheesecake. Lunar cheesecake was originally introduced in 1969 to commemorate the first moon landing. Fluffernut, a peanut-butter flavored ice cream with crushed peanuts and a marshmallow ribbon, debuted in 1972.
Benefits of the campaign included customer engagement, first-hand data, sales, social media likes and shared memories about specific flavors.
This latest version of the contest may have ended, but certainly there will be more in store: The Baskin-Robbins “flavor library” holds more than 1,300 notable flavors from the company’s nearly 70-year history, offering ample opportunity for contenders. — F.S.
Let Customers Tell You What They Want
Is the food world waiting on tea that is not genetically modified or hard-boiled eggs made with liquid egg whites? New York City-based FreshDirect wanted to find out. The online grocer launched a contest with crowdfunding site RocketHub to find the next great food idea. Finalists included the aforementioned products, along with cocktails without additives or preservatives and two types of ice cream cones.
Finalists then used the site to draw investors into their idea. Food experts assessed a winner based on the quality of the concept and how much of the needed funds were raised. The winner earned $10,000 and a chance to work with FreshDirect on product development.
FreshDirect, meanwhile, got a line on several potential new products — and an idea of what the marketplace was yearning for.
It’s just one of many innovative ideas for the grocer. Among its efforts: a deal with Denihan Hospitality Group, which operates 14 hotels in Manhattan with in-room kitchens, to offer a grocery delivery service.
Staying on top of trends and getting a bead on what customers want: FreshDirect may just prove that e-grocery is an idea that has shelf life. — Sandy Smith
Experiment with New Media
Just when it seemed there was nothing “new” about new media anymore, Michael Kors took an experimental step: On November 1, the fashion designer ran the first sponsored post on social media/photo sharing platform Instagram.
The post, tagged “5:15 PM: Pampered in Paris #MKTimeless,” was an image of a gold watch, a Polaroid picture, a cup and saucer and a plate of pastel macaroons. Shown only once to a select demographic of U.S. Instagram users outside of Michael Kors’ followers, it made quite the impression: The ad attained 218,000 likes within 18 hours, according to Instagram analytics and engagement platform Nitrogram, a 370 percent increase in the level of engagement the retailer was accustomed to seeing.
The total audience was estimated at 4.4 million; in that same 18-hour time period, @michaelkors gained nearly 34,000 new followers.
Time will determine the cost-effectiveness of this avenue, but it does have folks talking — not all positively. Nitrogram estimated that one in five comments posted beneath the ad were negative, and only “a very small amount” showed positive support. Instagram remains a free service for users, however, so sponsored ads may soon become as pervasive as the platform’s food shots and celebrity snaps.
“If we use recent history as our guide, it took a bit of adjustment from both consumers and marketers to get comfortable with advertising on Facebook and Twitter in its earlier days,” Sarah Hofstetter, U.S. CEO of digital marketing agency 360i, told Fast Company’s CoCreate. “But with time and optimization, each platform found a balanced role for both marketers and consumers alike.” — F.S.