Is creativity dead? How big retailers are adopting a start-up mentality
By Carlene Thomas Bailey

From Best Buy Ignite to The Workshop at Macy’s, big retailers are reigniting the wheels of innovation by investing in the start-ups of the future.

Oct 21, 2016
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When you think of big retailers you think of huge sales, shop floor space and endless inventory, all-encompassing destinations for all your retail needs; but you don’t necessarily think of the words “innovation” or “creative hubs”. So, for the consumer, they end up constantly engaging with a sea of homogeneity- the same big brands and retailers; and for new brands and start-ups it’s even harder for them to shine through/or cut through the noise, in a space dominated by the same key players. In fact just this month, The Atlantic wrote an article on this dubbing it “America’s Monopoly Problem: How big business jammed the wheels of innovation“. The article argues that the problem with big business scaling is that they create monopolies which then affects entrepreneurship.  Particularly in the US “entrepreneurship, as measured by the rate of new-business formation, has declined in each decade since the 1970s.”

But in some sections of the retail industry, big business retailers are putting the focus back on innovation, to show that with scale now comes innovation too. Brick and mortar retailers like Best Buy and Macy’s, plus mammoth e-commerce site Amazon, are creating hubs for the sole reason of investing in innovative new talent.

Last month Best Buy launched Best Buy Ignite, a programme dedicated to supporting the latest wave of “inventive entrepreneurs and start-up companies in consumer electronics”. It’s a win-win for the tech retailer, on the one hand it boosts innovation and on the other hand it guarantees that their customers get access to the latest tech first.

Talking about the launch Patrick McIntyre, Best Buy Vice president of Strategy explains: “For me, this captures what I’ve loved most about Best Buy since my teens and 20s — going to the store to see and experience new things. We always have the coolest new gadgets, and now Best Buy Ignite should allow for an even more dynamic product lineup. And, to a degree, it brings the excitement of CES and Silicon Valley to Best Buy. That’s the kind of stuff you’re going to see even more of — cool, new products for our customers to enjoy.”

macys-workshop

Best Buy is not the first big retailer to channel time, energy and resources into in-house innovation hubs. Back in 2011 Macy’s launched its programme The Workshop at Macy’s, in support of fashion entrepreneurs. The programme offers mentoring and business tools available to entrepreneurs with a focus on supporting minority and/or female business owners who want to take their brands further. And so far it’s been a resounding success. According to Macy’s Inc “With 80 graduated businesses, May 2016 marked the sixth year of the programme as well as the continued creation of a viable pipeline of enterprises that will grow to become successful partners with Macy’s, Inc. and other retailers. Workshop participants, many of whom describe the experience as “life-changing,” have taken what they’ve learned and grown their businesses to new levels after taking part in the Workshop. ”

Then there’s Amazon’s Launchpad programme which launched in July 2015 and makes it “easy for start-ups to launch new products and get them discovered on Amazon,” by offering start-ups mentoring, support, marketing advice and retail expertise. On the site’s homepage the retailer explains just why this was set up:  “We often hear from startups that bringing a new product to customers can be just as challenging as building it. At Amazon Launchpad, we’re working with crowdfunding platforms, venture capitalists and startup accelerators to solve the sales and distribution problems every startup faces.”

And with big business working hand in hand with entrepreneurs, the true winner here is the consumer, who gets to finally have a more varied, wide-ranging shopping experience, rather than a sea of sameness.

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