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Four approaches to strategy and innovation

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The detail of international expansion always has to be worked on, for every one of the European Economic Area’s leading retailers (plus Switzerland). Offers and approaches that work in one country can be transplanted to another – but will need refining to be effective. Real innovation is also constantly coming through, and effective roll-out is challenging. Here Christian Annesley picks out four more approaches that impressed us this year – some offering pointers to the future and some that are having an impact now

1. Get serious about automation 

Everyone knows that market-dominating Amazon’s warehouses are seriously automated, but others are making strides, too.

The UK online grocer Ocado is poised to open a warehouse in north London that will mostly bees em run by dedicated picking robots and other automations. The robotic system can pick many of the 50,000 items available on, using a computer vision system designed by the retailer’s robotics team to calculate the grasping points for a given item. This offer is also the basis for Ocado’s outsourced technology platform and physical infrastructure offer, Ocado Solutions. The automation game is hotting up, clearly.

2. Let’s talk about voice search

Voice is coming up fast as an alternative form of product search. Buying through voice is now possible in some contexts, with conversational AI tools like Amazon’s Alexa and Google’s Home, which open up a whole new presentational layer around buying. How do you sell online if a consumer never visits or sees your website? It’s a challenge that retailers, merchants and brands are having to work fast.

Alongside voice, image search is, as mentioned, also gaining ground via apps in particular. As image analysis automation becomes standard in mobile devices, consumers will be able to take a picture of an object then search for that exact product or a similar one. eBay’s visual search tools are already in play, and Pinterest has invested heavily in visual search technology in order to turn the smartphone camera into a search engine for products. For retailers, being optimised to take a slice of this emerging market should be a priority.

3.  Extend reach via new channels 

Increasingly there are options for brands and retailers to reach sellers via third-party websites, even if the complexity of the space in a European context poses challenges. 

Such sites – including Allegro,,  Fruugo and Zalando – each have their own sweetspots in terms of country reach and product specialisms, but are collectively a useful way to raise brand awareness and to reach new markets.

For customers, the lure is often convenience. Buying in a single marketplace is simpler and cuts the cost of delivery. It’s a principle that Amazon has leveraged with its successful marketplace, of course.

4. Evolve those customer reviews

Virtually all of the IREU Top50 encourage customers to leave product ratings and reviews, with more and more encouraging feedback on specific parameters. Argos, for example, asks customers to reviews specific relevant features on products – for a self-assembly bookcase it seeks star ratings for design, quality and capacity, while for an HD-ready smart TV it seeks scores for design, connectivity, sound quality and picture quality. The point is to make the process as meaningful and useful as possible, to improve the confidence of future customers and thus improve sales conversion.

This feature first appeared in the latest IREU Strategy and Innovation Performance Dimension Report. Click here to read this report and explore the Top500 series of reports further

Image courtesy of Ocado

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